Just as strong acids and bases can drastically change their environment, strong TAs can make an equal change!

I have known Dr. Bell since spring of freshman year when I took his general chemistry two class. During this time, I would talk to Dr. Bell quite frequently before and after classes about concepts from lecture or chemistry in our everyday lives. After the semester had ended, I reached out to Dr. Bell over the summer to ask about the opportunity to TA for him during the fall semester of the next academic year. To do so, I emailed him and had gone to meet him in his office various times throughout the summer. Since then, I have been a TA for 3 semesters and am currently teaching for my fourth semester. I decided to pursue the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship this semester as I thought it would be a good way to learn the intricacies of teaching and potentially try to incorporate new techniques to better assist students. Dr. Bell and I thought this would be a good project to pursue this semester as he has over 500 students and therefore, he has onboarded many teaching assistants as well, so by me taking this position I was able to assist him with communications between his students and him as well as make a more organized structure for the teaching assistants to follow.

Now that I have been a TA for a while, I have better come to understand the way professors truly want students to learn and understand the material. In chemistry, there are many trends that a student can get away with memorizing, but as a TA, it’s important for students to understand the concept and be able to apply it in varied situations. I have also noticed that despite there being many available resources, there are very few students who utilize these tools. In our chemistry 2 class we have seen that we have approximately 10% of the students of a class attend TA sessions with my sessions averaging around 10 students each week. 

One of my primary concerns was that due to the high number of students and teaching assistants, communication and teamwork would be a struggle. Among the teaching assistants, we have managed to make 5 people chat moderators between the 2 lecture times which I am able to contribute to as I attend both lectures. To further ease communication, at our weekly TA meetings I cover all of the concepts Dr. Bell covered in his Tuesday and Thursday lecture. I separate these concepts into two individual sections of our weekly TA worksheet. Together, Dr. Bell and I came up with the idea of having 13 teaching assistants create one question each week relating to the material so that there would be a surplus of questions to ease the workload of Dr. Bell by providing him with a question bank of 156 practice questions for his students in future semesters as well. To do so, I created three groups of 13 assistants where each group creates 13 questions every three weeks so that there are questions from different groups throughout the semester.  Each group cycles each week allowing each TA to only come up with a question 4 times over the course of the semester which reduces the teaching assistants’ workload and lets them plan ahead (a picture of this system is shown at the top of the blogpost).

For students who are interested in learning more about teaching, I would start out by helping them select a class they would like to TA for. This should be a class they are interested in as they will cover the same material again and shouldn’t get bored of it. Another reason I would suggest becoming a TA for a class you have taken before is you will be able to understand the students’ struggles as you would have likely faced the same issues and difficulties understanding the material when you took the class as a student.  I would then suggest emailing the professor, informing them, how much you enjoyed the class, and that you would appreciate the opportunity to be a TA for the class as you feel you can bring a certain set of skills that would benefit new students taking the class. From there, I would build on stating that you are open to a meeting to further discuss your candidacy and how you would be a good fit for the role.

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