TAs, instructors, and other educators are generally fond of students, but sometimes students do things that can try that patience.

1 Emotional labor

TAing is a form of emotional labor. Just as manual labor uses our body’s strength and cognitive labor uses our mind’s strength, so emotional labor uses our emotional strength.

The classic example of emotional labor is waiting tables: our culture expects not only food to be provided, but also for those bringing it to be pleasant contributors to our positive experience and to accept our faux pas without comment.

We hope that TAs will help students feel calm and focused. This can mean some amount of portraying a calm demeanor even when your students are stressed or upset. We don’t expect you to endure abuse but you may sometimes need to invest some emotional effort in reacting professionally instead of instinctively to less-than-pleasant moments.

2 Misaligned Goals

The Fundamental Postulate of Grading or Axiom of Evaluation is

the more you learn, the higher your grade becomes

However, despite various efforts to make it true, the converse is false; that is,

you can increase your grade without learning

Many students are motivated by learning, and the fact that cheating and begging and so on can theoretically boost their grade remains only theory. But some are motivated more by grades than by learning, and that can lead to a miss-match between TA and student priorities.

In particular, it is worth remembering that your job title is not passing assistant, it is teaching assistant. You can succeed whether your students do well on their assignments or not so long as they time you spent with them was spent in assisting their learning.

3 Priority Manipulation

Humans as social creatures, and as such they have various instincts and habits that help them get along together. For example, most people feel happy when what they do makes others happy and feel sad when what they do makes others feel annoyed, bored, or upset.

This sympathetic nature can cause your priorities to be subtly manipulated to align with those of others, even if their priorities are not ones you agree with. For example, if a student is hoping you’ll tell them the answer instead of teach them then they are likely to appear bored, annoyed, or upset when you try to teach them and to appear happy, excited, and enthusiastic when you start to show them the answer. Over time, this emotional feedback can cause you to start feeling good when you are doing things that run counter to your actual goals.

Understanding that your goal is learning while the students goals might be grades and that your priorities might adapt to be more like those of your students can help you recognize and reject such priority manipulation and stay focused on student learning, not student grades.