Friday, January 06, 2012

Ghost Semester

It’s hard to believe the spring semester has already started. Christmas Winter break flew by, as always. Because I was in charge of grades and had a slew of problems not worth discussing here, the fall semester dragged on a bit beyond what it normally would have. That didn’t help. But aside from the fundamental shock at how quickly the semester break has passed, it’s a bit unbelievable that the spring semester has started simply because the evidence for it is so lacking. I spent the previous two semesters teaching, so I was incredibly busy once the semester started. This time around, I’m back to being a lowly TA, which means all is quiet for the moment. The beginning of the semester has appeared only as the faintest of blips on my radar. And though I’m sure to get busy with grading in the near enough future, I’m not sure this semester will ever feel entirely real. The instructor for which I’m a TA, who is a graduate student like me, has explicitly told me that I needn’t attend his class. He assures me that the material is so basic—it’s an Introduction to Philosophy course—that I’ll do just fine if only I glance at the readings now and again. It seems very strange to me not to attend a class the assignments for which I’ll be grading, but I happily welcome the flexibility afforded me by the lax attitude of the instructor. It is good to have this kind of arrangement when I’m heading into a semester where it will be exceedingly important that I get a lot of good work done on my dissertation, a project that has remained all but dormant since I began teaching back in the summer.

Here’s another cool perk: I might actually be able to attend the occasional gymnastics class for Edison and Peter. The boys’ gymnastics classes conflict with the class for which I’m a TA this semester. Melanie and I purposely arranged the gymnastics classes for the day and times that they are, but we did so based on the assumption that I would have a different TA assignment than I ultimately got. This wasn’t done merely as a matter of wishful thinking—I’d been given the strong impression that I was all but guaranteed a certain TA gig I had more or less begged for. Turns out the gig was less “guaranteed” and more “all but.” When I learned I’d been assigned a TA gig that overlapped with the gymnastics classes, I was quite crestfallen. But now that I know I don’t even have to attend the class to which I’ve been assigned, it’s irrelevant what my TA gig is. And that’s kind of cool.

A final note, just to get everything off of my chest. Last semester, when I taught, I had 142 students and one TA to help me out. This semester, I am one of two TAs for a class of 101 students. On the one hand, I’m extremely happy that I did not end up flying solo this semester as a TA for a class of nearly 150 students. On the other hand, I’m keenly and begrudgingly aware of just how under-supported I was an instructor last semester. I know they assign TAs based on availability and that the largest classes get multiple TAs first, and it so happens that in the fall there were two or three philosophy classes that were larger than the one I was teaching. But still. It was kind of a joke.

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