Many TAs feel far removed from undergraduate culture, distant from that way of living and thinking, even though they themselves were undergraduates not so long ago. Having moved beyond the undergraduate to the graduate level, they may forget what it was like to be an undergraduate. The TA who can remember this experience, however, and empathize with the trials and stresses of undergraduate life may be able, in the end, to reach more students than those who view them from afar.
Although the life of an undergraduate may seem idyllic when looked at through the eyes of the overburdened graduate student, it is not quite as simple as memory makes it. Most undergraduates have a full schedule of classes, carrying at least twelve credits (often, sixteen or more). In addition to this, a majority of undergraduates must work at part-time or even full-time jobs to subsidize their education. For many students, a job is a necessity: without it, they would be forced to leave school. Furthermore, many of these students are living away from home for the first time in their lives—an emotionally and socially demanding period. Clearly, students who are overwhelmed by work and social life will have difficulties investing the needed time to complete their coursework.
Once TAs recognize the fact that the life of the undergraduate is not always an easy one, they are in a position to help their students: to consider ways to translate this knowledge into action, to adopt teaching strategies that acknowledge and alleviate the problems that come along with being an undergraduate. Perhaps the most effective first step TAs can take is to stop thinking about their students as an amorphous mass?the undergraduates?and to attempt to see them as individuals. Do not make generalizations about your students (i.e., undergraduates are lazy, silly, shallow, unmotivated). Most students are sincerely involved with their education and willing to work hard to succeed.
Be understanding when students come to you with problems or with excuses for late or unsatisfactory work: they honestly do have tight schedules and may be under a lot of pressure. Help them if you can; don?t put another obstacle in their way. This does not mean that you should fall for every line they give you, but do not be so skeptical that you do not accept any excuses. Dealing with students in a fair and honest manner is the best policy. Try to help them find ways to meet their commitments to your class without losing control of other equally important parts of their lives.
What expectations can a TA have about a Rutgers student? In a university of approximately 55,000 students-37,000 in New Brunswick alone-you can, first of all, expect variety. There are more full-time students than part-time students, more women than men enrolled at Rutgers. Most of the students (91%) are from New Jersey.
Numbers and percentiles tell nothing about the ability of a given individual or the scope of knowledge or range of experience a student may bring to your classroom. Avoid stereotyping students, since research has shown that student performance is often directly related to teacher expectation. One of the jobs of a good teacher is to identify and help develop an individual student's potential. So, the answer to the question posed in the opening paragraph of this section-what expectations should a TA have about Rutgers students-is that a teacher should expect intelligent and able students, each with a unique contribution to make.
With a large and sprawling university and campuses spread throughout the state, Rutgers is larger than many cities, and, like a city, offers a variety of opportunities and experiences. Getting around may seem confusing at first, but a clear roadmap and a little curiosity will help you become oriented more quickly. Understanding the Rutgers system will be beneficial in helping you to feel at home on campus and enabling you to work more closely with your students. Recognizing which unit of the university your students come from will give you clues about their goals and lives and help you in referring them to the proper places if they come to you for assistance. In addition, evidence of your familiarity with the students' environment signals to them that you are also a member of their community, someone who may understand and sympathize with their problems.
Try to become familiar with the five New Brunswick campuses, not only because TAs can be assigned to any campus but also because you will feel more comfortable if you do so. Special events of interest are held on various campuses—lectures, movies, sporting events, etc.—so you will probably have occasion to visit all of them at one time or another. Although these campus complexes may at first seem widely scattered, all can be reached with campus bus service. This knowledge of the campuses and the difficulties students face getting to one campus from another will also help you understand the challenges your students tackle just reaching your class on time.
The New Brunswick area campuses are described briefly below.
Busch Campus, located across the Raritan in Piscataway, is the home of Engineering, Pharmacy, the Library of Science and Medicine, Mathematics, and most of the science disciplines, graduate and undergraduate student housing, as well as the Administrative Services Building which houses University Undergraduate Admissions, Registrar and Scheduling, and Business Offices. Werblin Recreation Center, classroom and office buildings, labs, the football stadium, golf course, and numerous athletic fields are all found on Busch.
Livingston Campus, also located in Piscataway, borders Busch Campus and is the home of the School of Business, the School of Management and Labor Relations, and some social science disciplines, as well as the Athletic Center, the ecological preserve, and Kilmer Library.
College Avenue Campus, is the home of the School of Arts and Sciences decanal offices, the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, the Graduate School of Education, the Graduate School-New Brunswick Dean's Office, the School of Social Work, as well as a number of humanities and social science disciplines.
Also on the College Avenue Campus is the Alexander Library, Financial Aid, and classroom buildings. Only a short walk from the train and bus service linking New Brunswick to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Princeton, and other points of interest, it is the main administrative campus in New Brunswick.
Cook and Douglass Campuses, in New Brunswick, are adjacent to each other. Cook Campus is home to the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS). Along with many classroom buildings, residence halls, and labs, these campuses house the college Research Farm, the AgBioTech Center, the Levin Theatre, the Mabel Smith Douglass Library, the agricultural museum, the Eagleton Institute of Politics, and the Institute for Research on Women.
The range of the university is wide, not only geographically but also academically. Within the three campuses-Camden, New Brunswick, and Newark-there are twenty-three degree-granting divisions, eleven in New Brunswick alone.
There are two undergraduate degree-granting schools in New Brunswick. Each has its own particular goals and mission and policies concerning admissions, academic standing, and graduation requirements. Both, however, must meet common university standards. Each school has an administrative code that you will see on rosters, student grade reports, and with all course information. These codes will appear next to students' names on the grade rosters. For your information, these codes are listed with the school name below.
The undergraduate schools are:
School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) (01) is the undergraduate school for liberal arts and sciences;
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) (11) as the land-grant college of Rutgers, builds on a well-established tradition of offering studies in the biological, environmental, food and nutritional, marine, and agricultural sciences.
In addition to SAS and SEBS, New Brunswick is home to five other units with a professional orientation:
Mason Gross School of the Arts (07) provides professional education in the arts, with concentrations in visual arts, theatre arts, music, and dance;
The School of Engineering (14) has as its objectives the sound technical and cultural education of the student and the advancement of knowledge through research;
Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy (30) educates and prepares students for practicing the profession of pharmacy in the community, medical institutions, organized health care facilities, or the pharmaceutical industry;
The School of Business (33) is a two-year upper-division school offering programs in accounting, finance, management, management science and information systems, and marketing;
The School of Communication and Information (04) offers majors in communication and journalism and mass media.
As a TA you will meet students from each of these schools and each of these campuses. Identifying a students' school may help you to understand the focus of a student's interest in your discipline: why he or she are taking your course, why his or her level of interest is so high or so low, what the rest of his or her program is like, and other pertinent facts. Of course, more will be learned by speaking with the student, but these codes are a start.