An Open Letter to Lame T.As

Dear T.A,

Maybe it’s me. It’s possible that I expect too much from you, but maybe it’s not. I’m not entirely sure why, but in four years at U of T with countless tutorials, I can only remember two that I actually liked going to. Only two that made me give a crap.

I get it. Obviously you don’t want to be spending your time trying to explain basic theories and concepts to some undergrad that watches The Bachelor Pad religiously (don’t judge me). You probably have a thesis to write that will determine the outcome of your professional life. I empathize, but this is not where I want to be spending my time either. Especially when your speech induces a chorus of yawns.

I swear, I’m not trying to sound like a nag, I just want you to care. Pretend to care if nothing else. You’ve spent years reading and researching things I’ve only just heard about. You thought this was interesting enough to pay for grad school and CONTINUE reading and researching the same stuff. You can’t tell me you don’t feel passionate about something you’ve willingly studied for almost a decade. I don’t believe you. U of T is not cheap, especially grad school. So, you’re either passionate or have a Paris Hilton trust fund.

(This is obviously not me.)

I’m not asking for you to write a song detailing Plato’s Republic or act out Hamlet. That would be awkward, and excessive. Can you please just give me a little insight, a small window into why this particular subject is interesting enough for you to devote your youth to and what I am going to spend a year engrossed in? I promise, I will stop yawning and staring at you with half-baked eyes. Show me this crap matters, even a little, and I’ll contribute something legitimately interesting. I might even do ALL the readings. Crazier things have happened.

OK, I’ve rambled enough. You get back to disproving Einstein or whatever you do, and I’ll go watch Mad Men.


A Hopeful Undergrad.

10 Replies to “An Open Letter to Lame T.As”

  1. Actually, most TAs want to be in the tutorial, and most would enjoy having engaging discussions about the subject matter with you. It is our “passion” as you point out. Unfortunately, the University offers almost nothing in the way of pedagogical training for grad students, just plunks them down in classes and says “Teach!” In fact, very little pedagogical training happens at the faculty level either, which is why you may have some of the same complaints that you express above about some of your professors. The sad truth is that UofT puts resources into research, not teaching. Undergrads get the short end of the stick. But grad student TAs are not the bad guys. We want training, smaller classes, and some support from the departments. In fact, the TA union formed a task group with the admin this summer to try to solve these problems, and it was the university, not the TAs, that resisted change. You should understand the broader context before making accusations about TAs being “lame.”

  2. While I respect your comments Robert, I don’t think it’s fair to place the blame solely on the university. Yes, there is a lot of pressure placed on TAs and appreciate the work they do.
    However, a tutorial is in essence a discussion. I am not sure I understand why having an engaging discussion about something one is passionate about is so difficult for some TAs.
    I do appreciate your insight though.

  3. Don’t give up on all your TAs, Saleema! I’ve had my share of bad TAs, but I’ve had two really awesome ones, and one whom I’m friends with now and we hang out every so often! (I know, I know, hanging out with my old TA, weird.)

    I felt really sorry for one of my TAs last year, actually – it’s not that he didn’t try to engage the class, the class just stared back at him blankly whenever he posed a question and he would laugh nervously, and just gave up all together by the end of the semester. Poor guy, and he was really nice too!

  4. A lot of it is up to the prof, too. I had one who would have weekly meetings with her TA’s, and forced them to sit in class… and tutorials were awesome, both with my TA and the others, from what I’ve heard. I also had one where the prof could care less, and it was terrible…. pretty much an amalgamation of everything you’ve said.

  5. Okay I thought about this and in fairness, some students are pretty bad too. They don’t do much to help move the discussion along. Like Cynthia said, a lot of students just stare blankly and have nothing insightful to respond with. But again, TAs should know how to maneouver around problems like this…they should know that this will inevitably happen and should have a back up plan if the question fails hard.

  6. Many TAs can be very intellectually intimidating and pretentious. But many are also extremely helpful, kind and wise. You are not there to be best friends with the TA you are there to raise your hand twice every tutorial to get your %10-15 an show that you have engaged with the course material.

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