Here are the reports for the Fall 2002 UTAs.
As an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant to Bharath Narayanan's math 129 I learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher. It is not only grading and paperwork, it is about transmitting ideas and searching for new ways of approaching a problem.
In the weekly tutoring hours I encountered a wide range in math abilities and learning styles. There are many ways to state a tactic to solving problems, and it is very surprising to find which ones work with different people. It did get frustrating sometimes; a student would ask a question and I would try to lead them to an answer by showing them the method, but they would not listen, fish out the answer without understanding the problem, and two minutes later they would ask the same question. But it is also rewarding. After explaining a problem, the light dawns on the student, and I realize that I have helped a student know and understand something that they did not before I had helped them. That's the magic of teaching.
The grading aspect of the UTA program gives you insight into how students understand the material and how you understand the material. It was a lot of work and at times frustrating, but following someone else's pathways of logic gives new perspective to the material.
The review sessions sum the whole UTA experience up. They forced me to answer questions from new and often confusing view points. They gave me a perspective of the student's comprehension, and occasionally I had the magic of bringing new understanding to students. The UTA program was an education in itself, dynamic and interesting.
When I applied for the UTA position half year ago, I really hated teaching. The only reason I applied was because everyone told me that it's a good way to make money. After all, I don't deny that. I didn't have to work 10 hours a week simply because there was about one homework to grade every two weeks. So, I needed to work 12 hours in the week when there was homework; and I needed to work 6 hours in the week in which there wasn't any homework to grade. Bad thing was, homework always appeared in my mailbox in the week I had an exam or so.
After the whole semester, as before, I still hated to teach. The program didn't change my feeling about teaching, not at all. Yet, it is so helpful to my education. I was a tutor for Dr. Edward Alexander's vector calculus class. The reason I picked that class was because I took the same class with Dr. Alexander. I didn't feel good about that class at all, and I always had a feeling that I didn't remember anything from that class. The feeling just went away when I graded the first homework. All the materials just became so easy. The reason is that my understanding of vector calculus is more advanced after a whole year of torments from other classes. Anyway, it really helps me to build up my confidence.
Although it isn't very important, I still want to mention it, grading thirty copies of homework really glues the problems in my brain. And it gave me hints about how to do other problems, just a little bit. Grading homework was a pain, it was one of the reasons why I still hated teaching. It usually took me six hours to finish grading a set of homework. Students were just not writing legibly, that frustrated me a lot. They also did problem incorrectly, that makes me read their works steps by steps. That's because I needed to write down comments on the paper so that they knew how they got that wrong. And I hated those students who tended to copy wrong numbers from the book constantly. That is why students generally got low grades, since I didn't want to give them good grades.
The other thing I hated was the tutoring room. I wondered who invented the flag, it was rather lame, although it was effective sometimes. The room was so crowded most of the time. I had to run back and forth, back and forth without any rest. I felt angry when students didn't want to listen but kept saying he/she didn't understand. I hated those students who were being arrogant. I hated the shape of the tables there.
The UTA meeting was fun, because we always left early and we got paid. However, I hated the meeting time, it was 6 o'clock in Tuesday night.
Tutoring hour was also fun for me, because in average, nobody came to see me in my office hour. But I hated the time after my office hours, because students always showed up after my office hour, and that meant I had to stay for extra time. We didn't get pay for extra time though.
As a UTA for Dr Hamara's two Math 223 sections, I graded the quizzes and held multiple long review sessions the week of each test. At first I tutored in Math West three hours per week, but then I became the proctor for Math 120s, with Dr Pallavi Jayawant. I also attended a teacher training session one hour per week, lead by Dr Bharath Narayanan, with the other UTAs. Dr Hamara gave quizzes instead of collecting homework. In his experience (and mine), students will copy each other's homework, where as they must understand the quizzes. The Math 120s students were very eager to learn. They had forgotten several concepts, or never learned some, but they joyfully showed off those they did remember, and were happy to relearn the others.
Every part of the UTA experience was positive for me. I enjoyed grading because it gave me an excellent review, taught me topics I did not learn when I took the class, allowed me to see many new ways to solve the same problem, taught me to recognize most common errors, and was a fast, easy way for me to correct students mistakes by writing notes on their quizzes. Very few students came to my review sessions, though a few did go to Dr Hamara's office hours. I also enjoy socializing with other UTAs, who almost always have similar interests to mine. I did not have any trouble recruiting a few more for next semester.
I believe the UTA program has a positive impact on the University of Arizona. Students who pass a class but don't know the material as well as they would like can do an extensive review by grading papers, and also review a much wider range of math topics in the tutoring room, instead of working at McDonalds. The school gets to pay graders to work cheap, instead of paying professors to grade. The professors can then spend more time doing research for the university and mentoring student researchers. The students can participate in the lectures as equals, knowing that the professor does not know their grades and is not looking down on them. And some of them feel more comfortable asking their peers questions, rather than approach the authority figure. Finally, the UTAs get exposed to several aspects of the teaching profession, which helps them decide if that is the career for them.
I might become a professor or a high school math teacher, at least as a fall back job, in case my career in industry or research does not work out. I definitely would like to teach my own class when I can. It would be fun to do for a few semesters. I think teaching is a fun skill that will help me in other areas of life, if I work on it.
This semester was very different than what I had expected. I was an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant last semester and I enjoyed it very much. This semester I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I was going to. The first problem was that my job description changed at the beginning of the semester. I went from a teaching assistant to a technical/administrative assistant. The majority of my time was spent making and updating a website. The rest of my time was organizing the preceptors. The beginning of the semester consisted with a lot of administrative problems and every time I tried to do my job or help I always seemed to overstep my bounds. My solution was to almost ignore that portion of my job for a majority of the semester. Updating the website was also not too easy since many times the graduate T.A.s forgot to give me some files. I then spent time hassling people to give me these files. I still enjoyed it for the most part because I worked with wonderful people. Some of the preceptors were great to work with. So the job was only frustrating when I felt confused about my duties and authority. Plus I really improved my web page skills.
My recommendation for future UTAs is to make sure you have a CLEAR understanding of what your position will be. If things change and you don't like the changes, you may want to leave the position. It doesn't do anyone any good if you are not learning from this experience.
On the whole, I absolutely loved the Undergraduate Teaching Assistant program. In high school I have always been the one people turn to when they needed help in math. Here in the UTA program I have been given the chance to do just that, and get paid for it.
The most basic goal Dr. Robinson and I worked out at the beginning of the year was to use my time in any way that would best help the class. At first we figured that setting up a listserv where the class could ask everyone in the class, including me, questions about the homework would be the primary use of my time. We had heard from other professors that answering e-mail could be very time consuming. We used the rest of my time outside of class and tutoring for grading homework. Grading homework, while extremely time consuming, gives a unique perspective on the class. You get to see the types of mistakes the class is making and which mistakes are being made the most often. With this knowledge, a strategy for helping the class is easily made.
Coming into the first test for our Calculus II class, we used this strategy for my time. During the week of the test, I put together study sessions outside of class. The study sessions were simple. I came in and allowed the students to ask questions. I answered their questions to the best of my ability and if I started to notice a pattern in the concepts that were not totally known, I would go into a more in-depth explanation. With this concept, the study session would evolve throughout the hour we were together. After the test, it was apparent that something needed to change; the class average on the test was extremely low.
Dr. Robinson and I thought about it for a while and then decided that since my test study sessions went so well that I should make them a weekly thing. Immediately, I started study sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays. Dr. Robinson had noticed that the primary mistakes were being made in the integration, knowing which technique to use when. We decided that the Monday study session would be primarily an integration session, and Wednesday would be for homework help. Since now I was running study sessions, we decided that I did not have time to grade homework. This was a good thing and a bad thing. My time was no longer consumed with homework, but I also lost the unique perspective on how the class did their work, but we felt it was necessary.
All in all, we believe that these study sessions were beneficial to the students who used them (which was not as many as we had hoped). Around test time, we would modify the study session schedule a little to get more time before the test.
Throughout the year, Dr. Robinson and I used a neat .toy. in class called the Active Response System. Basically everyone was given a remote control and allowed to .vote. for right answers to any question controlled by a computer. The class really liked this, and it did wonders for class participation. We found that the system really only worked well for concept questions and not very well for detail questions. A little less frequently than once a week, I would come to class to help with the setup and running of this system.
In the middle of the year, Dr. Robinson left for a conference one day, and I was given the opportunity to teach the class a lecture. Being the very beginning of a chapter, the lecture was not to be too detailed, but it had to be very concept oriented. Over the course of the week I wrote out a lesson plan and two days before the lesson, I gave a dry run to Dr. Robinson. We went over the lesson, she made suggestions for things I should change and I was ready to go. Two days later, I gave the lesson under the supervision of Bharath Narayanan, the UTA director, just to make sure I did not say anything I should not. The class was a success. I was really nervous right before the class, but as I got started, everything went away and the lesson flowed smoothly. Bharath did not have to interrupt me once.
I truly enjoyed the UTA experience. The study sessions were a lot of fun as it was hands on teaching with the class. The opportunity to teach the class in a full lecture was a great experience. I definitely recommend the UTA program to anyone who feels they can teach math on any level. I never thought I could teach, but this program showed me just how wrong I am.