Friday, July 9, 2010

TA Evaluation Results

This past spring semester was the first time I've been a TA. Actually, I was technically a half-time TA, even though I was the only TA for the class. I didn't have to teach recitation, just hold office hours, make up homework sets and some exam problems, and then do the grading.

Figure: Miss Outlier at the beginning, trying to optimize the grading process.

Oh, the grading. It stinks. And takes forever. It took about ten hours to grade a homework set, which is not bad if you spread it over a week and keep up with it. But I didn't keep up with it.

I kept trying to keep living my life the way I was, spending the same amount of time on my own classes and research. But the problem was that I didn't have ten extra hours a week to spare in my original schedule.

Figure: Miss Outlier becoming more frustrated with grading

I kept deluding myself: Oh, this set won't take ten hours - I can do it faster. This set is shorter, shouldn't take as long. Oh, I'll just sit down on the weekend and just push through the whole thing in one go. The students don't mind if I get this back later - as long as it's before the exam, right?

And then it slipped to: Even if the students don't have their graded papers back, as long as I put the solutions up before the test, it's okay right? As long as I have everything back by the final? Solutions up by the final?

Figure: Miss Outlier coming full circle back to the solutions

Ack! I knew I wasn't doing a very good job. At the end I really rushed to get it all done, and actually the last two assignments I just glanced through and assigned simple A, B, C, D, F grades. I felt bad about it, but at least the class ended. We assigned final grades, and we were done.

And then last week I got the results of the TA evaluations that all the students had to fill out. I cringed when I opened the file, because I knew what it was going to say. Yep, sure enough, comments such as:

- Wanted more timely feedback on homework
- TA took extremely long time to return homework
- Grading was very slow

But in my defense, I did get:

- Extremely helpful, explained things well
- Very responsive to email (but assignment feedback could have been more timely).

Okay so that last one was only half positive.

On the plus side of the whole thing, the homework wasn't a majority of the grade for the class. Even when we did assign final grades, the line between As and Bs was pretty clear based on the exam scores and projects. And I mean, come ON people did you know that HALF the class gets As? And the other half Bs? And only two Cs? That's ridiculous! I knew grad classes graded easier than undergrad, but goodness... nobody should be upset about the grades. (Also, why do I try so hard in classes again?)

But on the minus side, I still feel bad because I knew I didn't do my best. An average of four weeks to return homework sets is a bit silly. In my life, this is just a blip on the radar - but for the students, it's the only time they will take the class and my actions affect their only experience with the subject. I feel guilty for doing a barely competent job.

Students at my school are encouraged to TA at least once during their time here, although many TA more often for funding reasons. Fortunately I already have secured funding, so I'm hoping I won't need to TA again. The only reason I would have to is if there isn't another student available to TA the class. The TA has to be a student who has already taken the class, isn't international, hasn't graduated already, and wants to/needs funding - which actually narrows down the list a lot.

But all you need is one other student to take the job, and I will recruit one myself if it means I don't have to do this again. Whew, let's just move on.

How did your TA experiences go, readers?


  1. I am on the other end of the spectrum because I love TAing (In fact, I'm begining to realize that I enjoy teaching more than research). But TA positions can vary dramatically. I tend to seek out positions with a lot of in-class hours and minimal marking because I don't love marking, and I agree that it tends to take much longer than anticipated and sometimes longer than the number of hours I am being paid for. My favourite TA positions are ones where you get to run a lab as opposed to a tutorial

  2. All mine were running labs, which I loved. In fact it's half the reason I'm going into teaching and not a PhD (It's a good career path for someone with a science degree here.)