My first semester as a “quarter time” TA is now drawing to a close. To refresh your memory, being a quarter time TA means you’re paid half of what one is paid as a “half time” TA. Basically, it’s part-part time work; you’re supposed to work only ten hours per week.
Three months ago, I predicted that despite my reduction in pay, I would end up doing just as much work as a quarter-time TA as I ever did as a half-time TA. I was right. There was just no way to do everything I was asked to do without it technically becoming, at some point, a charitable contribution on my part. Things have balanced out a little bit as I’ve come to the end of the semester. One reason is that I stopped trying to read any of the assigned texts for the class. Probably several students in the class never read the assigned texts, either, so I wasn’t really at a disadvantage there. A few times, while grading papers, I would be slowed down by the fact that I hadn’t read the assigned texts. A student would refer to something in his/her essay, and if it was something that had not been discussed in class or that otherwise required clarification, I would have to look it up and make sure the student was getting things right. But by and large, anything students wrote about in their papers was something I’d heard and understood well enough in class that I could pass judgment upon them. Ideally, I would have read everything that was assigned. But I couldn’t do that here. There was several hours’ worth of readings assigned every week. On top of that, I had papers coming in every other week, and I always had at least a few drafts to comment on during the other weeks. It felt like I was reading and evaluating student essays basically 24-7.
Truth be told, this TA assignment has perplexed me a bit. Despite keeping busy, I’ve felt somewhat superfluous. In the past, the instructors for whom I’ve worked have always entrusted the grading process almost entirely to the TAs. A couple of instructors would look over a handful of graded assignments early in the semester, just to make sure the TAs were doing things as the instructor would like. But some instructors didn’t ever worry about that. They trusted the judgment of the TAs and only got involved if a student wanted to dispute a grade and couldn’t work it out with the TA directly. In contrast, the instructor for whom I’m currently working reads through every single essay that I grade and adjusts the score as he sees fit, sometimes by as little as two points. Even more surprisingly, he also adds his own written comments. I must admit, I don’t know what purpose I am serving. If he’s going to read, comment on, and ultimately determine the score of every single essay, why have me go through that process first? It’s baffling. I’ve never heard of anything like this. But whatever. I’m just doing what I’m paid to do. If he wants to do it all, too, that’s his prerogative.
About 30 minutes from now, I’ll be picking up the final batch of papers of the semester. They are short papers and I don’t even need to write comments on them. It won’t surprise me if it takes me only a couple of hours to grade the entire stack. Then the semester is officially done for me. I look forward to the break. Maybe I’ll add another paragraph to my dissertation. It would be the first in some time. At this rate, I’m well on schedule to graduate in 2036.