Teaching, Learning, and Supporting: My Role as a Biology TA | St. Lawrence University

Teaching, Learning, and Supporting: My Role as a Biology TA

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

As a first-year, I thought my Biology Teaching Assistant (TA) had all the answers. He was a junior who had already completed all the horrifying science classes and just seemed like he had it all figured out. Flash forward two years and now I am in this same position. 

I am a Peer Pod TA, which consists of running through various activities with the students once a week for an hour-long session. I have to prepare each week for the topics and be able to answer any questions on them. Some weeks' preparation takes longer than others, especially when I see a topic that I had struggled with when I took the course; this happens every year when I see we are on the 'Tree of Life' unit and I realize I have to relearn it all again to teach it. It can be a lot of work, but overall I love being a Peer Pod TA for many reasons. I get to not only help first-years through a rough transition from a high school level to a college-level course, but also I get to teach and learn with them as well. I come into each session prepared to go to the board and work through some Hardy-Weinberg problems or draw the life cycle of a fern. I love when I see that “light bulb” go off in a student’s head when they finally understand a concept. I get to facilitate this safe space for students where they can ask questions about biology, but also about campus, student life, and courses.

As a first-year, looking at all the tough science courses that lay in front of you can be intimidating—biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, etc. There are times when you think you will never be able to do it and times when you are so stressed because you have so many assignments at once. But during these times, I try to remind students that they will benefit from all the assignments they are doing. Now that I am a junior, I can remember days in general biology where it just seemed like I would never understand a topic. I was frustrated because sometimes all the hours I spent studying did not even pay off. But now, looking back, I have such a different perspective. I am so thankful I had those experiences as a student and all the information I learned in biology has come back at some point during the rest of my undergraduate studies. When students come in grunting about how useless some of this information may feel, I always share how learning that particular lesson was beneficial to me beyond the class of general biology. 

Being a Teaching Assistant allows me to answer all the questions I was afraid to ask as a first-year. I remind my students that I am there for them as a resource beyond biology and that if they are struggling to learn or questioning their major, I am there to talk to them and share my experiences. I am in a very unique position that I get to connect with future researchers, physicians, nurses, etc. and I want to make sure that they do not give up on a dream because it seems too hard. Teaching is why I took the position, but supporting students as they journey to achieve their goals and excel is why I continue to do it.