The 2014-2015 winter break marked an unusual transition for me. The past four years I was a “grade-waiter.” Upon returning home to Cincinnati, Ohio for Christmas, I would log into Duke’s online system every couple of days, waiting for my final grades to be posted for the previous fall term. The last few weeks of any term is riddled with a build-up of essays and exams, and the process of waiting for the feedback and marks on each can be an impatient experience. Many a time, when grades were posted late, I would find myself a tad annoyed. What was taking so long?
Now I am on the other end of that divide. I have gone from being a grade-waiter to a grader myself! And it has come with a great deal more empathy for the professors I have waited on in the past. As a Teaching Assistant for a Comparative Politics Module here at the Trinity College Dublin, I am tasked with marking sixty-five two-thousand word essays. It’s proven to be a much more time-consuming and difficult task than I expected.
That said, I can now say, months into my Mitchell Scholarship year, that signing up to be a Teaching Assistant has been one of the better decisions I have made thus far in Ireland—and not just because it pays well (Guinness, movie tickets, and plane flights do add up). Teaching undergraduate students has become one of the more enjoyable activities of my month. It is a tasking yet fun mix of one part lecture, one part debate, one part stand-up comedy, and one part improvisation.
Every other week I am tasked with reviewing a comparative politics topic in separate class sections on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Topics thus far have covered judicial politics, political science methodology, presidential vs. parliamentary regimes, and many other aspects of governmental structure. The most valuable (and entertaining) part of my job, is imparting upon my students the significance of examining issues from multiple angles and viewpoints.
As an American in Ireland, I have found that I offer a unique vantage point on a lot of these issues—one that most of my students are do not hear regularly. I fully take advantage of this situation to play devil’s advocate as much as possible, and it is in these moments that I feel the best learning takes place—both because my students get to learn a new way of looking at something, but even more importantly, because they learn to rebut the counterarguments I make, and in doing so, better learn to defend what they believe. Not to mention, on rare occasion, I just might convince someone to change his/her mind!
So it is without a doubt I look forward to the start of this new term, and the chance to once again explore issues of political importance with students. First tutorial starts tomorrow. But for now, back to grading—fifteen essays left to go!