On Tuesday afternoon, I invigilated my last exam for this year, this degree, and possibly forever. Fittingly, I watched over my own students from the tutorial I ran this semester. Our exam was a short one on Tuesday, with most of my section leaving after only an hour. When the profs told us TAs we could leave, it signaled the end to my TA career.
Over two years, I was a TA for the same first year engineering course three times, having taught nearly 150 students in that span. It would have been four times and about 200 students had my department not screwed me over at the beginning of this year. The course in question was an interesting one, taught as four cases studies over an entire term. It was worth six credits in just one term! I met my students twice a week for two hours each time. It wasn’t one of those tutorials where attendance was optional, they had to do assignments in the tutorials and hand them in at the end. I spent a lot of time with my students, 48 hours each during the term. Compare that to a normal TA that might lead a one hour tutorial once a week, that’s about 12 hours only.
The case studies themselves were quite interesting, they changed from term to term nearly every time, so it kept me on my toes. I have to say I enjoyed teaching the first years compared to grizzly old fourth year veterans. The first years came to me so fresh and wild-eyed at the whole university and engineering experience. It was pretty cool that I got to teach them some very fundamental engineering techniques such as drawing a proper free-body diagram. Invariably a lot of my students find out that I did my undergrad degree at UBC and they have a lot of questions about how the subsequent years go. Every first year engineer has a huge burden of deciding what department to apply for in second year. It is a decision that can possibly define their career for the rest of their lives. I usually get asked why I chose mech and how that compares with other departments.
Though it’s not in my official job description, answering questions like that are among the most pleasant parts of being a TA. Here’s a weird stat, after being a TA three times for this class, I have not received a single official evaluation of my abilities as a teaching assistant. The prof for the class just never had the time nor effort to make an evaluation form for his TAs. Officially, I have no idea how I did as a TA. Informally, I think I did alright. I’ve been thanked by a few students for my efforts. The biggest indicator seems to be the number of students who still acknowledge me when they see my on campus. I get the ocassional nod and whassup, sometimes I stop and find out what department they eventually got into.
I decided a while back it probably wouldn’t be that bad if I got a job as an instructor at some community college. Sure, I’d probably prefer to teach at a university, but without the PhD, that’s not going to happen. I figure if I don’t make it as a software engineer, teaching college kids would be a nice alternative to fall back on.