Journey of Becoming an English TA!
It’s been more than a year since I became a part of the English TA (Teacher’s Assistant) program, also known as the “English TA Pool.” I started as a TA helping Japanese students learn English in my 2nd semester and am still part of the program now in my 4th semester, but with more responsibility having been promoted to TA leader. If you’re interested in how I got here, let’s continue with my journey!
Applying for TA
First of all, I’d say that applying to become an English TA is relatively easy if you possess the right attitude, passion, and drive that it takes to get the job. Interviews also aren’t that difficult although one thing you need to keep in mind is that like applying for any other job, there are other competent, creative, and responsible applicants just like you. So make it your goal to stand out amongst everyone, as this was my strategy in acing that interview. For me, answering questions not only with a bubbly attitude, but also taking the initiative to interact with other interviewees helped me standout. Instead of solely trying to answer the questions correctly, try to show them, through body language, facial expression, or even the tone of voice, how you would treat your students if you were their TA. Remember, it’s not about perfection, but about showing your enthusiasm and true personality.
After acing your interview and getting into the TA pool, you’ll attend your first training session which happens once every quarter. These sessions are really helpful in getting to know your professors and other TA peers who you might be asking for help. Before the day of the training, we were asked to email our teachers beforehand so they could join our session and get to know us better. One piece of advice that I was given and still remember is that English TA’s, more often than not, will be assisting students rather than the teacher. True enough, my work as a TA has always revolved around the students- helping them with pronunciation, paper writing, and conversation skills, rather than helping the teacher prepare for class or checking homework.
English TA training sessions in general are there to prepare us for situations we might encounter in class such as:
-What to do if you see a student using their cellphone during the lecture
-What to do if a student keeps speaking Japanese during pair speaking activities
-What to do when you have downtime during the class
All of these situations actually do happen and it’s good to be prepared for when they do.
First day on the job
Your first day on the job as a TA begins a few weeks after school has already started. By the time you come to class, the students will have already had the chance to get to know each other, as well as their teachers. This means that you’ll be standing in a room full of people who are just meeting you for the first time, like one of those scenes straight out of a movie where the new kid walks in class and all eyes are on them... but it’ll only be as awkward as you make it! Remember to dig into your positive and authentic attitude you used during your initial interview! I had prepared a presentation introducing myself and my country, the Philippines, and then emailed it to my teacher for her to check. I put A LOOOOT of GIFS, so my students kept saying “可愛い” (かわいい kawaii – cute) throughout the entire presentation. It’s always important to make a good first impression! You could even say a joke to help everyone relax and lighten the mood.
Another important thing about your first day is to memorize the student’s names and faces. Won’t it be better to call them by their names rather than just tapping their shoulder or saying hey? Calling them by name shows that you want to get to know them and that you made the effort to do so. You might not get all their names right the first time, but you’ll get there by the 3rd or 4th meeting, trust me. Personally, I took out a piece of paper, drew something that would specifically remind me of them- glasses, hair color, height, and wrote their names underneath.
Challenges of being a TA
Although I like being a TA, there are bad days too, like when finals are coming up and students seem to be preoccupied with work for other classes. Sometimes only a handful of students may come to class. The atmosphere may get a bit gloomy because everyone is a little worked up and tired, yourself included. I remember having those days where I’d have so many tests and papers due at the same time, but still had TA responsibilities which was exhausting.
There will also be times where you’ll have nothing to do but stand awkwardly in a corner *cricket sounds*. I had times where I wouldn’t be told to go check journals and to just stay during the lecture, so I’d go around asking the students if they needed help but they didn’t … so I’d hop from group to group waiting for someone to need my help.
When you get stuck in situations like this, always remember to keep a positive mindset and maintain a light atmosphere. All your students, including yourself, are already stressed out with other things, so you don’t want a heavy mood in class on top of all that, do you? Your job as TA is to engage your students in the classroom, and they’ll definitely learn faster if learning is made fun. So remember to put on a BIG SMILE and to look at the brighter side of things!
In the end, being an English TA is a fulfilling job and a great opportunity to broaden your horizons. If you ever want to do more in the program and decide that you’d be willing to take on more responsibility, then keep up the enthusiasm, work hard, and you’ll eventually become a TA leader!
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