After enrolling in an Introduction to Media Communications class I set off like an eager little Badger by cracking open my textbooks and making proper notes. Not before long I noticed something — I just wasn’t grasping the material.
I really started panicking. All I could think was ‘Oh my God, I am going to fail.’ With great trepidation I found my course’s Teaching Assistant and met her during her office hours. I poured out my deepest fears. I showed her my notes and explained to her my academic difficulties.
She actually stunned me. She told me that I was doing very well in my course and that the reason I had so many questions about the textbook content was that I was using my critical thinking skills. Interestingly enough, upper year Communications students were asking similar questions to mine.
She also explained to me that my writing style was very good for a first year student. I was told I was the first student to actually show up for her office hours. It was three weeks into the term. I left the office feeling relieved.
This experience led me to ask myself what effect not visiting my TA would have done to me. I could finally admit it to myself; I would have dropped out of Brock University. I thought about how many other students have endured these issues and how they handled them.
It occurred to me from my TA’s comments that they genuinely want to see students come and visit them. Obviously I could not be the only student with this problem.
From there, I decided to do some research on what Teaching Assistants really do. They assist professors with instructional undertakings and offer tutoring support for students in academic distress. TA’s work in all departments in every semester. Sometimes they direct labs, seminars, tutorials and even lectures.
They function as a bridge between the student and the professor and attempt to enhance student retention. They are also kind of like a free tutor, to some extent.
TA’s encourage students to ask questions — something that is rarely available in a lecture setting. Interestingly they will admit to not having all of the answers, and will refer you to your professor for those questions that just go above their jurisdiction.
A good TA is also prepared. Since they were students recently and often are doing postgraduate work, they can teach you great organizational techniques and you can probably confide in their own procrastination blunders.
They do not hold grudges, nor scream, insult or humiliate students. They also connect the new material to the old often by asking the class a question. Teaching assistants are only human after all so they can still get nervous speaking in front of forty students, just like anyone during a presentation.
Later in my research I did learn something unusual. According to oakton.edu, a website for post-secondary institutions to encourage Student Retention, only 20-30 percent of students drop out of post-secondary for academic reasons. It also states that 70-80 percent of dropouts leave due to adjustment, goals changing, commitment, finances, integration difficulties, incongruence or isolation. They also often fail to meaningfully interact with classmates or faculty.
Simply put, Teaching Assistants exist to help you — the student — obtain your dreams of graduation caps, gowns and hopefully flowers. So take the time to utilize your TA, they just might be your saving grace.
-Jennifer Nixon, Contributor