We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Teaching Assistant ...(TA)

The biggest find I had during my graduate days at UCSC was the role of a Teaching Assistant. US education system has lot of small small nice aspects which makes it one of the best education system in the world.

Teaching Assistant is the role played by a senior student or a graduate student in making the lower class students / junior students understand any difficulty with respect to subject matter / practicals being conducted by a professor during class. So let us consider an introductory class like "Introduction to Computer Science". Now this class will have all type of students right from some students who have previous exposure to programming and computers to those type of students who are totally new to computers and do not know absolutely anything about them. Role of a professor is to make teaching lively and taking into account psychology of all students in account. Professor usually has a biweekly session of 1 hour called Office Hours. Where students can ask difficulties to the professor directly. For all the other difficulties there is a Teaching Assistant. Responsibility of this TA is to answer to queries of students, dumbest of the questions ( "How do I turn on the monitor?" "How do I save this file on hard drive" to advanced programming questions like "What is an assembly language and how well can you explain it".) He also helps students in conducting before exam review session so that students are well prepared for the exams.

Role of a TA is important because most of the times, it becomes easier to interact with a student than a professor and ask some stupidest questions without feeling embarrassed. It really helps in making basics clear for these students. So this is a great system where students get benefited a lot and their basic concepts become really good. It helps students understand that they are a part of a group and help them understand the concept of correct methods of learning. Believe me there are different ways of learning. One could be learning a thing in a wrong way unknowingly.

Good thing about these professors and Teaching Assistants is they really want to help you understand material in a better way. They like questions being asked. I was a Teaching Assistant for 2 courses and I loved my job. It was great to understand students psychology and make them a better person.

Compare this with the way education is imparted in Indian schools. I remember, professors who made students cry during final practical examination under their own ego. I remember lecturers throwing away journals without understanding the cause behind a faulty lab experiment. I remember lecturers playing games in class and making a mockery of the important basic subjects which should have been taught correctly, so that students had a vision of the future. I remember lecturers favoring a certain group of students because they were already well exposed and could answer questions. I remember lecturers not attending classes, teaching wrong things, bluffing, making fun of low performing students because of different things.

I never entertained these lecturers. But I knew many who left no opportunity to please them, though they were wrong. I did not know then that, this is called Interpersonal skills. You repeat the same nonsense in pleasing your boss in a nonsense work environment to move ahead of others. I some how could not develop these interpersonal skills and please others. But I know many who did and are pretty ahead in their respective fields. Good for them.

But I made sure that I gave these people the feedback that they did this thing wrong and that thing wrong. I could not suppress the nonsense they were doing. I some times walked out from classrooms when I could not take the nonsense. People do not like giving feedbacks, because it comes at the cost of interpersonal skills. People do not like to admit mistakes because it hurts their egos. People do not want to share things because they feel what if I stay behind and the other person goes ahead of me?

US is a country which respect utter professionalism. Be it in work environment or education system. I am glad I could be a part of one of the best education systems in the world and could learn so many things. Sure they would come handy in long run.

I wish some day Indians learn this professionalism.

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