The Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a Teacher's Assistant
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Student Life

The Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a Teacher's Assistant

Uncover the unexpected lessons gained from being a teacher's assistant, offering insights into personal growth, empathy, and the joys of education.

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The Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a Teacher's Assistant
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

I’ve always loved learning, whether academically in school or personally on my own time. Nothing excites me more than diving into unfamiliar topics, mastering a new skill or adopting a new hobby. Yet, having always been shy, standing before a class to teach was never something I saw myself doing.

The opportunity to be a teacher's assistant (TA) landed in my lap during my doctoral studies — and while I hesitated momentarily, it was a role I felt I had to pursue. For one thing, it would provide an excellent experience for my resume. Second, it would challenge me to step outside my comfort zone.

Despite my nervousness, being a TA was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Here are five unexpected lessons I gained as a TA in higher education.

1.Empathy Fosters Greater Learning

Empathy is often an overlooked trait in education, yet it has a tremendous impact on students' academic abilities. For instance, everyone — whether you're a student or teacher — has different learning styles. Some might not gain as much from reading materials alone, while others may have difficulty retaining information when put on the spot.

As a teacher's assistant, I learned how integral my empathetic tendencies were to my students. The ability to step into my students' shoes gave me an awareness of their individual learning needs — particularly of minority students — and how to best interact with and support them.

2. Students Are More Than Grades

Grades are critical — a true measurement of knowledge and skills gained in the classroom and the effectiveness of one's instruction. However, it isn't everything. The real testament to your success as a TA is your ability to help students grow and reach their potential.

Students attend college to prepare themselves for the professional world, which demands more than software expertise or other technical skills. Although mastering complex skills was essential, students needed someone who believed in them as they pursued their goals — and I was happy to oblige.

3. Time Management Is the Key to Success

I had a lot to juggle as a teacher's assistant, from helping with classes to making time for my own research. For me, it was crucial to learn time management skills to thrive.

Creating a calendar was the first step to managing a hectic schedule, including project and classroom deadlines. I had to set aside time to develop coursework, meet with students, field questions and review topics they were struggling with.

One unexpected lesson I learned was how multi-tasking was a surefire way to falter. Instead, it was much more beneficial to concentrate on one task at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed and drained.

4. You Won't Know All the Answers

As a perfectionist, I had difficulty making occasional mistakes along the way. Some days, I grasped what I was supposed to do — other days, I looked like a deer in headlights.

Eventually, I understood the only one who expected perfection was myself. Of course, I would mess up, forget someone's name or cross the line between helping a student and doing part of the work for them.

I'm human at the end of the day. What was most important was I learned from those mistakes and did better the next time.

5. You'll Gain Transferable Skills

As I reached the end of my time as a TA, it was gratifying to know I could stand in front of a classroom and teach with confidence. While unsure whether I'd actively pursue a similar teaching experience, I set myself up for success outside of school.

It should be of little surprise how many desirable skills you learn from being a TA. You must be able to facilitate communication with diverse groups of people, present topics, lead classrooms and think creatively to anticipate and solve problems. Offering constructive feedback and providing valuable information about campus resources and career paths is equally important.

The workforce has evolved over the last few years, especially with the latest technologies and new employee and consumer demands.

According to a McKinsey & Company survey, those with higher education have gained the most skills for professional achievement. Among the skills mentioned in the study are courage and coping skills to adapt quickly when the moment calls for it. I could especially relate amid the swift transition to online learning.

Now, no matter what I end up doing for a career, I can rest assured I'm better prepared than most.

Being a Teacher's Assistant Is a Rewarding Experience

Teaching may not have been something I wanted to do before, but it was an enriching experience. Despite the challenges, I believe I made a difference in my students' lives. Perhaps most importantly, I proved to myself I could do anything I set my mind to.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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