Dec. 16th, 2009

terriko: (Default)
On the whole, I like my students. They are smart, creative, awesome folk who astound me by what they know as often as they astound me by what they don't. But when I'm marking, these fascinating individuals somehow manage to come across as the most annoying intellectual toddlers. I honestly don't think most of them mean to be rude, they just don't realise what they're doing. So here's a few things that have irked me this term, why they bug me, and how you can avoid ticking off the person who controls your marks. I doubt tutorial centres teach this kind of learning skill, but maybe there should be courses in, uh, university etiquette with regards to communicating with your Teaching Assistant (TA).

1. Don't ask for more marks while your TA is still marking. As in, if your mark was posted 5 minutes ago, it's too soon to ask. If your TAs are marking more than one thing at once (e.g. a midterm and an assignment) you should probably wait until both are done.

Why shouldn't you do this? If your TA gets an email while they're still busy with other students' work, they're going to be (a) too busy to help you immediately and (b) may forget by the time they have time. TAs are also students, and have to set aside their own work while they mark, so they've got other stuff piling up and want to get back on top of that before dealing with you. Your query will be about as welcome as a yappy, biting dog, and some TAs are seriously vindictive about remarking.

What's better? Wait a few days before sending that email, or better yet, come to office hours where the TA is being paid to help you right then with whatever problem you bring forwards.

2. Don't say things like, "I didn't have time to edit this." My knee-jerk reaction to "I didn't have time to edit this" is "well, in that case, I don't have time to mark your unedited crud either."

Why shouldn't you do this? It says, "I didn't care enough about this assignment," with a dose of "I have poor time-management skills," and potentially "I don't care if you have to wade through absolute drivel to give me a mark." Not polite, and encourages your TA to do a half-baked job of marking to match your half-baked job of writing.

What's better? Editing your assignment. But failing that, just a quick "sorry" before "I didn't have time to edit," can make a huge difference in tone, thanks! And if you're submitting a buggy program rather than an unedited essay, some information about the known bugs can go a long way towards good will.

Corollary: That said, while I'm suggesting an apology here, you don't really have to apologize so much for asking for help during office hours. I like helping people (I just hate marking) and we're being paid by you, to help you. So I like the politeness of it, but please please please don't feel guilty about pulling me away from whatever I'm doing to kill time until someone needs help!

3. Don't just email the first TA on the list or the easiest to find TA every time you have a problem.

Why shouldn't you do this? Half the mail I get from students I have to forward to the other TAs because someone else was in charge of that question, or that tutorial section, or wahtever. Waiting for me to notice and forward the mail on delays you getting a response (and introduces more places where your mail might get forgotten), so it's really better for both of us if you get it right!

What's better? Try to figure out who marked which assignment and contact the appropriate TA. Ideally this would be easy to find, but university courseware is often terrible, so if it's not, try asking or just email all the TAs so that the appropriate one can respond. The latter is what I do if I get an email from a student whose problem is not mine to deal with, anyhow.

Side note: I get the lion's share of email from students, and they often tell me it's because I'm the most memorable, friendly, approachable or helpful TA. Which is sweet and a great ego-boost, but no matter how much you like me at a teacher, I'm still not always the right person to email!

Heh. Not that I'm going to win any awards for being approachable after this post!

4. Don't be unprofessional. This term I learned that one of my students can't spell a word that most definitely should never have come up in our interactions, let alone in one of his assignments. And that's only one of many not cool things I've seen this term (and others, but this one has been particularly bad).

Why shouldn't you do this? Do you really need to ask? It looks bad, and can even hurt your future when someone says, "Hey, what do you remember about student A?" and the answer is, "he won the award for most swearing in assignment 3 and then whined through the second half of term." Seriously, we gossip about you within the school, and a recommendation from a TA can decide whether you get the honours project supervisor you wanted, or potentially even the job you wanted.

What's better? Being professional and being polite. You don't have to be absurdly formal all the time, and you can express your displeasure regarding the course if you need to, but if you can't read your assignment to someone else's grandparents or a potential employer, you're probably doing something wrong.

Edit: See the comments below (click the dreamwidth link on lj) for more excellent tips provided by others!


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