Over the past two semesters I have been fortunate enough to serve as a teaching assistant for two different sections of English 237 Voices and Perspectives: "African American Migration Narratives" and "Hurricane Stories" with Beth McCoy.
While this feature is about ways to boost your résumé, I should preface what I'm about to say by telling you that boosting my résumé is last on the list of benefits that I've reaped from holding a TA position. I would recommend that anyone who is offered the opportunity to be a TA should seriously consider taking it.
This is especially true for those interested in teaching. I am aiming toward a career as a professor, so practicing skills like moderating classroom discussion, counseling individual students, discussing paper assignments, evaluating student work and crafting assignment prompts is enormously helpful in preparing me for my future career.
Along with all of this practice comes a very important lesson: you must manage your time in accordance with the demands of others who you are responsible for helping. Multiple times in my first semester as a TA students would come to my office hours to talk about a paper – I thought that the conversations would last 15 or 20 minutes, but it sometimes took over an hour to help the students in a meaningful way.
You will learn about your limitations and about the skills you need to work on. Personally, I learned that I need more effective exit strategies and ways of making my boundaries clear.
Being a TA is a worthwhile experience not only for future teachers, but also for anyone in any field. As a perpetual thinker, I was overwhelmed with how intellectually stimulating it was to revisit material I'd already covered in previous semesters with more academic tools under my belt and to enter into conversations with new voices offering new perspectives. My own research project ideas have been greatly augmented by this experience as an "in-between" – someone who isn't quite a full instructor but who isn't quite a full student, either.
In this way, a TA position offers students an opportunity to engage in transformative learning – a buzzword in higher education – through repetition with revision.
Through revisiting old material alongside new voices, you will develop new ideas, all the while being forced to consider how you interact among your peers in your field of study. Hopefully, the experience allows you to re-evaluate your understanding of yourself as a scholar and as a human being.
I learned that some of my gestures and physical positions in the classroom could be interpreted as negatively authoritative. I have also come to realize that I have a propensity to overvalue the abstract and conceptual aspects in students' papers to the point of overlooking their weaknesses in presenting concrete examples. That's important learning.
Oh, and the line looks nice on a résumé too. But trust me, after all the learning and growing you do, it will be the experience, not the record of the experience, that counts.