Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So I have this new job.

I'm the "TA Mentor" for journalism. Basically, the idea is that an experienced TA helps new TAs with training and support. I was invited to apply for this job in the spring and I did, without having much information about what I was getting myself into.

Here's the thing: In other departments, the mentor's main job throughout the year is to organize workshops and informal meet-ups for the TAs. I said in my application that this absolutely will not work for journalism, because every hour of free time is precious. If somebody had tried to schedule monthly meetings "just to chat" about how our TA jobs were going, we would have spat out our red bull as we burst out laughing and gone back to our laptops. If someone had tried to force us, there would have been blood.

I repeated this in a meeting I had yesterday with the new graduate supervisor and the director of this mentor program. I suggested that if I was going to run workshops, the best time to do it would be during orientation week, before the insanity started. This seemed like an especially good idea since this year they're not doing the three-hour giant lecture that's essentially an introduction to being a TA. Instead, they get a one-hour pep talk on why being a TA is important and why you shouldn't slack off, and that's it.

"Great," they said. "We can schedule you in for one hour."

That's right. I have one hour to teach people who have never taught in their lives how to be a TA. One. Hour.

"So what else do you think you should do throughout the year, since you don't think anyone will come to workshops?"

Blink blink.

So here's what I have to work with: One extremely short hour with a captive audience, and one extremely long year with a group of people who are likely to react with murderous rage to anyone trying to add anything else to their plate.

Here are my extremely vague ideas for how I will justify my existence and paycheck:
- Make a lot of it web-based. There's a WebCT site that I'm supposed to run, but WebCT sucks and no one remembers to check it. So I'm thinking of starting another blog, with links to resources on stuff like time management and basic teaching skills, and inviting people to post on the blog as well. It would be nice if there were a way to make this private so that people can actually be candid about problems they're having, but I'm not sure how to do that. I think Yahoo Groups kind of work like that, but that would, again, be something you'd have to remember to log into. Is there a way to make a blog private? Or I could make it a Facebook group?
- Get people to write down what their teaching schedule and office hours are, so I can drop by and see how they're doing. Creepy? Helpful? What do you think?
- Get the MJ1 TAs in J1000, media law, and multimedia journalism together with the MJ2s who had that job last year together for a drink at Mike's Place
- Technically, since they're getting rid of that 3-hour lecture and there's no Gatineau retreat this year, the TAs will have those five hours of training that they're supposed to finish. So technically, they are supposed to go to workshops. What kind of workshops would be the most useful?

Last year after the "intro to being a TA" lecture, I remember a lot of people saying: That's it? That's all the training we get? I'm supposed to go and run a discussion group and decide people's marks now? So seriously: What kind of training and support do you wish you had, and what's the least annoying way to deliver it?

Seriously. Please tell me. I didn't realize when I was applying for this job that I wasn't just applying to be a "TA mentor," I was applying to DESIGN the TA mentorship program for journalism.


Teghan said...

Well, one thing to do might be to see what kind of duties the TAs are actually assigned and direct your efforts accordingly. My TAship is only marking. If I had to sit through a class on how to run a discussion group, I'd probably be annoyed. Besides that I have over two years experience as an academic tutor and have run academic workshops. I'm sure at least some other students have TAed previously as well, or have some level of experience. Send out a mass e-mail this week and ask a few questions about experience and duties. The answers might help you shape how you run the mentorship program.

I think the blog idea is a good one, constantly updating it with resources and tools would be helpful. I found tutor training sessions were nauseatingly boring at my old job, but some of the resources were useful.

If you can make the skills relevant to the TAs own personal academic success as well, it becomes more worth it to pay attention to the resources...

And while you only have one hour, we're not idiots. We're all college educated, degree holding graduate students. I don't think looking at certain grading standards and applying them to papers will be that difficult for many of us.

I don't know if that sounds know-it-all-ish, but I guess I'm just trying to say that I wouldn't worry about having a prescription for exactly what to do for the year on the first day of classes. We'll be okay. You guys were!

Claire said...

See, that's exactly what I'm worried about - having all my "helpful" efforts just annoy the hell out of everyone. Sigh. But yeah, good points, thank you.