One of my biggest pet peeves with TA-ing, is that we really don’t get any help learning how to TA. Instead, you just have to guess your way through each new situation and hope for the best. Of course, one of the best ways to improve at anything is to keep practicing, so the more you TA the better you should get – in theory.
For me, I’ve found it really hard to learn how to teach people with different learning styles. I’m an “expert” at teaching myself at this point, but not every student learns the same way I do. This has become particularly apparent this semester as I struggle to help one student.
I generally think I’m a decent/pretty good TA and I’m usually quick at coming up with different ways to approach a problem. So if the first way I try to teach a student doesn’t work, I switch it up to something different. With this one student, I have yet to find a successful way to present information such that the student can grasp it. No matter how I present something, I get a reply along the lines of “I don’t get it.” In this case, I know it’s mostly true, because even after directly saying a solution to the student, I can’t get the student to repeat it back to me. It’s like we’re talking in two different languages with no commonalities.
I feel a little bit better knowing the instructor for the course is having the same problem with the same student. But it’s also really frustrating. I’m generally a firm believe that anyone can learn the basics of computer science, but this student is testing that belief. And it also makes you feel a bit like a failure as a TA/teacher when you can’t pass on knowledge. On top of all this, it’s not like I have the time to design an individual plan for this student, nor can I spend the entire lab helping this one student. That’s not fair to everyone else in the lab.
I wish we (TAs) were taught how to deal with these situations. With all the research done on education, and all the teachers in the world, there must be common methods and solutions and avenues to explore. Instead, I’ll just continue to try and hope for the best. That someday this student starts to “get it” and I manage to figure out how to explain things in a way the student can grasp.