Number of teaching assistants in decline

September 16, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar and Selena Liu

Every Red Day, senior Eric Che attends AP Chemistry. But unlike others in the class, he doesn’t have to worry about learning about stoichiometry or electron configurations anymore. Instead, he grades papers, sets up labs and helps chemistry teacher Janny Cahatol, using his knowledge from having taken the class last year.

Among the 1,350 students enrolled at SHS, 77 students are either academic tutors or school service helpers this year, according to registrar Robert Wise. Academic tutors support students that need help in class, while school service helpers include office and teaching assistants. Teaching assistants are typically seniors who have taken a teacher’s class before and assist those teachers in small tasks and errands such as taking attendance, routine grading and setting up activities.

Recently, the number of students enrolled in a school service class has been declining significantly with no clear cause. According to Wise, 6 percent of students are enrolled in “helper” classes, which is half the number it was two years ago.

“The data is telling us it is declining,” Wise said, “but there’s no clear reason why to me: the sign-up process is unchanged, the credit awarded is unchanged, the grading is unchanged and the need for help is unchanged, perhaps even growing.”

Senior Elizabeth Ding, a TA for math teacher PJ Yim, attributes this decline to the possibility that students, especially seniors, may want to take a heavier course load in their final year, leaving no time in their schedule to participate in school service.

“Some students prefer to take seven classes instead of having one period of TA responsibilities,” Ding said. “People might want to load up on more academically-rigorous courses.”

Che said he chose to be a TA because he wanted more things to do during his senior year.

“I didn’t really have anything to do, and I wanted to see what being a TA was like,” Che said. “I saw last year’s TA, and it looked kind of fun.”

Although Che said that many students become TAs in order to get a better letter of recommendation from their teacher, he personally did not.

In addition, several students agree that being a TA is not a stressful experience, especially given that much of the class period is free time for them.

“The time I spend doing my responsibilities as a TA is around 45 minutes,” said senior Olivia Leger, a TA for social sciences teacher Hana Chen. “It’s mostly just grading and checking attendance and making sure everybody is there. After that, she just lets me have my free time.”

Ultimately, Ding said that being a TA is a worthwhile experience.

“You can also get a behind-the-scenes look at teaching and all the work that comes with it,” Ding said. “But I think the main benefit of being TA is that you can get to know a teacher out of an academic setting.”