GTU Voices - Beneath the Tip of the Teaching Iceberg

Beneath the Tip of the Teaching Iceberg

By Sheryl Johnson
Sheryl Johnson, PhD Student

I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to be a teaching assistant at the GTU. Being a TA is a profound, liminal space between being a student and being a professor.

Lectures and class time are only the tip of the iceberg of a course—the most visible part, surely. But there is much that goes on beneath the surface that isn’t so easily seen. Students know about the time put into reading, writing papers, meeting with professors, talking with classmates — but students mostly know about their own experiences and the ways they have engaged. During my doctoral program at the GTU, I have served as a teaching assistant for three classes (so far!). Each of these classes has given me a tremendous opportunity to begin to see beneath the surface of how courses work as a whole and to discover both the methods used by different faculty and the ways various students engage (particularly those who engage differently than I do). 

It is interesting to see the student who never speaks in class write insightful reflection papers, or to know about the personal challenges that have kept another student out of class for several weeks. It’s also interesting to get to know the student who seems confident in class but who wants to meet weekly to make sure their final paper will go well, and to get reassurance that their ideas make sense, and to gain my own new insights from that!  

I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to be a teaching assistant at the GTU. Being a TA is a profound, liminal space between being a student and being a professor. I have been able to practice more concrete skills, such as lecturing, marking assignments, creating syllabi, and using Moodle — and to process tricky classroom dynamics with skilled educators, delving into the challenging field of fair assessments, and making difficult choices about how to include material that represents important and diverse themes, but is also focused and relevant. 

As a TA, I have been privy to some moments of honesty about how students experience a class—feelings that they may have tried to hide from the professor. I am also conscious that as a future professor I might not receive such honesty. While professors might see more of the “iceberg” than students in some ways, there are also areas they don’t see. Some of this may be due to politeness or students’ desires/needs to please, embarrassment or shame, factors of identity and social location, and so much more. As my own identity shifts in the classroom, I am grateful for my new perspectives, I mourn (a little) the loss of peer relationships with those taking the class, and will try to be aware of what I may still not be seeing.

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