Everyone attending the paradise known as UC Santa Barbara has dealt with the joyous pleasure of experiencing the teaching assistant. Some of them rock, some of them suck. Generally it runs the gambit from the boring, awkward TA to the energetic one who knows his or her stuff and likes to have fun. Here are some signs which TA you might have.
How to spot the amazing TA: Some of them are younger and are possibly pretty. They have a sense of a humor, they’re not complete douchebags when it comes to grading papers and they like to engage in thoughtful, cognitive discussions. Your face will actually elicit a name.
How to spot the horrendous TA: It looks like they could possibly have a heart attack at any given moment. They talk slowly and nervously. They don’t know their material and the conversations in class are boring. You gain nothing besides the desire to shoot yourself every time you have section.
I don’t mean to stereotype completely, though. Some TAs are diamonds in the rough and break the conventional mold. Always be polite, and don’t try to piss them off. Your TA has no better way of saying “Fuck you” than giving you a bad grade on a paper or an assignment — unless you do all the reading and always pay attention, in which case they won’t be able to give you a bad grade because your answers will be golden.
My TAs are nice… so nice that I decided to throw in some expletives into an e-mail I sent my history TA. Needless to say, she wasn’t happy and lectured me about it. I haven’t made the mistake again. TAs can be cool, but you’ve got to know where to draw the line.
I have one TA I love. She responds to my incessant e-mails the same day, she’s willing to read my thesis and tell me how to improve it, she gives me the grades I want on my homework and I feel engaged in the discussions. Then I have the other TAs who I love but aren’t necessarily as great. Homework is judged too harshly, and you wonder how the paragraph answer you wrote managed to get one point out of four. Conversations can be awkward, and it’s sometimes a test to see if everyone in the section won’t say a thing for just long enough to make the TA give us our homework so we can leave section early – possibly to run to Starbucks for some liquid crack.
A few things you notice when you’re going to a section with a crappy TA: The writing on the door proclaims Dante Alighieri’s eternal words, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” People are unhappy and they look like shit. Then again, most people don’t look so hot if their section is at 8 or 9 a.m.
Selecting your TA is of the utmost importance. You’re going to be spending countless hours with them, they’ll be grading your papers and they’ll be your life-line to the ship that is your final grade for the class. Most people pick section with little thought of who their TA will be… bad move. After your class has started, carefully study your TAs. Stalk them, if necessary – whatever gets the job done. A poncho and binoculars are good for standing outside your TA’s apartment window and not looking too suspicious. Within the first class or two, you will realize whether you haven taken a leap of faith and landed on pillows, or if you’ve walked off a cliff into stampede of buffalo. If you’re lucky, you’ve chosen the right TA], and if not, then you’ll have to go through the rigmarole of talking to your instructor about switching sections. Some teachers open new sections, or sometimes the sections aren’t full, so switching isn’t difficult. If you make sure to pester your teacher, they’ll give you the enrollment code.
In the end, TAs are humans too, so try not to hate them too much. They’re graduate students, and they’re trying to deal with bad students like me in section. Love your TAs or hate them, you’re going to have to deal with them.