Teacher’s assistants hit the road

By Katie Fisher

For most students, the days of making copies, grading quizzes, and chilling out in their favorite teacher’s class as a teacher’s assistant have come to a close.  As of this year, students can no longer select the teacher for whom they TA,

Students who sign up for a TA period will now be assigned to either the front office or a science teacher who has requested one for assistance in setting up labs, according to Jessica Harris, who coordinates TAs.  Students will only be assigned to other teachers once the front office and science teachers have been fully staffed, and even then students will not be able to choose the teachers they will assist.

Despite several rumors, this change was not the brainchild of principal Tully.  Superintendent Neil Pedersen made the final decision last year, and all district schools adopted the new practice.

The reasons for Pedersen’s decision were many, with the main factor being the lack of a set curriculum for TAs, despite the fact that students were receiving both a grade and credit for their work.  Some students could use their TA period to wander the halls or do homework, while other students were put to work for the entire 50-minute class.

The fact that some TAs were doing grading also raised flags for administrators.  Since TAs are not teachers, administrators worried about ensuring the quality and authenticity of grades given by teachers with TAs.

Teachers have borne the brunt of the impact of this decision.  Math teacher Jay Wilson, who no longer has any offical TAs, said that it took him several weeks before he had time to hole-punch the information sheets that students filled out the first day of class because he did not want to sacrifice time spent grading tests and quizzes.

He has, however, found a solution for getting such menial tasks done.

“I have students that have a free period or students who take classes at UNC, and so have a free period on days when they don’t have class, volunteer to be a TA and help out,” Wilson said.  These pseudo-TAs do filing and organization and grade homework assignments for completion.

Wilson believes that losing TAs will not change his teaching or the tests he gives, but it may impact students indirectly.  Getting homework graded or getting feedback may take longer, he said, because increasing class sizes mean he has more to grade and file than ever, but he must often rely on students who are not available every day of the week.

However, although becoming a teacher’s assistant is no longer a simple process, it is not completely out of the question.

“If we close the door on TA opportunities altogether, we leave no wiggle room.  There is an exception to every rule,” principal Eileen Tully said.

Senior Simon Carsey is one such exception.  He wanted to be a teacher’s assistant for Hans Hiemstra, a teacher with whom he had taken classes before, but, if he was even approved to become a TA, he would lose his free period.  After talking to Hiemstra, he decided to apply for an academic internship.

“I wanted the learning experience from working with a teacher, but I also wanted my free period,” Carsey said.

He wrote a one-page proposal with his reasons for wanting an internship and presented it to Tully, who accepted his proposal.

Carsey said his academic internship is “like a TA period, but more in depth.”  He said he could talk to Hiemstra about the Civil War and American West at any time, and he has even done some grading for the class.

His internship has one notable difference from being a TA, however.

“I have not made a single copy,” Carsey said.

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