This spring, I’ve taken on a new role in my Penn education - for the first time, I am a TA for a class. Short for Teaching Assistant, TAs form the backbone of many Penn classes. Particularly in engineering lectures, large TA staffs work with the professor to make the class a positive educational experience for all current students. TAs are typically students who have previously taken the course, understood the material well, and have a desire to help other students understand the class better.
I decided I wanted to be a TA for CIS 160, Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science when I took the course this fall. Though I definitely struggled at times, I was really invested in thoroughly understanding the material and getting a lot out of the course. The class had two difficult problem sets each week, so I spent lots of time each week in office hours with TAs as I worked on problem sets and asked about that week’s concepts. Each TA also leads one hour of recitation a week, a small, ten to twenty person section that reviews the week’s material and answers any questions students might have. Once I became a TA, I realized that they also work with the professor to create recitation material and practice problems, write the homework problems, and grade homework and exams. Experiencing difficulty with the material myself, I thought that I would be able to understand the problems that students were facing and help instill confidence in their ability to master the material.
At the end of last semester, I interviewed to be a CIS 160 TA, and was really excited to receive the job. TA’ing is a lot of fun, but it is also a serious part-time job; it requires a lot of time and effort each week to stay on top of the material and make sure the students are getting the most out of the course that they can. During TA training at the beginning of this semester, the head TAs - three juniors who have been TA’ing for a while - emphasized the importance of putting our new role above other responsibilities at times. Because we are responsible for students’ learning experiences, it is important that we show up to office hours, grading, and recitation prepared and ready to teach.
Being on the other side has made me appreciate how dedicated the professors and TAs at Penn are and how much work goes into putting a course together. The teaching staff truly cares so much and just wants to make sure each student has the best learning experience possible. From reaching out to students who are struggling to answering questions online as quickly as possible, we put a lot of effort into helping students learn. I feel very lucky to have teaching staffs in my classes who care so much. I’ve been able to build upon my love for teaching, especially during office hours when I’m answering students’ questions one at a time. There is nothing as rewarding as helping students work through a problem and seeing their eyes light up when they finally understand something. It’s also helped me review the material and understand it at a deeper level.
Beyond having a great experience teaching, I’ve also been brought into an amazing community of hardworking, intelligent, generous, and fun students. Many students TA for multiple semesters and that has helped to build up a strong and supportive community among them. Even though we grade for hours each Friday, which could become monotonous, I always look forward to it because we get to hang out with our friends and eat lunch together. We also have staff dinners together and just hang out for fun. It’s a supportive, encouraging community that is full of people who I look up to and admire for their hard work and dedication to teaching.
I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to TA a class during my time at Penn. I think it’s given me a new perspective on my professors and TAs in other classes, and it’s made me appreciate how much work goes on behind the scenes. I am also happy to have the opportunity to give students who are struggling newfound confidence in themselves and help pass on all the help and support I was given.