Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don't worry, I know what I'm doing

Classes start next week which, while I'm not really enthused about because it will take so much time from my research, is not really too stress-inducing. But I also start a teaching assistanceship, which I am a little freaked out about. I've never TA'd before and, in order to do it right, I'm sure it will take a lot of time. The thing is, no one in the department wants anyone to spend a lot of time on their assistanceship because the priority is research. Now, apart from the educational priorities in higher education debate this could start, I am, of course, more concerned about how this affects, well, me.

See, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. Those who know me well are now howling with laughter at the understatement. And if I can't always be 100% competent, I like to at least appear 100% competent virtually 100% of the time. Now, we don't have official TA assignments yet -- we should get them today (and don't even get me started on why they wait so long to let us know what we'll be teaching -- classes start Monday, for Goodness' sake), but I'm fairly certain that I will be TAing Cell Biology. This is all well and good -- it's an upper division class, populated by fewer students than the survey courses and only biology majors, so they should be more dedicated, but there's a reason that this strikes some fear into my heart. I took cell biology as an undergrad in 1989. Oh, I know the basics, plus anything that I use regularly in my research or that applies to classes I've taken more recently, but there are a lot of details I've forgotten. The professor of the class thinks that this means that TAing this class will be particularly good for me, as I need a refresher on this material and this is an excellent opportunity for that. She's absolutely right. However, my stress level has ratcheted up several notches at the prospect.

So much so that last night I had a nightmare about it. Granted, in true dream fashion, it was ridiculous, but it was definitely a manifestation of my current apprehension. In the dream, I met my class in the proper room, only to find that the proper room was an ice cream parlor and that I was to teach them how ice cream was made and sold at said parlor, except I had no idea how ice cream was made and sold at said parlor because I had just gotten the TA assignment previous to entering the room. So, while under the guise of waiting a bit for latecomers to arrive, I tried to surreptitiously quiz the employees about the material and considered just delegating the actual instruction to the employees. While I debated whether this plan was smart or just lazy and whether I would look more incompetent if I tried to bullshit my way something I knew nothing about, or if I handed off instruction to a high-school age part-time worker, one of the students announced that my friends had arrived. (Never mind how they knew they were my friends -- this is a dream, kids. Wherein I'm TAing Ice Cream Parlor 101.) Sure enough, my friends, Meredith, Liz, and Laura were walking down the hall. I excused myself and went to greet them. As I explained my predicament to them, they all just looked at me like I'd lost my mind and told me that, no matter what, I had to go back and teach the class. I was disappointed that they hadn't seemed more compassionate to my plight when it hit me: They are all teachers. And that if I didn't somehow pull this out of my ass and find a way to be successful, I was not only going to look like an incompetent loser in front of my students, but I would also seem that way to my friends.

And then I woke up.

Not that I have issues, or anything.

Nope, not at all.

I've got it completely under control.

I know exactly what I'm doing.



YarnThrower said...

You will be such a great TA. For comparison, I submitted nine lab reports for the course I took this summer. Lab #2 was returned to me, my TA doesn't know what happened to lab #1 (but it is lost -- at least AFTER she had recorded my grade), and I don't know where any of the remaining seven labs are -- they were never returned. Also, she was teaching two different classes which were scheduled for the same time, so on my first day of class, she informed us that the lab for our class had to be re-scheduled because she was already teaching another class at that time. A little frustrating, so say the least..... In any case, we liked her anyway, because she was very helpful/concerned about us learning the material, and it sounds like that is how you are, too. You'll be great! And, it comes back fast! I taught myself college chem 1 after taking it 25 years ago, and it seems a lot easier now than it did back then.... You remember more than you think you do!

Becky G said...

Good luck with your TAing. I don't know anything about cell biology. I don't know anything about teaching. But I DO know about those school nightmares. Haunted my sleep for years, even after I'd graduated.

Tricia said...

Funny, I had a dream where I started a brand new job where I was the boss and also the youngest person on staff. . . oh wait, that's my life! I keep thinking there's a deeper parallel here, but not clear on what it is at the moment. Anyway, I wish you luck. Throw yourself in, and don't belabor your mistakes. I'm pulling for you!

Melissa said... least you weren't also NAKED in the dream.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Talk about last minute!! I'm sure you'll be a fantastic TA but I can understand your apprehension. My school nightmares usually involve panic at having to take the final but not knowing where the class is because I haven't been there ALL semester!! Yikes! Good luck on your mission, Sus.

Molly Bee said...

No worries! You'll do great!

Anonymous said...

Let me pull back the curtain a bit on this "college teaching" mystery.

I typically throw out a question and stand there...they talk back and forth...I nod knowingly...then I give a closing prompt for them to respond to in their notes. That's that. Oh- and I assign them to teach pieces of the course to the rest of the class because "nothing ensures that you *know* the material like having to *teach* the material." Seriously- you'll be fine. Practice your mocking sneer (think Snape) in the mirror before the first class.

And don't assign long papers because, even though the power to assign them is addictive, you then have to *grade* them. Assign presentations- you can grade them while they do them.

You'll be *great*!

Ariel said...

I'm sure you'll be a brilliant TA. Not that I know anything about cell biology beyond, uh, "the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell" (yay high school bio!) or something. But my best friend has been TAing for years, and the amazing thing she realized was that there was almost nothing she didn't know more about than undergrads. Good luck!

And thanks for stopping by the blog!