“We practically have PhDs. We’ll be fine.”

Those are some (in)famous (possibly) last words from “Jaws IV: THE REVENGE.” The marine biologist son is telling his mom not to worry about great white sharks. Except the shark turns up and it’s going to eat him! Ahh! I had to leave after that part to go dancing at The Mod Club in Ottawa, so I’ll never know what happens next. Ever. The suspense! The agony! The woe! The mystery! The—okay, I’m done.

My new job, briefly mentioned in a previous post, will be to serve as the Carleton University School of Canadian Studies Teaching Assistant Mentor for the 2011-2012 school year. This is such a cool opportunity, because we’ve never had a TA Mentor in CanStud before, but we could definitely use one! The TA Mentor’s job, as I understand it, is to work with TAs primarily, but also faculty, staff, and students, to encourage pedagogy, communication, cooperation, and happy good fun times among the various levels of people that collaborate to support undergrads in their courses and coursework.

The job description reads: “TA Mentors… work to support and providing training for their department, develop connections at the university and work with peers. Activities include contributing to the Departmental Orientation, running observations and teaching seminars, and facilitating workshops.”

At the moment, TAs in Canadian Studies are “farmed out” (not my phrase, but apparently the most popular) to other departments, including–but not limited to–French, Art History, Women’s Studies, and History. While other TA Mentors typically have most of the TAs from their department on one floor or in one building during normal class hours, CanStud TAs are all over campus! For this reason, I plan to develop on-line support for our scattered TAs, such as a wiki page and e-newsletter.

I plan use this position to do a lot:

(a) I will send out an e-mail once a week with FAQ, current events and news, links to EDC (Education Development Centre) resources and opportunities.

(b) I will try to develop a comprehensive (or on the road to comprehensive) wiki or other digital database of curriculum materials (lecture notes, slides, tips and advice, activity ideas) from years past so new TAs aren’t constantly reinventing the wheel. I know that there are a lot of issues and uncertainty around sharing course content, but hopefully people will be cool about this, because teaching is a lot of work, and one way to make it more fun and slightly easier is by helping each other. (Another TA Mentor started this type of project last year, but the development is ongoing.)

I consider this type of ‘corporate memory’ collection to be the most crucial part of my position. By maintaining a consistent, cohesive program of teaching from year to year despite the naturally high turn over rate of TAs, CanStud can have a framework in place for high teaching standards with lower levels of stress for TAs. At least, that’s the ideal!

(c) I will ask for returning TAs to mentor new TAs on an informal, one-on-one basis via email or coffee breaks, so that new TAs get to know someone further along in the program and can ask basic questions (like, “what do I wear to teach in?!”) to someone who has already been through it.

(d) I will organize (and advertise!) social events like marking (grading, for those in the USA) events, breakfast meetings, and Halloween parties with the goal of building community and morale while limiting panic. Plus, dance parties are always a good idea!

(e) As much as possible, I will try to help everyone have a more positive, less stressful teaching experience, whether it’s their first year or their fifth!

Through some TA Mentor meetings, I’ve already been able to network with other departments and have Big Plans to collaborate with History (my home department as a TA for the past two years at Carleton). My current (2010-2011) responsibilities at Carleton as the graduate student representative for School meetings, president of the Canadian Studies chapter of the Alumni Association, and active member of the GSA, will serve me well in the liaison capacity of the TA Mentor position. (I stole that sentence from my application, but I want to let any curious parties know that I am, in fact, moderately qualified for what I am planning to do!)

During the interview, I said that my biggest concern about this position is that it will become a huge time commitment. Since it’s technically a ten-hour-per-week position, I worry that I will really spend more time on it than I ought to and my research projects may suffer as a result. Then I realized that I kind of already do all of the things I want to do next year in this position, they are just not paid (such as planning CanStud parties, coaching people, and being available to listen). So, I’m optimistic about next year (as well as everything else!)!

Hopefully, this post can help you think about your role as a TA Mentor, if you are one, or encourage you to contact me so we can work together!, or give you an overview of the program if you want to start one at your institution, or give you an idea of my plans for you if you are a Canadian Studies TA next year! If you have no interest in teaching whatsoever, shame on you! But thanks for reading all the same.

(The links are back by popular demand.)

EDIT: I actually wound up not being the TA Mentor, but instead dropped down to Part-Time International Student Status.

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One Response to “We practically have PhDs. We’ll be fine.”

  1. AMANDA! says:

    Edit: I wound up not taking this job! The best laid plans….

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