GTA: Grand Theft Auto or Graduate Teaching Assistant?

GTA: Grand Theft Auto or Graduate Teaching Assistant?

Some days, I scroll down my Facebook feed and gawk at all of my childhood friends who are now allowed to teach children. MY friends. The ones I did projects with in school, ran track with, ate breakfast tacos and drank Sonic slushes with. The ones who still have my hoodies and t-shirts, the ones who slept in my bed and ate at my parents’ dinner table. My teacher friends are the same friends I’ve been doing hoodrat things with all my life. I shudder at the thought.

In between undergrad and grad school, I worked in education. I love it–it’s the thing I can always come back to, the one thing I’m sure I can do. So when the opportunity came to apply for a teaching assistant position, I knew this would be the spark I needed for my last semester of the program.

Big Chicago is a series of freshmen seminar classes that introduce new students to the city and its history. Access, Activism, and Agency does that by way of exploring how these three elements worked together to transform Chicago from a Boomtown to the hub it is now. Students learn about access through urban planning and architecture, and how activism and agency can often influence the city’s decision-making processes.

Logistically, the class is consists of 100+ students separated into four groups, each led by a graduate teaching assistant. In this particular section of Big Chicago, we get to lead hour-long breakout discussions and activities, as well as be the middleman between the students and the instructors. We even have the opportunity to create and lead a lecture ourselves later on in the semester.

This is such a dope opportunity because it helps me connect with students in a way that I hadn’t outside of teaching. It only helps that the content is so timely–every day we’re making connections between how this city was created and run and the current string of natural disasters or the uptick in activism as it pertains to the nation’s new leadership.

Let’s just say that grading papers…helps me learn more about my students…

After each of the handful of class periods we’ve had so far, I’ve had one or two students stay and talk with me more about course material and life in general. After one class, I talked with two white male students about what allyship can really mean in the fight against police brutality with respect to recent protests in professional sports and elsewhere. The first day, I had a Latino student talk to me about what a friend of his was going through as a DACA recipient. During our visit to the Chicago History Museum, another student and I exchanged American government conspiracy theories and talked about the difference between racism here and racism in the South.

I also get to help them learn what I was learning this time last year mostly on my own–how to move through the city, how to quell parents’ safety concerns, choosing between on and off-campus employment, etc. In return, they hip me to new music (some of which, they make themselves) and other young people things.

And did I mention GTAs also get a nice little stipend? $1500 disbursed in three segments throughout the semester. It may not sound like much, but it’s better than an unpaid internship. Sounds like getting paid to resume build (and relationship build with students trying to find their way) to me, and I’m cool with that.

All of this to say, apply to be a GTA if you get the chance. It’s a rewarding experience so far and I’m sure there will be much more adventure to come: more field trips, more conversations, more chances to make incoming freshmen feel a little more comfortable here. It gives you a chance to be the instructor you always wanted or needed.