Whoa, I’m eating a praline from New Orleans right now and it’s pure sugar. Zoooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!
So, I did survive my first tutorial as a TA, but I thought it was going to be a disaster at first. The tutorial starts at 4pm and I get there at 3:55pm hoping to talk to the prof who I’m going to back up. A little chit-chat before we start the session.
I get to the tutorial room, which is huge, and they are over 40 students there already. They’re all arrayed in this haphazard arrangement around these tables. I walk in and I get the feeling they know I’m not one of their classmates. I pull out my material for the tutorial. I say to the closest guy next to me, “Are you here for APSC 150?”
He nods yes. I look around for any sign of a prof. There is none. I start to review the assignment that I’ll be giving them in the tutorial. I get the feeling everyone is looking at me. I have no clue who the prof is who’s doing this tutorial. After one minute, I get up to go look for the prof. The prof that is co-ordinating this class has his office just steps away. I go there. It’s 4pm on the dot now and his office is now closed. He’s a pretty important dude, so his office is inside a larger office where he has people who run interference for him. He’s still a nice guy but there’s an extra layer of red tape to get to him. This red tape has now prevented me from talking to him.
I’m not in a panic yet, but I’m getting a little worried. I go back to the room. Everyone looks at me again. I’m contemplating getting up and telling them the prof is late and that they should hang tight. I decide if by 10 past if no prof shows up, I’m taking control of this thing. We’ll do charades if we have to. I have no course material, so I can’t even teach them stuff.
An agonizing seven minutes pass when out of the corner of my eye, I see the prof enter from the other door. He quickly grabs the overhead projector and starts setting up. He seems like he’s in a rush. My saviour is here.
I run to him.
“Hi, I’m Erwin and I’ll be helping you out today.”
“Hi, I’m Peter. Nice to meet you.”
We shake hands. I ask him if the students have had a lecture yet. He says no. This is not good for the students. We’ll be giving them an assignment in the tutorial yet they haven’t even had any lecture material. Now keep this in mind. These are 18 year olds whose university experience consists of the one day of orientation they had yesterday. I’m pretty sure this is the first tutorial they’ve ever attended.
I ask Peter how we can make them do stuff when they’ve not even had a lecture. He explains he’ll be doing a quick 30 minute lecture here and then we’ll let them go at it. We figure out we need to make copies of the assignment for the students. He asks me to go get some copies.
I look at my watch, it’s way past 4pm and I know the mech office is closed. I go there anyways. Yep, it’s locked up. Out of nowhere, I hear the voice of the course coordinator. Thank the stars.
I explain to him my situation. He’s in his bike gear and ready to go home. Graciously, he opens up one of the offices and makes the copies for me.
I’m off back to the room. When I get back, the prof has the students in rapt attention with some slides. It’s about materials selection. Even though it’s been years since I’ve gone over this stuff, I surprisingly know what he’s talking about. As I sit there listening to him, I realize I’m calm for the first time in 20 minutes.
When he ends the lecture, he says, “Ok, now we’ll get you to do the assignment, why don’t you introduce yourself to the class?”
He points to me. This is it. I get up and say, “Hi, my name is Erwin, I’ll be your TA and you better be nice to me since I’ll be doing all your marking.”
I explain to them this is a group assignment and that they should form a group and then come up and get the assignment. As they flitter away to form groups, I’m thinking this isn’t so hard after all.
Group by group, they come up and get the assignment. The assignment that I have no solution for.
They start working on it and I have some time now to talk to the prof. He’s new to UBC. He’s Canadian but he’s been working abroad for many years. He mentions his wife. I ask him about her. He mentions his kids. I ask him about them. He’s a super nice guy and I can tell he’ll make a great addition to the Department.
I mention to him that this is actually my very first tutorial… ever. He says, “Oh, I would have never thought that.” What a nice guy.
While we talk, our conversation is interrupted once in a while by a question from one of the students; some are easy to answer and some aren’t. One guys asks me, “For this question, how many examples do you want?”
“Um, three? How about that?”
I have no clue if that’s reasonable or not. Another thing I get is that students start coming up with the same questions. After the second student, I have to make an announcement to the entire class. This happens several times.
After an hour, the students are getting to the end of the assignment. They start to hand it in. The first group gives me their papers. I look at it. At the top, there are four names: Jimmy, Bobby, Sarah, and Andrew. Yeah…. right.
“Ok, um, I’m going to need you to put your last names and student numbers on this”
I remember now that these kids were in grade twelve not four months ago where Jimmy, Bobby, Sarah, and Andrew sufficed because, seriously, how many Jimmys could there be in first year engineering? I make an announcement to the entire class to put your last name and student numbers on the papers.
Despite my plea, I get papers back missing student numbers. Several names have “I forgot my student number” next to it. It’s a minor annoyance, but they’ll memorize that number soon enough.
The prof leaves when the students start handing in papers. I have it under control. As students leave, they come up to me and ask questions.
“Are you the teacher for this class?”
I tell that guy no.
“Are you going to mark hard?”
I tell this guy probably not since they missed the first lecture.
“When will we get this assignment back?”
This guy I tell I don’t know.
Two students come up and introduce themselves to me. Nice. One of them says, “Hi, I’m so and so, that can’t be hard to remember, they’re only two girls in this class.”
I forget what I told her, but she’s right. There are only two girls in this tutorial and it won’t be hard to forget her name. Two girls out of 50 students or so is a bad ratio, even when I was back in undergrad. It’s supposed to be way better now. Perhaps it’s just bad scheduling.
I collect the last set of papers and I take off. For some reason, I wonder what would happen if I lose all their papers. Crazy thoughts.
I’m going to try to mark the assignment over the weekend, but we’ll have to see. What I do know is that I think I’ll enjoy being a TA for this class.