TAs dish out advice for passing freshman year

In order to stand out, freshmen should show up to class, do their work and use resources.

In order to stand out, freshmen should show up to class, do their work and use resources.

When they’re new to college, students usually make a lot of mistakes. Maybe they’ll write fewer pages than required for a research paper, arrive late for a midterm because they pulled an all-nighter or feel intimidated to visit to a professor during office hours.

Whatever it is, students learn from these experiences and after college, will likely consider them lessons.

Outside the classroom, new friends, knowledge and independence define freshman year. Inside, however, the year can be stressful.

Teaching assistants are “mentors and instructors” who “can make substantial contributions toward the academic progress of the undergraduate students in their courses,” according to the Temple Teaching and Learning Center’s “TA Handbook.”

As graduate students, TAs have frequently experienced the same stresses as freshmen, but for a longer period of time. They can be a source of sage advice on how to handle college struggles, such as writing extensive papers and standing out in a lecture class of more than 300 students.

Sarah Pollock, a TA for Human Sexuality, a general education course, said first and foremost, students must come to class.

“Being there is the first step, but it’s not enough. Pay attention,” Pollock said. “Note-taking is a skill that can be developed. Ask questions.”

Dan Schermond, who is in his fourth year as a sociology TA, also stressed the importance of attendance.

“There are three points that I impress upon younger students,” he said. “One, go to class. Two, do your work. And three, take advantage of the resources available to you.”

Schermond wasn’t the only TA to advocate on-campus resources.

“If there is one skill you leave college with, it should be how to write,” said Sarah Robey, a TA for Dissent in America, a gen-ed history course. “Go to the Writing Center. It’s a huge resource here. Learning how to write is so important.”

While on-campus resources can prove beneficial, TAs say sitting close to the front of the classroom and paying close attention to what the professor says, are key to succeeding in a course.

“Aside from learning all of the information, you’ll know firsthand what the professor thinks is most important, and I guarantee you these points will show up on the exam,” Pollock said.

Many TAs warn students not to fall behind in their course work because all of those missed assignments can add up and create a hole so deep, escape is futile.

“If you don’t keep up on things through the semester, it’s like stabbing yourself in the foot. You’ll realize there’s no way to recover,” Schermond added. “It’s about getting through the adjustment with enough of a buffer. Even if things aren’t worth many points, if you always miss a lot, you won’t do well.”

At a university of more than 26,000 undergraduate students, it can be difficult to stand out. Going out of the way to make sure professors and TAs can match a face with a name makes a difference down the road, Pollock said.

“If you stop by my office, it’s a way of showing you care about your work. I’m much more likely to be lenient if you let me know you are struggling and want help,” he said.

Dan Royles, a TA for a U.S. history survey class, recommends cultivating relationships with faculty.

“At a big university like Temple, you have to seek out advising to get it,” Royles said. “Seek out people of different levels and career stages to see different points of view. Get different advice and pieces of information.”

When it comes time to apply for internships, jobs and graduate schools, professors and TAs will likely be the ones writing recommendation letters. Putting in extra effort can also pay off when students fall behind, since TAs may be more merciful toward students who have a history of keeping up.

“If you habitually turn work in on time, I’m much more willing to cut you a break than if you are chronically late,” Pollock added.

Nichole Baldino can be reached at nichole.baldino@temple.edu.

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