The transition to virtual learning has been difficult for students and faculty alike and at the intersection is a group of outstanding teaching assistants, or TAs. The English department currently employs 29 graduate TAs, 19 of which are new this year. This group also includes six international students regarded as skilled English teachers in their respective countries. TAs mostly teach ENG 110: Writing I, but some more experienced assistants teach ENG 100, 210, or 221. TAs are contracted to work 20 hours a week teaching two classes, though Director of Composition Dr. Margaret Weaver suspects the students devote much more of their time. Weekly responsibilities include teaching six hours in a seated classroom, grading online assignments, maintaining office hours, holding individual writing conferences with students and attending a two-hour practicum every week. Throughout the semester each TA held two to four individual Zoom conferences with every student to assist with writing or just to be there as a friendly face.
“These are some of the university’s most dedicated teachers, even though they are our newest members in the MSU community. ” — Dr. Margaret Weaver
In previous years, TAs would be trained to teach seated classes. However, this year ENG 110 is offered as a blended course, with 50 percent online and 50 percent seated. This format allows for accommodating safe classroom capacities while providing an essential space for new college students to establish a sense of community. Half of each class attends lecture on Monday or Tuesday and the other half on Wednesday or Thursday, with Zoom options available for sick students. Teaching assistants, many of whom had no previous teaching experience, were required to become proficient in seated and online teaching.
Navigating technology has proved to be one of the biggest challenges for TAs. Most TA classrooms are not Zoom compatible, leaving students to bring in their own laptops with cameras to meet the needs of sick and quarantined students. The number of students in and out of quarantine last semester meant teaching assistants taught almost every class with a Zoom option. Weaver and Assistant Director Dr. Leslie Seawright observed several classes and witnessed dedication and innovation from each TA. One teacher put his laptop in a peer response group so the student on Zoom could participate and another redirected her class to an online assignment so she could escort an upset student to the hallway to talk. According to Weaver, TAs constantly collaborated on the best ways to reach and help their students, some of the university’s most at-risk freshmen. This hard work paid off. For the first time in Weaver’s 27-year career at Missouri State, every ENG 100 student portfolio passed the assessment committee last semester.
“It is truly a privilege and blessing to work alongside these inspiring teachers.” — Dr. Margaret Weaver