Think, for a moment, about your favorite teachers. Do they share specific traits, such as approachability or understanding? Like students, instructors adore certain attributes in their pupils. These attributes help to foster classroom discussion and an open educational environment, which only serve to benefit you. They also ensure clear communication between you and your teacher. Here are the five traits I most appreciated in my students during my years as a teaching assistant:
If you remember just one sentence from this piece, let it be this: the single greatest courtesy you can extend to your professor, teacher, or teaching assistant is honesty. If you forget to complete an assignment, admit as much. If you feel confused or overwhelmed by a project, tell your instructor. Every educator has done poorly on at least one assignment, and his or her ultimate goal is to enable your success with the course content. In the event that you require an extension, do not lie. A teacher can tell, and he or she is far less likely to assist you if you do.
Honesty is a sign of respect, and each instructor you interact with - whether for a moment or a year—deserves and expects respect. Yes, you may encounter an aloof or undeniably unfriendly professor or teacher, but as a knowledgeable individual with greater experience in a given field than you, he or she may, in time, become a resource that you require. (Do not forget that this educator also determines your grades!) You need not befriend every individual you encounter in school, but decency is a habit well worth cultivating.
This item might be rephrased as “maintain appropriate boundaries.” Often, your professor, teacher, or teaching assistant is responsible for multiple sections of the same course or various classes—or both. Like you, he or she must prepare for school. Like you, he or she must also see to outside commitments, like athletics and family. While the majority of instructors are excellent about responding to e-mails within several hours or scheduling one-on-one meetings, note that they are not at your constant beck-and-call. Allow a minimum of 24 hours to pass before you call or email them a second time.
Educators—especially teaching assistants, who often lead introductory-level or required courses—understand that their classes may not be your first, second, or fifth choice. (In some instances, the instructor him- or herself may have had no say in even teaching the specific course.) And a class of disinterested, glum, and silent students is incredibly difficult to work with. For your professor’s sake, do your best to engage with the material. He or she will likewise do all he or she can to meaningfully connect the course content to your interests and your life outside of the classroom.
Learning can be a difficult, frustrating process. The same is true of teaching. A semester-long or year-long course is often marked by peaks and valleys, and the best method to escape the lows is levity. Like enthusiasm, a sense of humor can brighten a class. It can also enable you to maintain perspective. Remember, too, that ultimately, it is not solely your professor’s, teacher’s, or teaching assistant’s responsibility to entertain you—or to educate you. You are an equal participant in each classroom you enter. If you do your part to set the correct tone, you will reap the rewards of a fulfilling experience.
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