Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I am competent

Today I received my notification of my TA assignments for this year. I was happy to see that I will be getting a lot of work this year; money is always welcome.

But I confess that, leading up to this, I've been making a lot of noise about "wanting to teach something I know for a change." Every year since I arrived, I've taught one year-long survey course in a broadly familiar field (Canadian survey, European survey), and then I've gotten the Out of Left Field and Unrelated course, where I've had to do a lot of work because I didn't know the field. (See: medical history, Aztecs.) Of course, both Out of Left Field courses were taught by the same professor, and I began to suspect that he requested me.

But this year was going to be different! I was really specific when I filled out my request for TA hours. All I asked was one of their (many, many) courses in German history! How about some World Wars, or maybe some Interwar? How about some Weimar?

And then I received my assignment. I'm teaching four courses instead of two this year, and while one of them is the European survey, the other three were daunting and decidedly random. (History of Medicine, Technology, and the American West?)

And I panicked. The bulk of my teaching load is this semester! How could I balance that and my comps reading! Why did they always give the MAs the courses I wanted, and give me the tough assignments?

It took some talking-through with some good friends, but then I began seeing things differently. Well, of course they'd give the more junior graduate students the less-challenging assignments. Of course, they're not even guaranteed TA hours all the time, while I have so many.

And that's when I realised that my department gives me these assignments because they know that I can handle them. I have a varied teaching history, and a broad educational background that has prepared me well for the TA assignment I was given. I realised that I actually have a surprisingly strong background in the "history of technology," even though I'd never thought about it as such. I'm getting excited about the possibilities. (And what better preparation for grading papers on the American West than the fabulous PhD-level course I took on the subject?)

The medical history course is the same one I taught before, and the professor seems to request me each time. That's nice, because he's been a real mentor for me throughout this process. He also treats me as a colleague and frequently gets my feedback on his teaching style, trying to learn from me how to get his students energized and involved. And he's so helpful; he frequently moves around his course plans so that I can give a lecture close to my research topic.

I'm even starting to warm up to the idea of teaching so much while I'm preparing for my comps. You know, getting out there and leading seminars helps me to prepare for that oral exam. As much as the comps are preparing me for teaching, I'm beginning to suspect that teaching has been preparing me for the comps.

And so I'm going to stop complaining and embrace this year. I am competent and I'm going to try to make this my best teaching year yet. And I'm going to give those comprehensive exams everything I have.


The History Enthusiast said...

WoW!! You are going to be one busy girl. If you need any help with the American West class, give me a call. That is one of my areas of focus.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

History Enthusiast, I will be remembering that. You may be getting and e-mail sometime around essays-marking time.

(You'd really like the prof. I took a course from him where we studied American founding myths, and he's ten kinds of fantastic.)

trillwing said...

That's a crazy course load!

I'm jealous of your course assignments. You realize, of course, that you can't teach the History of Technology course without mention of my favorite exposition, Chicago 1893, yes? :)

kabbage said...

Wow! What a busy semester. During my academia time, I TA'ed the undergrad Fluid Mechanics course and had to come up with some summer demos (mechanical engineering) for middle schoolers and soon-to-be high school seniors, but nothing as fun as your courses. And I know I wasn't competent enough to take on any of the other courses, like Controls or Design. Congratulations on taking your heavy load as a tribute to your competence.

For some of my undergrad GenEd credits, I took a course called "Medicine and Magic: A history of healthcare" that was great fun. (Heck, I remember the course name 25 years later -- it must have been good!)