I have been a grad student for more than six years. That’s bought me a lot, and as I’m approaching the end of this stage/journey/self-imposed sentence/dream (all of above), one of the things I’ve recently realized I’ve picked up is a catalogue of perspectives. That’s a powerful thing. Accessing different perspectives on situation buys you the ability to see that situation in the way that others may see it. And, that buys you understanding, which can really come in handy. This month we at Gradifying have been discussing different aspects of teaching & leading. I’m going to expand on some tips I gave last month on managing RAs and adapt them to TAships. If you’re a graduate fellow or post-doc managing TAs, there will be some things in here that you can employ to help runs a smooth operation. If you’re a TA, there are going to be some perspectives in here that may help you help your course professor.
Be organized: Know what you want.
Spoiler alert: The next point is, sign a contract with your TA(s). But, before you can do that, you have to know what you need them to do. This is your first opportunity to set the tone of your relationship. Go through your syllabus to see what you need them to do. Next, know how many hours your TA is contracted for and then prioritize their tasks based on how many hours are available.
Get that contract signed.
In my department, our grad assistant makes sure there is a signed contract on file for every TA, but I’ve come to learn that when it comes to official TA duties, some departments are, … less structured. Having a contract settles problems before they start. If your TA says, “This isn’t my responsibility”, and you can say, “Let me check the contract. Yes, it is”, or “Let me check the contract. I guess you’re right, it isn’t.” If you change things as you go, it’s good to have it in writing so that people can refer back to things that got agreed to.
Conflict Resolution: Using both perspectives.
Often times, though, even with a contact signed, sealed, and delivered, you might have some issues to work through. This is where it comes full circle, and perspective is going to help you through.
As a TA, be clear about what your issue is. If it’s that you were hoping for an easy TAship (you wouldn’t be the first) but this has been more work than you had anticipated, you’re going to have to find a way to fulfill your obligations. That is, if you’re contacted to do it, then it’s your responsibility to do it. But if some task is not in the contract, let the instructor know that it’s not what was agreed on.
As an instructor or someone managing TAs, have a peak at the contact. I’ve been in the position before when I thought we had agreed on something, but the contract said that we didn’t. But let’s say that something was agreed to and the TA is still unhappy with it: Here’s where using the TA’s perspective is going to get you through without it becoming a conflict. If you can find out what your TA is struggling with, you may be able to find a compromise that best serves the course. It’s sometimes useful to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re in the classroom for the students’ learning. Working together is going to improve it the most, and that sometimes involves flexibility.