Teachers’ assistants readjust their roles online

October 15, 2020 — by Anjali Nuggehalli and Martin Xu

Along with the rest of the school, teacher’s assistants (TAs) are adapting to the unprecedented circumstances of the school year. Although their goal of assisting teachers with grading and class activities remains the same, their approach has dramatically changed due to remote learning.

In the past, TAs’ jobs mostly consisted of getting copies from the printer room, grading and planning class activities. Since the transition to remote learning, many of those chores are no longer applicable, and they now have different responsibilities. 

Senior Adithya Nair, a TA for biology teacher Cheryl Lenz, still finds ways to aid the class despite the curriculum being online. After a biology course over the summer sparked his interest in the subject, Nair jumped at the opportunity to help plan the structure of Lenz’s class.

“I still do basic stuff like grading homework and labs for Mrs. Lenz,” Nair said. “I also have to help come up with activities to do during class. Since online learning can be a lot more confusing, I have to make videos explaining how to navigate through the different applications we use for school.”

In order to create a smooth curriculum, Nair frequently meets with Lenz as communication with teachers is pivotal to being a TA. During in-person school, TAs could easily collaborate with teachers during class or tutorial, but because many TAs do not attend synchronous meetings, communication requires extensive planning.

“We meet over Google Meets about twice a week and make sure that I’m done with my assignments,” Nair said. “Then, we talk about what I should do before we meet again.”

Unlike Nair, senior Katie Chen, a TA for math and engineering teacher Audrey Warmuth, does not have individual meetings with her teacher. Instead, she attends Warmuth’s class meetings in preparation for her assigned tasks. 

Because Chen’s TA work has stayed constant throughout the semester, she does not need much guidance from Warmuth. Chen goes through each of Warmuth’s lecture videos and writes down the timestamp for example problems, so students can easily find the problems rather than having to watch the entire video. 

Still, Chen wishes that she had more interactions with students who need additional help.

“Sometimes students who I’m friends with text me for help,” Chen said. “But because I don’t know most of the people in the class, I don’t interact with as many students as I would like to.” 

Despite the disappointment of not being able to directly aid students in person, Chen is satisfied with knowing that she has made Warmuth’s job easier.

“During in-person school, I liked to ask TAs to help me with my work, and I really wish I could help students more easily online,” Chen said. “But I’m still happy that I’ve been able to help Ms. Warmuth in a lot of ways.”

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