i did it because when I was a first year student, I WISHED i had had someone like that to help me out. someone to answer mundane questions like “where’s food service”, and more complex ones like “how do i write a research paper” and “how do i decide what to do with my life”.
my first year of college, i had just gotten out of a very rough place in my life. i was so overwhelmed after the first day, so alone, that i stood at the top of this tower on campus and considered jumping for a good twenty minutes. i was that bad off.
the juniors and seniors i encountered my first year were distant and stuck-up. they seemed like giants who would just brush you off, or swat you like flies. i really didn’t have an older, more experienced student to help me figure things out, and even at a small school, the professors were hard to meet catch at an open time. i got lucky—i had an awesome, supportive roommate, and i had one particular professor who took me under his wing and made sure i was okay. i also went to counseling and clicked with my first counselor there.
my first semester as a TA, i was fucking terrified. there was that one student who is always there—the one who seems unreachable and who eventually fails out. there was a plagiarism issue. there were several people who just did not pay attention to basic things like deadlines. i don’t think it was an issue of not caring—they felt out of place and disconnected. i understood where they were coming from.
my second semester as a TA, someone’s grandfather died. i had another plagiarism issue. a few people dropped out. one person almost did, but the professor and i worked with him and we figured something out.
one summer, i had a student who was an international student. it was a class on the 60’s and 70’s counterculture in the United States. to explain the Black Power and anti-racism movements of the time, i first had to explain the Civil War and slavery and all of the context behind that. we met once, sometimes twice a week, for three months because there was so much stuff that he just did not know due to his background. after a ton of work together, he got the highest grade in the class. that was pretty awesome.
eventually i learned how to be a role model. it was a weird position for someone like me who is used to being on the sidelines. suddenly, i became the center of attention, leading discussions and occasionally teaching lessons. one semester, i met with my students for the first time, and after just ten minutes of introductions, they ALL said i was the coolest TA ever. I didn’t even do anything, they just loved me right away.
i grew to adore that group—we bonded over our mutual dislike of the class and the professor’s poor teaching skills. my favorite memory of them is ordering pizza, meeting in a study room, and helping them with their research papers the night before a key due date. i still keep up with them on facebook and see how they’re doing—i’m SO proud of them.
if you are a junior or senior at your school, please try to reach out to the incoming first year students. they NEED someone to be there. they need friends and some of them are in desperate need of a family. i got lucky. not everyone does.