TA Plight

TMP Note: Due to the sensitive nature of what is being discussed, this author has chosen to remain anonymous. TMP supports this article for we feel it is honest, genuine and respectful. 

“I love you, but I would never want you to be my TA.”

My friend told me this the other day after learning that the average midterm grade for the class I’m TAing was below 70.

Maybe I am. But before jumping to conclusions, there’s also the other side of the story.

First of all, I was not provided any answer or grading rubric for reference, and secondly, the midterm was composed of hand-written short answers.

Without much guidance from the professor, I took on the full responsibility of grading over 30 bluebooks of midterms… but, to do that, I first had to complete the midterm myself so I wouldn’t be making substantial grading mistakes, and only afterwards could I actually start grading.

Although I had a few grading rubrics in mind, I must admit that while going over students’ answers, I had to adjust them so that I could give as many partial credits as possible. While it’s already challenging enough to strike a balance between too strict and too lenient, I had to read a few people’s answers over and over again because I just couldn’t figure out what they were trying to say. (NOTE: TAs are really not trying to screw you over, we don’t hold any personal grudge against you, and we are students ourselves as well.)

After a few days of struggling to find the proper balance in the grading process, I was able to complete the grading in two weeks and published some statistics on canvas before handing back the bluebooks in class:

“You are grading too harshly; the students aren’t happy,” said the professor.

“No, I followed the grading rubric. And even if I were strict, people did get high grades as well! I tried my best to give partial credit,” I explained, “and the person who got the lowest score is because s/he did not answer all the questions.”

Though I appeared to be calm, my mind was rushing all over the place, doubting if I had made it too hard and if I was fair.  So I took out a couple of exam, and started walking over my grading mechanism with the professor. And while I was showing him the points I took off, I immediately recalled the feeling I had when I was reading them:

'Some of these students don’t even know what they are talking about, and they are just throwing as many terminologies as possible to sound smart and right. But sorry, I really can’t in good conscience give them full credit if they are just throwing words around without a clear logic.'

And after looking over some answers, so (partially) agreed the professor.

Anxiously, I handed back the bluebooks. (But wait, shouldn’t the students be the anxious ones?) As midterms were handed back to the students during the break before the second half of the session, I had this interesting observation: while a couple of students took their midterms and went straight out of the classroom, I can certainly tell that those students who stayed were much more engaged than before, actively taking notes, asking questions, challenging the professor, and bringing in their own experience from their own countries. So much for chatting on Facebook, texting on whatsapp, or shopping online...

After class, a couple of students came up to me with questions regarding my grading rubric, and I offered a 4-hour office hour for another day so that they can come sit down with me if they have any questions or concerns. While I do see that some of them were upset, most of them seem to be more determined than ever.

Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe it’s a good thing that I graded them quite “strictly”. The grade somehow woke them up from their little bubble, and let reality kick while it was still not too late.