Being comfortable as a TA

This is kind of going back to the communicating science idea. It came to be a little bit after my last blog post. I was talking to a friend at an internship I’d done last year in Austria. He worked in technical support, so he had people calling him in English and in German asking for help on how to use the equipment. I said that I thought I couldn’t do that because it’s difficult for me to talk to people (much less communicating to people in a language that was not native to me). He commented that he felt the same way about a lot conversation, but that talking about the technical details was easy for him – even if it was in english a lot of the time. It made me realize that as a TA, I felt the same way about talking to my students. I can communicate with them in technical language – and occasionally, I can joke around with them, but still it’s much more professional and it doesn’t make me particularly nervous. This is probably in some part because I do not have to defend my work, but they have to explain themselves to me to get their grade. I think it’s interesting that although communicating to my students about technical work doesn’t seem to bother me, it hasn’t really translated into other parts of my life. I still feel like I stutter when encountering new people – even at conferences where we’re all speaking the same language of sorts. Hopefully, I’d assume that this will get easier – there was a time when I was a bit more nervous even as a TA.

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One Response to Being comfortable as a TA

  1. jemunoz

    It’s a good thing Tech offers the TA orientation. However, it only helps to a certain extent. What about the issues that are not easily resolved? The language barrier, for example, is a major difficulty. As far as I know, students in the STEM field are very familiar with TAs of low confidence due to the language barrier or lack of communication skills. Perhaps the university can take advantage of its resources and offer communication skills workshops, or allow access to language courses.

    It’s important that the students get the most they can out of the course. This not only depends on the performance of the professor, but of the TA(s) as well. If we can improve the way a TA conveys the key concepts, ideas, etc. of a subject, we are sure that the students will be more successful in the course. This applies to TAs that are employed because they are specializing in the field, or because they just need tuition money. If it’s possible, I feel TAs who have issues with communication should be offered some type of training that improves their skills. If this is not possible, they should be encouraged to seek out resources themselves to maximize their teaching skills. Easier said than done, I know, but not impossible.

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