This week’s wisdom is directed to one specific set of you all: my fellow remote TAs.
As you’ve probably realized by now, the TA role in TEALS is a bit different to the TA role that you may have experienced in a University course. The TEALS TA role is not secondary to a class professor, but is an equal member of Co-Teaching Trifectas or TA Support Tandems. The importance of the role and it’s place in the classroom are what keep me coming back as one each year.
But a not uncommon feeling I’ve head when I talk to other TAs is one of being kinda sorta useless – or at least, not very useful. Sure, you’re grading assignments, and trying to do check-ins with students in class, but you’re left with a feeling that you’re not having the impact in your classroom that you were hoping you’d have.
If this feeling comes up, it’s worth stepping back to analyze why. It could be that there are smaller, day-to-day practices you could be leveraging more. Things like asking your students follow up questions when you chat them, and making sure that at least one of your questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no”. There are certainly students who are absent, or are struggling to keep up with the pace of the class, and maybe those students aren’t getting the help they need. Working with those students can easily occupy a TA for a whole day.
It could also be that there are larger classroom practices that your team isn’t employing, and should strongly consider. As a TA, you’ll be leaving some great, personalized feedback for students on their projects and assignments. When was the last time you took class time to have students review and respond to this feedback? Remember, students need to hear it 7 times or do it 3 times to really absorb a concept. Responding to feedback is another time to hear, and correcting an assignment is another time to do. You’ll be the first to notice when the entire class does much worse on an assignment than expected, and you’ll be most familiar with the errors they made. This makes you best prepared to dissect what concept seems to have been collectively missed and to lead a review of that concept.
And finally, if you find yourself with some free time, you can use that freedom to add to your classroom in ways beyond the curriculum. Quick learning students will need additional meaningful challenges to grow. There are entire libraries of projects in every language that can inspire your students, but they’ll need some adapting for use in your classroom. And don’t forget that the classroom teacher is one of your students as well. They’ll have to maintain, modify, and grow this class long after TEALS steps out, and every resource you can find or create for them will set them up for long term success.
As you know, teaching is so much more than lecturing. As a TA, you’ll be less occupied by the lecture than the teachers, which means you get to be more concerned with all of the other aspects. You’ve got the most freedom to take your CS course beyond the confines of powerpoint – use it!
 Some more background, for my non-TEALS audience. Co-teaching and TA Support are two models of school engagement in TEALS, and TA is one of the roles that volunteers take on. The TEALS website has more information on both their engagement models and the volunteer roles.