I think one of the hardest things I have had to learn as a TA for a professor is that it is not my class. I say “my class” this and “my class” that to my friends and family members to make myself feel more important but at the end of the day, it is not my class. I have to follow the lead of my professor.
My first semester as a TA was hard. I had trouble being a friend to the students and yet being taken seriously. I wanted them to feel like I was there for them but at the same time I wanted them to respect me and my level of expertise. But once my second semester rolled around I had it down pat.
My second semester I knew exactly how to be a good TA and a good graduate student. I became the master at balancing many moving parts. The problem was now I felt like I could teach certain parts of the material better than the professor. As a TA I have always felt it is my job to be the gap between the knowledgeable professor and the unknowledgeable freshman. Because of this, I felt like I knew what the students needed sometimes better than my leading professor.
Of course most of you reading would say, “Why don’t you just give the professor your suggestions?” So I did. I suggested very casually when my professor and I would get coffee/lunch, but I didn’t see much change in his teaching style. I thought later, “Of course he isn’t going to change a class that he has been teaching for 30 years because one stupid TA thought she could do it better.” Time went by and I saw students struggling so I took matters into my own hands. I started cold emailing students I knew were struggling but were too shy to ask for help. I started bridging the age gap between the professor and the students. I really helped them and in return they helped me.
I didn’t feel very satisfied though. I got frustrated with swirling questions that I tried to answer but got mixed up again once the professor and I started contradicting each other. I wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted me to be involved but every time I tried I felt like he wasn’t really listening. In the end, I realized it wasn’t my place to implement new policy. If I wanted to run the class I would have to be the professor myself. Fortunately, as I have gotten to know my professor better, he has definitely leveled with me a couple of times. I feel much more heard now. Those couple of times has gotten me through this spring semester.
I have learned a lot about who I am as a person and a teacher being a TA. I have the good fortune of coming back next year to be his TA once again which I am honestly very excited for. Being his TA got me interested in a field of music I never thought I would consider majoring in. All I can say is I love collegiate level education. It causes people to get out of their comfort zone and critically think about their major and how it relates to the world.