As the World Turns,
A Scared TA Learns
The Soviet Union
picked a heck of a
time to collapse for
Andy Workman ' 93
Andy Workman ' 93 (PhD) had one overwhelming thought on the eve of the fall semester in 1991 as he prepared to teach a course on modern world history.
" 1 was terrified," he recalled."One doesn't know how one is
going to do in that situation."
Sure, he'd graded papers and led recitation sections for almost
a dozen classes. And he was close to finishing his doctoral degree
in UNC's history department. But this was different. This course
was his alone to construct and conduct.
About 45 students were depending on him
to explain just what had happened in the
world since 1945.
On the first day, he apprehensively
entered the classroom. Discussion began.
And after only a few minutes, much to his
relief, Workman felt calmed rather than
unnerved by the students' eyes upon hilTl.
"When one is placed in that role there's
an expectation that you'll know what
you're talking about," he said. "The gaze of
the students, the way they look at you for
information, confirms your legitimacy to be
The rest of that semester confirmed how
much Worknun loved teaching. He also
learned the challenges of teaching history as
the whole world was changing, he said. In
1991, the end of the Cold War had sparked
the collapse ofthe Soviet Union, and many
Eastern European nations were in the
process ofliberating themselves. The very texts Workn1an had
intended to use for reading assignments became outdated, so he
constantly looked for the best materials and most recent informa-
" 1 had to write lectures and rewrite them all," he said.
It was worth the effort. Workman said that class was invigorat-
ing for both him and the students, who were excited to learn
about world events as they happened. For Workman, the experi-
ence of teaching on his own at UNC also prepped him for his
upcoming job search.
"At that time, very few universities taught people to teach," he
said."When I went out on the job market, 1 could really talk
about teaching. 1 don't think other candidates could do that."
Even better, he already knew the preparation required by the
teaching process. So when Mills College, a liberal arts women's
school in Oakland, Calif., asked him to develop five new courses
for its history department in his first year there, Workn1an confi-
dently faced the challenge.
"I was ready," said Workman, now the chair of Mills' history
department. He'll be dean of social sciences next year. "The TA
experience really did prepare me for the way 1 teach now."
doing all this work for a grad student?'"
This uneven experience seems to cap-
ture how many undergraduates fare with
TAs: At times undergraduates luck out;
other times, they don't.
Junior Michael Handy's recent TA
experience ranked poorly. The journalism
and political science major said his politi-
cal science instructor didn't make ade-
quate use of the class time and failed to
delve deeply into the subject material.
What irked Handy most was that no one
ever came to observe the TA, even
though it was his first time teaching a
class on his own. The political science
department requires teaching fellows to
be observed at least twice during the first
semester of instruction.
" 1 think, in a way, we do get cheated,"
he said. "Ifthe University is going to
trust someone that doesn't have a doctor-
ate or master's degree, then they need to
be carefully observed, at least once if not
twice a semester, to make sure that they
do have the knowledge to teach the stu-
By the end of the fall semester,
McEvoy said, the kinks in her communi-
cation course were ironed out. The TA
had a better handle on how much he
could demand from his students, and the
students realized they needed to work
AJthough the thought of teaching
assistants significantly contributing to her
Carolina education once gave her pause,
McEvoy now perceives little cause for
concern with a couple ofsemesters under
"I used to think that was going to be
a bad thing," she said after having four
TAs in two semesters. "But so far, my
experiences with teaching assistants have
been good ones. The knowledge gives
them the authority."
Handy offered another perspective. He
didn't think just anyone should be
allowed to teach at the college level but
realized graduate students must learn
"There are good TAs and bad TAs," he
said. "I've been fortunate to have a little
bit of both." .on
COLLEENJENKiNS is an editorial intern Jar
May /J"/'I e 2 0 0 2