My second term at Queen’s is already well underway, and yet I am still in the midst of learning how best to navigate the structures of graduate school.
Recently, I have started my first TAship. Ever since considering the possibility of pursuing a master’s, I have been anxiously waiting for the moment that I would sign my first contract. I want to gain valuable experience that I can transfer into my own teaching practices down the road — which is probably very common among grad students. While appreciating the demands of my new role, I am also discovering new barriers that arise as I become employee of an academic institution.
I have encountered attitudinal, environment, and structural barriers through my academic career. I am (sometimes too) familiar with the ways in which, as a disabled student, I must navigate through institutional structures to receive accommodations that respond to my needs. As a teacher’s assistant, however, these accommodations seem to disappear since deadlines impact my students and teaching team. My duties this term consist entirely of assignment grading. I will gain lots of grading experience, but I also worry.
I can no longer request extensions, for example, because I must meet guidelines so that all students receive their grades in a timely manner. If this was my own course, I could create the syllabus and deadlines according to my needs and work pace… but it is not up to me. My professor has established timelines and has suggested how long to spend grading each assignment. While I very much appreciate this, it is irrelevant to me because I can never work at the same pace as my peers. As I do not have grading experience yet, I can only guess how much time it will take me to grade each assignment. I have scheduled daily grading time blocks into my daily workload — but it might go slower, or I may work faster than previously anticipated. I am already struggling with the thought of not being capable of completing everything within the given timeline because I am working in a team and students are counting on us to deliver their grades in a timely manner.
My new struggles in academia has provided me with a different understanding of academic ableism, in which employees and faculty members do not have access to needed accommodations; in other words, how undergraduate students are often the only ones being considered when creating accommodations and other various inclusive tools to foster their success within this type of setting. There still remains gaps in terms of service delivery in the post-secondary context, and I must find ways to navigate them while acknowledging my triumphs simultaneously.
I am still grateful for this opportunity to thrive within the academic setting and push beyond my own limits — don’t get me wrong — but I am also analyzing these new barriers and learning to adapt to meet my needs without hindering my students and teaching team.