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From the Students’ View: learning from Teaching Assistants

This article was originally published in the Spring 2002 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

by Kushal Patel

In each issue, we feature the perspectives of undergraduates on what it’s like to be a student at Vanderbilt, focusing particularly on what they find effective in their classroom experiences. In this issue, we feature the views of four undergraduates concerning how teaching assistants have assisted in their learning. Rebecca Krefft is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Sarah Lawrence is undecided. Leslie Larson is majoring in Spanish and French. Adam Thomas is majoring in Psychology.

CFT : To what extent and in what ways have teaching assistants supported your learning?

KREFFT : Teaching assistants have helped me like any professor would. They are able to relate to topics that are of concern to students and therefore students are often more comfortable around them. For example, one of my TAs often made jokes about movies and music that students were familiar with as part of her teaching.

LAWRENCE : To me, the most helpful teaching assistants are the ones who make themselves most available to students. If they are approachable and easy to find to ask questions of, I am much more comfortable going to them for help. It has also been helpful to me when teaching assistants supplement class discussions, and if what they say relates closely with what the professor is saying.

LARSON : I view a TA as a more approachable professor. I am in a large class with 150 students and it is understandable that my professor cannot possibly meet and interact with every student. My TA acts as the perfect intermediary for the students. She herself has just recently graduated from college so she still remembers what the life of a student is like. This knowledge helps her advise us what to do for the class in the sphere of our college life. For example, my TA in French 101 recently graduated from college, hence, she was aware of the music that is trendy. She brought in music that French students listen to and movies they watch, and then led discussion in issues affecting them. From these things it was much easier to relate the French culture to our lives because the things we talked about affected us as well.

THOMAS : In my experience TAs are helpful because they offer a greater level of interaction and spend more time outside class with students than the professors. It’s also much less intimidating to talk to a TA than to a professor. Relationships with TAs are more like those with peers, so I feel more comfortable talking to them if I need help. For example one of my TAs even held office hours in social gathering places prior to exams for students who had questions. I haven’t really had any bad experiences with TAs at Vanderbilt and have been able to receive help whenever I have needed it.


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