S3xE5: Teaching Support Staff with Kate O'Hanlon (Part 1)

August 1, 2022
S3xE5: Teaching Support Staff with Kate O'Hanlon (Part 1)

Teaching Associate, what’s that? In this two-part series’s first episode, we talk with Kate O’Hanlon, a teaching associate in the computer science department at Duke University. Teaching associates are department staff positions that support the large enrollment classes. We discuss the four primary teaching associate responsibilities: project manager, student outreach, developer, and instructor. In addition, we discuss the underlying goal when Duke created the position and the needed flexibility within the role.

This episode is part of a two-part series. The second episode is with another teaching associate, Yesenia Velasco, and is a reflection on Duke’s first attempt at such a position and some future thinking about where the position can go.

You can also download this episode directly.


Kristin [00:09] Hello and welcome to the CS Ed Podcast, a podcast where we talk about teaching computer science with computer science educators. I am your host, Kristin Stephens-Martinez, an assistant professor of the practice at Duke University. And joining me today is Kate O’Hanlon, a teaching associate at Duke University.

Kristin[00:26] So, Kate, tell us about yourself.

Kate [00:29] Hi, I’m Kate. I am a Teaching Associate, which is a department staff position, not a faculty position. And I help out with usually three courses, sometimes only two. So I always help out with 201, which is our CS2 course and 330, which is our algorithms course. And I very often help out with 230, our mathematics course. So in terms of how big those classes are, they can be anywhere from about 150 to about 550 students, but most often each of them has 300 something students.

Kristin [01:06] Awesome. All right. So I’m going to try something new. Before we go into our main topic, I’d like to first ask, how did you get here? We all have more circuitous paths than meets the eye. And I’d love to hear your story.

Kate [01:19] So I went straight from my undergrad at Wellesley College to the Ph.D. program at Duke. And basically, the program as I pursued it was not for me. The two simplest reasons for that were that I managed to find my way into a research area that just probably wasn’t the right match for me. And the other reason was that I was much more interested in teaching than in research. So whenever I got the chance, I put way too much time into teaching and not enough time into research, which is not so good for a Ph.D. The good news is, even though that wasn’t good for my Ph.D., the department did notice my passion for teaching. How much I loved it, how much time I was putting into it, and so since I was leaving the Ph.D. program with the Masters at the same time that the department was looking to create this type of position. It was a very natural fit.

Kristin [02:23] So that is a perfect segway to today’s episode, which is the first of a two-part series on staff positions that support large courses, where the two-parter will be the two people we have in this position here at Duke. This episode will focus on what is currently happening here at Duke with some reflection on how we did in our first attempt at creating this position, and the next episode will be more reflection on some future thinking of where this position can go. So I think since this is obviously the current focusing episode, the very burning question that many people probably are wondering is what does a Teaching Associate do? Tell us more.

Kate [03:02] That is a shockingly complicated question.

Kristin [03:06] Oh, really?

Kate [03:08] So, as you mentioned, there is another Teaching Associate, Yesenia, who will be on the next podcast. And so what this role looks like is very different, whether it’s me doing it, Yesenia doing it, which class we’re doing, which professor we’re working with. It varies immensely, but there are some general categories that I’ll talk about.

Kristin [03:32] So as a quick side question to that, I’m wondering is, does that make the job harder or is that a good thing about the job where you can kind of personalize it to the you slash professor slash course?

Kate [03:48] It is both, actually.

Kristin [03:51] Okay, why am I not surprised.

Kate [03:53] So, the differences between the tasks for the different courses can be very hard to keep in your head at times. And remember, okay, what am I supposed to be doing for this class? What am I trying to do for this class? What support do different people need? But more often, at least for me personally, it really helps keep me sane. You know, I thrive on having some sort of variety. And so when I’m getting stressed out with a particular part of my job or, you know, I’m waiting for someone to respond, it gives me something else to do that is different while still being productive.

Kristin [04:30] So when you first started the position, how did you curate and figure out what you were doing for each thing?

Kate [04:37] So we were given a few kind of core goals. So one of them was very simply just help manage the department’s largest courses. We knew that the course size was growing faster than we could possibly grow our faculty size, and we needed more support for these very large courses. So very simple but very vague goal was just help support these giant courses.

Kristin [05:04] Okay.

Kate [05:05] Our other goal was to increase consistency. So the primary thing was consistency within a course across semesters, especially at courses that swapped professors around a lot. But also with the long-term goal of having some consistency across the courses. So it very naturally was that I did kind of one track more of the theory track and Yesenia took more of the systems tracks. And most of our core courses fall into one of those categories. And so that way we could focus on that track. When we actually got into those jobs then with such an open task set, we sat down with the professors that we were working with and it was, okay, what are you hoping we’ll do? And so these jobs were very much shaped by both what we wanted to do and our top skill set and what the particular courses needed. So if you look at even just 101, which Yesenia does, and 201 which I do, so our CS1 and CS2 courses. Yesenia was stepping into a course that was hyper organized.

Kate [06:24] Kristin.

Kristin [06:26] For the audience, it was me that Yesenia started with, which I am hyper organized. A little bit, probably too much for some people.

Kate [06:35] But that course desperately needed an autograder and Yesenia was very happy to do some coding. And while she’s very good at organization, she doesn’t thrive on it like you and I do. So it made sense in both directions for Yesenia to step into that autograder role.

Kristin [06:56] That’s true.

Kate [06:57] Whereas on my side I was stepping into a course that had an amazing UTA who had already put together our auto grader, was maintaining it, but a course that needed much more organizational structure. And I love being organized. I organize in a very different way than Kristin does. We organize different things, but I love organizing and logistics and everything. So I went almost the opposite route. I didn’t touch the autograder at all. I still don’t know anywhere near as much about the autograders for the course as Yesenia does. And 201 has a UTA position for that. But I did a lot more of the scheduling, logistics, managing the TAs.

Kristin [07:43] I remember also, especially in the beginning, one of the things that you were looking at was giving the TAs feedback and actually trying to help them improve in their TA-ing. And I remember hearing about it like a year in with Yesenia as my like Teaching Associate for CompSci 101. Oh, yeah. Yesenia, at some point when you have the time, we should probably do that too, for 101.

Kate [08:05] Yeah. So that was something that was very much shaped by my personal experience. For me, there was some frustration in not getting much feedback from students from the faculty other than, you know, oh, I was doing well enough to get a TA award. Who knew? You know? Um, there wasn’t a lot of structure for getting this feedback to TAs whether undergraduate or graduate TAs. And I’ve been hearing that from a lot of people.

Kate [08:37] And on the other side, there are certain things that the faculty just can’t cover. And so the faculty were a little frustrated that they weren’t getting some of this feedback. So the two things, one of them is what you just mentioned. I started sitting in on all of our small group sections. So depending on the course called discussion or recitation, but basically the like practicum that goes separate from the lecture, that’s a smaller group, usually at most 30 students instead of, again, 300 something for the lecture. And that way I could sit in on the class and see how those TAs were doing. And I could tell them when they were doing very well, I could give them constructive criticism, and the TAs, for the most part, loved actually having someone telling them this. And then we also had actual data, you know, to give to the faculty, say how people were doing, to come back and say, okay, it’s clear that people have misunderstood how we’re hoping to do this, tell everyone that we needed to clarify this. And even later, you know, we tend to rely much more on student feedback, which is across the semester from 30 people rather than my feedback, which is like one day from one person. But when we are making rehiring decisions, it’s also very helpful to have one more data point, even if it’s weighted very, very small in the overall data set.

Kate [10:06] The other piece of what we did, which was as much department driven as by us, was start doing student surveys to get feedback about the TAs. So mid-semester surveys and end-of-semester surveys. A big part of why we did this is Duke’s overall course surveys do sometimes ask questions about the grad TAs, but (A) they tend to be blanket questions and (B) they’re not given to the grad TAs. They don’t have access to them, and most faculty don’t know that the grad TAs don’t have access to them. So the grads never get any student feedback. And it doesn’t even ask about undergraduate TAs.

Kristin [10:48] But I do remember like feedback and the surveys were one of the things that we were trying to do more. And thankfully you all were able to sit down and look at that feedback and then filter it for the TAs and not just hand it to the TAs. Because an undergraduate TA who is learning how to be an effective teacher does not yet necessarily know how to interpret feedback well.

Kate [11:11] Yeah. And that is, frankly, something that takes a lot of time. It’s not uncommon that I’ll get out the like multiple choice feedback, that doesn’t take as much processing, very quickly after the survey and then will not actually be able to send the comments until things slow down. So like end-of-semester spring survey going straight from spring semester into summer term one, those folks aren’t getting their end-of- semester feedback until the second half of summer. Sorry.

Kristin [11:45] But, hopefully they would get the mid-semester feedback in time to react to it.

Kate [11:51] Usually.

Kristin [11:52] I wonder if there’s a faster way to handle that at some point.

Kate [11:56] Yeah.

Kristin [11:57] But in the meantime, we’ve talked about how you managed TAs, and did all of that. But I do remember that in our meeting with the three of us, you, me, and Yesenia, as we were figuring out these episodes, that you all kind of broke down the primary duties into four pieces. I would love for you to talk about each of those pieces in whichever order you want to.

Kate [12:23] So, now that we’ve somewhat settled into our roles, there’s still some flux across courses and professors, but we sort of have four primary duties. So project manager, student outreach, developer, and instructor.

Kristin [12:41] Okay.

Kate [12:42] So project management mostly focuses on managing the TAs, thinking of the course as a project. So we do some quality assurance of the TAs, mostly the UTAs, but sometimes the grad TAs as well. And initially that just was okay, we have this group of people, how do we help them be better? But as we got more involved in the courses that started looking like holding interviews for the TAs, so between application and hiring. And for some courses that is very much a hiring metric for some we’re more short on applicants, so we can’t be as choosy and in that case, it’s more matching people with their skills, you know, making sure that they’re working on the parts of the role that they are both happiest with but also most qualified for so everyone gets the best experience.

Kristin [13:41] And I would imagine also some of it is potentially looking at like the pool of students who are applied to be a TA anywhere and maybe asking to pull some student from like their primary goal to something else.

Kate [13:56] Yes. That doesn’t happen as much with 101 and 201 where we get a lot of applicants. But for our other courses, yes, that is a very large part of the role.

Kristin [14:08] I’ve totally had you or Yesenia message me and go do you need so-and-so, they picked you first, but we’d like them for this. And most of the time I would be like, yeah, that’s okay. Other times I’m like, no, this one’s mine. You can’t have them.

Kate [14:21] And it’s gone the other way, too. That is an interesting background negotiation that happens the way our department does its UTA applications.

Kristin [14:30] It’s not like stable marriage problem or anything. It’s just like this interesting discussion in the background whenever they’re like, oh, we need more.

Kate [14:40] Yep.

Kristin [14:41] Okay. So project management is one. And so is it mainly the people?

Kate [14:46] That is often the biggest part. We do some scheduling and some poking, for lack of a better word, making sure that things run smoothly. The rest of the other tasks we more think of on the developer side than project manager side.

Kate [15:03] The additional quality assurance type thing we did for TAs is training.

Kristin [15:08] Yes.

Kate [15:09] So we run the graduate TA training, which at this point is unfortunately just one couple-hour session each semester. And while we have been less of a driving force for the UTA training because we’ve had another staff position that’s in charge of it, we’ve also been helping out with that as much as we have been able to.

Kristin [15:34] Yeah, before the pandemic, we did start having a TA training class that they took over the course the entire semester. But then the pandemic happened and that was one of the balls we were like, well, we got to drop some balls. I guess we’ll drop this one because we got other things we got to do.

Kate [15:51] Exactly.

Kristin [15:52] But that’s okay, that’s what happens when the pandemic happened. You’re allowed to drop different things. That ball bounces, so you eventually will pick it back up.

Kristin [16:02] So for project management, besides managing the TAs and a little bit about the course itself, where does handling accommodations go?

Kate [16:11] That we more often classify as student outreach because it does involve working so closely with the students and making sure all their needs are met.

Kristin [16:19] I see. Okay. So, how do you handle accommodations because I’m pretty sure that for some faculty that was one of the ways to convince them to at least start trying out having a Teaching Associate in their class.

Kate [16:34] And I will say absolutely one of the professors I was working with my first semester, we had that meeting and he’s like, okay, the things I want you to work on, number one, are the accommodations and the extensions.

Kristin [16:48] Take this off my plate.

Kate [16:50] Yes. So accommodations, there are certainly some semester long ones that we help manage. So some examples of those are students who need to sit in the front of the room. That’s often easy in lecture, but for those small group sections, people are more likely to sit at the front. So we need to navigate that delicate balance between disclosing as little as possible, especially to peers, while also making sure the needs are met. So that’s usually working with the student, making sure that they’re okay with the discussion leader knowing about the accommodation because we can’t be there every week. Then there’s also things like making sure people have the lecture slides afterwards. There are some semester-long ones, but most of the time is focused around exams. That’s where the biggest chunk of the accommodations apply.

Kristin [17:45] I think that was a way of selling the idea of having a Teaching Associate, helping with a large class, going like they can help you with all of the accommodation needs of students. And I at least appreciate that faculty understood that that was an important thing to do. And so we’re like, okay, at first I didn’t think I needed a Teaching Associate, but if they can handle this thing for me, great.

Kate [18:07] Yeah. Because certainly having someone who’s doing this every semester and knows what things change, knows what some of the guidelines are because they do give us a nice little snippet about each accommodation, but that doesn’t actually tell you everything.

Kristin [18:23] I remember turning to you all, now I’m teaching a class without a Teaching Associate and then having to go like what does non-distracting room really mean?

Kate [18:34] Strangely, it means you can’t have more than 10% of the class in the room. So for something with 300 students, that means you can’t have more than 30 in the room, which is like a normal class size.

Kristin [18:48] Why do they go over the percentage versus like a flat number? That doesn’t make sense to me.

Kate [18:55] No, no, it doesn’t. So, yes, having that institutional knowledge in a sense, having someone that, you know, you can check in with to get those little details is important and has been useful for the department, even courses that we’re not specifically working with.

Kristin [19:13] Yes, very useful.

Kate [19:15] And it also helps, you know, it can be something that’s very easy to get frustrated by because it can be a lot of work.

Kristin [19:26] Besides handling accommodations, what else is student outreach for a Teaching Associate position?

Kate [19:34] So another major thing is catching students that are struggling. And sometimes this looks like just looking at the data and seeing, okay, who isn’t submitting things, who’s consistently doing poorly on things? And sometimes it looks like just being someone who’s explicitly asking the TAs like, okay, are you noticing anyone in your small group section who isn’t doing so well? And so we often reach out to those students and see what we can do. You know, see if there’s any extra resource that they might not be aware of. Or even just knowing that they’re in a situation so they might need more support. Or making sure that they’re in contact with their deans so that they’re actually getting this connected experience where they have someone working with them across all of their classes. So it looks very different from case to case. But yeah, just making sure that someone is aware in these giant classes of the people who aren’t doing as well.

Kristin [20:44] That’s the piece I probably miss most about not having a Teaching Associate because I definitely know I am missing students. And if I just had the bandwidth to sit down and look at my data, I would have found more of them, but like definitely didn’t have the time. And now one of the things I am thinking about that I’ve had some time to breathe since the last semester, is how am I going to try and put in mechanisms in my class next semester that will help me more easily find and see these students. Because I don’t have a lovely Teaching Associate to like look at the data for me and give me a lovely spreadsheet that says so-and-so hasn’t done X, Y and Z, but they did do this. And I can decide that’s how Yesenia I did it for our CS1 where she just give me a spreadsheet and tell me like what each student is doing. And then I had a column that basically told her like, okay, do this for this student, do this for that student, and like, I’ll trust you for this one, that kind of thing. Just to like handle it and not have to worry that people are slipping through the cracks because one of the worst feelings is when a student finally does feel comfortable enough to contact you, but it’s the end of semester and you can’t change the past and you’re like, I can’t, I can’t help you now because we are 14 weeks into a 15 week semester and I can’t go back and change what happened. Like if you’d come to me halfway through the semester, I would have been able to maybe change this trajectory, but can’t do anything right now.

Kate [22:19] Yeah.

Kristin [22:20] So this is one of those things where I’m like, I need to figure out how to handle this. But we’ve now only done two of our four primary duties, so let’s move on.

Kate [22:31] I had one more thing. So my personal favorite way of describing this job is that in a lot of ways we are an intermediary or even an advocate just across the course.

Kristin [22:47] Okay.

Kate [22:48] So we’re an advocate for the students to the TAs and the faculty. We’re an advocate for the TAs, to the students and the faculty. And sometimes that’s little things like TAs are students too, spring break is spring break, let’s not make them hold office hours. And also being an advocate for the faculty to the students in the TAs, you know.

Kristin [23:16] I can imagine how that’s useful, like when I was a less experienced professor, having no idea how to explain the method behind my madness. And I think usually then students interpret the worst.

Kate [23:28] Yes.

Kristin [23:29] And so Teaching Associates are a kind of step down in the position of power that students might be more willing to talk to and complain to about the situation.

Kate [23:42] Yeah, there’s absolutely that. And there’s also what I found a little interesting is how much more of this I hear when I go to the small group sections. Like that seems to be where people talk about this. And so being there and hearing what students are saying and being able to address it. Like, oh, no, that’s why this decision was made. Or, you know, yes, this isn’t perfect, but these were our only options. Do you agree that we chose the lesser of two evils? Oh, yeah, that’s way better than any other option. You know. Or even just like, hey, you remember how he mentioned that his kids wouldn’t be in daycare this week? Oh, yes, yes. Now, everything of this week makes sense.

Kristin [24:27] Oh, I think, yeah. One of the things the pandemic has kind of broken is the social norm to not mention your personal life at work, especially to your students.

Kate [24:39] Yep.

Kristin [24:40] Okay. So we’ve done project manager, we’ve done student outreach. Developer. What happens as a developer?

Kate [24:47] There are sort of two main sides to what developer might mean. And again, quite frankly, I only do one of them. Yesenia does both. So Yesenia does a lot of the coding development and knows what’s happening with the autograder. Again, I work with courses that either have minimal or no programming or had some structure before I stepped in to have that be a TA position so it didn’t make sense for me to take that on. But development can also mean materials development. So we’re both involved in conversations about developing course materials. And that can be for the courses that we help out with. That has been for new courses as well and for TA training. So even though neither of us has a Ph.D., we might not officially be qualified to do this on our own, we are still a voice to help out and be that binding thread across courses if nothing else.

Kristin [25:49] So, can you be more precise what you mean by course content, like what you develop in that respect? Because I imagine most people can kind of guess what like if you need to write code for a class, you’re talking about the autograder or maybe the grading script. But for course content are we talking about the exams, the readings, the assignment write up? Like what are we talking about exactly?

Kate [26:13] That is another thing that looks very different from course to course. So I know for me, one of the classes that I work with has looked so very different across the years that I’ve been here. It is one of the most variable from faculty member to faculty member. And it’s kind of infamous because it is extremely different between fall and spring. Like one semester has programming, one semester doesn’t.~~ ~~

Kristin [26:42] But the students know this, I would hope.

Kate [26:44] The students know this.

Kate [26:46] So for this course, it’s a weird one because I actually have more experience in this course than most of the faculty who teach it. And this is one where they very often lean on me to say, okay, what are other faculty doing? What do students know from, you know, middle school, high school about this topic? Like, can I just dive in here? So even though I’m not directly helping to write the lectures, that’s one where I tend to very directly influence like, what gets taught in the course. Just because I have this experience and can help guide, you know, what do people know going into this course and what do people know going out of other versions of this course?

Kristin [27:30] So it’s like you help with consistency and part of your job is to hold on to the context that happens from semester to semester for that course, even if the professor changes on that course.

Kate [27:50] Yes. And in some courses that’s more the professor wants to do this thing and I’m just saying, this is what we’ve done in the past. And you know, making sure there’s at least awareness and it’s a conscious choice, not just a I don’t know how it’s been done so I’m going to do what I want. And so there sometimes it’s just an awareness question. This course is interesting because the faculty are actually asking for that. It’s not just me saying, okay, it’s part of my job to tell you this. It’s them knowing I’m a resource.

Kristin [28:22] So you give feedback, you answer questions about content. Are you writing assignments? Are you writing homeworks? Discussion material? Like, are you actually writing anything? Or is it really more of a feedback/curation kind of thing?

Kate [28:42] It has most often feedback and curation. So for exams, I have taken almost every exam that all the courses I have worked with have offered. You know, taking them for timing, proofreading.

Kristin [28:59] All right. So developing is both coding as well as content. But content is definitely more feedback and curation, which makes a lot of sense I think, given that one of the original intentions of this position was to be that common thread across semesters regardless of professor. So the last piece of the four primary duties was instructor.

Kate [29:25] Yes.

Kristin [29:26] So elaborate more on that.

Kate [29:29] So that primarily is referencing summer. So something we’ve been doing since we started is teaching our own summer course. And that means we are the primary instructor. So we are actually teaching lecture, possibly doing the small group discussion as well, although for summer courses that’s usually the same size. So we actually for that are writing all the materials, writing the lectures, the homeworks, the exams. Because, you know, we don’t have to worry about stepping on someone’s toes or making things too similar, too shaped by us. This is our course. That’s the point. So that is definitely a very different experience.

Kristin [30:17] Do you take this summer instructor opportunity to reimagine how the content should be taught or to iterate on something in particular and then maybe and bring back what you’ve learned into the regular offerings or anything like that?

Kate [30:39] So the complication in terms of exactly what I do is that I teach that course that I was describing earlier where it varies so much from professor to professor. And so the fine line that I walk is that I actually have a favorite version of the course. But it’s one that hasn’t been taught in a few years.

Kristin [31:03] Oh, okay. So you’re flavor number 3.

Kate [31:08] Yes. So what I have to do is walk this line between having it be like the version of the course that is my favorite and still making sure that people leave with everything that they need to know that they would have gotten in one of the other versions.

Kristin [31:29] I think it shows that the department has a lot of trust in you to be able to offer a version of this course that still succeeds at the learning goals of this course. And I think that is something that I would not necessarily assume is something for every Teaching Associate, especially, someone who has just started the position. Like my bet is that we didn’t really like, you know, trust you 100% on your first year like I’m sure you also earned this trust over time. But I think overall that’s a good thing that the department is gonna be like, Kate’s got it, we don’t have to worry about her, she’ll do what she needs to do. We can trust her to not screw it up.

Kate [32:23] So I do definitely agree that that first summer there was more of a feeling of not 100% trusted, including us not 100% trusting ourselves because this was the first time being primary instructor. But I think what really, really helped all around is that at least that first summer, we each taught a course that we had TA’d multiple times. So we had already proven ourselves to the department. We were already very familiar with at least some version of the course. So that was another big reason that that first summer I started with that version. Like, I have since seen many, many more, and it’s still my favorite. But that’s why that was my core the first summer because that’s also the one I knew the best and had taught twice. So having one where we had already proven ourselves as secondary instructors and knew that we could trust ourselves to at least know the material, even if there were parts that we hadn’t done before, I think comforted everyone to some degree.

Kate [33:27] And again, stepping into the next episode a little bit, I think that is something that departments will have to think about. There are major pros to hiring someone from the same department who knows your courses, knows your logistics, knows how things work, can just dive into the role helping and have less onboarding time. But when you’re applying to master’s/Ph.Ds, there’s a lot of talk about cross-pollination. And I think that’s also very valuable. It just means a different starting point for people, and I’m not sure that we would have been trusted or even felt qualified ourselves to teach that first summer yet. If we hadn’t really, really worked closely with those courses as both TAs and Teaching Associates beforehand.

Kristin [34:19] For the summer versions, how many students are you teaching?

Kate [34:25] That varies pretty widely. So, the biggest factor in the discrepancy is whether it’s taught in-person or online.

Kristin [34:35] Okay. Which makes sense.

Kate [34:39] In-person, it’s usually like ten students. Which doesn’t necessarily help the department as much as teaching a larger course. But you want to make sure the students actually are learning. And for most students, not all, for most courses, the learning outcomes are much better in person. Online, I think the largest course I had after add/drop had 44 students.

Kristin [35:11] That’s, not this summer, though. That’s more summer 2020?

Kate [35:16] Yeah. That’s covid summer.

Kristin [35:18] We’ve had two covid summers. Which covid summer are we talking about?

Kate [35:23] I think that was 2020.

Kristin [35:26] And that in some ways makes more sense because like we were all trapped in our houses in some ways. So what else are you going to do that summer if you know you weren’t going to do an internship or something. Might as well knock out one of your class requirements.

Kate [35:39] Exactly.

Kristin [35:41] All right. So I want to be careful of our time. So let’s do TL;DL. Too long. Didn’t listen. What would you say is the most important thing you would want our listeners to get out of our conversation?

Kate [35:53] Probably that there is value in having flexibility in these roles. Because that way they can be shaped to fit the best combination of like the Teaching Associate, or whatever title you’re going with, that person’s talents and interests with the courses needs, the professors needs. And actually making sure that what we’re doing fits what space we’re trying to fill.

Kate [36:26] That being said, it’s also very helpful to have at least some clear goals. You know, we managed to work with like two or three starting points, but certainly in our first few weeks, it was like, okay, we could really have used a little more guidance on what was expected here. And I think in the end it worked out for the best, but for the first little bit it was definitely stressful being like, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing here. Like, yes, I’m supposed to be helping. I do feel like I’m helping, but is this how I’m supposed to be helping? Making sure that the final equilibrium actually does what the department wanted and something that benefits the students.

Kristin [37:08] When you say needs, do you mean the needs of the course? Your needs, the students’ needs, the professors’ needs, or all the above.

Kate [37:19] All of the above.

Kate [37:21] And I don’t know a natural place to put it. So, one of our challenges was we were coming straight out of the grad program. And so we had friends who were still in the program, peers, and some of these people were then going to be our graduate TAs, and the power dynamic was going to change quite a lot. So one of our struggles was differentiating our position from the graduate TA position. Making sure that there were certain things that, you know, okay, we don’t do this, that’s a graduate TA role. Graduate TAs don’t do that. That’s a Teaching Associate role. And having some delineations so that it was clear that we were a separate entity.

Kate [38:15] And that’s where having the flexibility was very helpful. That’s also kind of a counterpoint to the, it can be very great hiring people from the program, is they know other students, and that can make things a little odd.

Kristin [38:33] All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Kate.

Kate [38:37] Thanks for having me and I hope this podcast helps answer some of those questions that we’ve all been getting about this position and what it can look like.

Kristin [38:49] I think it definitely will. And this was the CS-Ed podcast hosted by me, Kristin Stephens-Martinez, and produced by Amarachi Anakaraonye. And remember, teaching computer science is more than just knowing computer science. And I hope you found something useful for your teaching today.


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