Almost every college professor has at least one teaching assistant, but sometimes a professor has a TA who’s also an undergraduate student. These people usually just grade papers and maybe hold some office hours to answer students’ questions. However, the experience is worth more than its value on a resume. A good TA will come out of the semester with some nuggets of wisdom to drop on his or her fellow classmates. As one of these undergraduate TAs (from my university’s economics department), I’m here today to educate you on how to educate yourself.
Go to class
I know, this one seems super obvious. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen students struggle through homework assignments, misunderstand the purpose of a project, and earn dismal grades on exams. Then, when I look at their scores in the grade book, the root problem becomes abundantly clear – they’re not going to class. If attendance is part of your final grade in a class (even if it’s just as extra credit), you should go. It’s free points just for sitting in a room. You don’t even have to pay attention. As long as you’re not too obvious about it, you can still get attendance credit if you spend the entire lecture on Facebook or Pinterest. Plus, while you are in class, there’s a chance you might just learn something or hear your professor talk about what’s going to be on an exam. It definitely can’t hurt. Besides, with how much tuition costs, can you really afford to skip class?
Do your homework in a timely manner
Again, this one is kind of obvious, but if your online homework is due at midnight, emailing your TA at 11:50 to ask for help is a little less than responsible. Besides, even if your TA is awake (and I’m usually not at 11:50pm), you’re placing him or her on a time crunch to answer your question and send you a response before the homework deadline. That’s kind of inconsiderate. Instead, start your homework with enough time to mess up, learn the material, and ask questions. It’s much less stressful and you’re more likely to get help if you need any.
Go to your TA’s office hours
If your TA does hold regularly-scheduled office hours, be sure to drop by for a visit if you’re struggling with a homework assignment or a project. However, when you do visit office hours, remember that your professor and your TA are two different people. Don’t redirect your anger for the class or the professor towards your TA. Undergraduate TAs had to take the class to get to their current position, so odds are if there’s something that frustrates you, it probably frustrated them too. Be polite, be considerate, and remember that they were in your shoes once too.
Try reading the book
Bear with me on this one. You don’t have to sit down and read every word in the chapter, but maybe skim the key points and anything that’s highlighted or bold. I recently had a professor describe reading the book before a lecture as “fishing with dynamite.” It really is an effective method of keeping up to speed in a class, especially ones that are on subjects your struggle with. Plus, your professor might pull material from the lectures and the textbook for an exam, in which case reading the book throughout the semester would save you shattering amounts of study time when midterms and finals come around.
I know these tips seemed obvious and pretty short of ground-breaking. But, let’s be honest, they’re all things we know we should be doing anyways. College matters, so let’s make sure we’re actually doing our best in a class before we write the professor off as mean or call a TA useless. But above all, TAs are here to help, so if you do have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
Did you find this helpful? Are you let down that I just told you everything you already knew you should do? Do I sound like your mom? Let me know in the comments!