Throughout my first year as an MBA student, I have had the opportunity to take on the role of teaching assistant for both the undergraduate Employee Benefits course and the Evening MBA Risk Management course, as well as assisting with grading exams for RMI 300, Principles of Risk Management. As a first-year MBA student and first time teaching assistant, I was unsure what to expect from this new role. I knew that my core responsibilities would include holding office hours and grading but did not anticipate the many lessons I would learn through this experience.
I have heard many times that the best way to learn something is through teaching it, but I did not have the opportunity to experience this firsthand prior to serving as a teaching assistant. I’ve learned that simply understanding a concept does not guarantee the ability to explain it to others in a way they will understand. Everyone learns differently, so having the ability to simplify a concept and explain it using various avenues not only allowed me to assist students in grasping new concepts, but solidified those concepts in my mind as well.
Serving as a teaching assistant has also helped me to appreciate just how difficult and laborious the process of creating and grading exams and assignments can be. When creating exam content, it is easy to assume that others will read and understand a question in the way that you intend; however, this is often not the case. Just as there is variation in the way individuals learn best, there is variation in the way individuals will interpret exam questions̶ what is clear to one may not be clear to others. Because of this, I had the unexpected opportunity to assist with editing exam content, and discovered that professors don’t simply write the exams and move on but seek feedback from multiple individuals in order provide students with the best possible learning experience.
Grading exams is even more difficult than creating them in the first place. As a student, I never understood how easy it can be to let biases, subjectivity, fatigue, and other factors affect the grading process. Professors and teaching assistants take various steps during the grading process in order to mitigate this, including creating a pre-defined grading rubric, name-blind grading, scoring one question on all exams before moving on to the next question, and even returning to review previously-graded exams to ensure continuity. While this can be a long drawn out process, it ensures the most accurate assessment of what students have learned.
Overall, I think the most unexpected outcome of my role as a teaching assistant has been discovering just how much I enjoy it. The ability to work with students of varying backgrounds and education levels has made no two days the same, and the unexpected questions students often ask have allowed me to look at familiar material in new ways, as well as learn some new things along the way.