Being a Teaching Assistant at WISE & SOE - A Great Experience at Xiamen University

This semester (Fall-2014), as in every semester, Xiamen University received hundreds of students from all over the world, all with different cultures, customs and traditions, but all having something in common, the ambition to become successful professionals in their chosen field. During this process, there is a special group of students who undertake the role of teaching assistant (TA), an invaluable aid to our academic studies.


Being a TA is not an easy job. It requires responsibility and good communication skills, just to mention a couple of the attributes that a good TA must have. For a better understanding of what a TA does, I had the honor to interview some of the TAs at WISE-SOE International Master’s Programs at Xiamen University: Jennifer Okonkwo (from Nigeria), Michael Garcia (from Colombia) and Philipp Müller (from Germany). 


Jennifer Okonkwo - TA of Business Statistics
Student of WISE International Master’s Program in Quantitative Economics

What are the benefits you get being a TA?
J.O.: I get teaching experience. I would like to be a lecturer or a professor, and being a TA is “learning by doing”. So I get to learn how to teach in the future and this is a great start. I remember my first TA session and I was so nervous, I did not know how I was going to do it. But after the first TA session, I became more relaxed with the students. You know, you spend your time, trying to explain, thinking that everybody gets it and then you ask, “Do you understand?” They say “NO!” (Laughing), and you have to start all over again from the beginning trying to go slowly to make them understand because if they do not understand, there is not point being there.


How much time do you spend to prepare for one TA session?
J.O.: So much time! About 5 hours preparing each weekly one and a half hour session.


What difficulties with students do you find being a TA?
J.O.: My problem with the students is that they do not ask questions. Sometimes, even though they do not understand, they do not ask. And if I ask “Are you clear?” They do not say “Yes”, they do not say “No”. So you do not really know who is following you. During the mid-term exam they did not do so well, and this is probably because they do not ask.


Before you were a TA, what experience did you have with your TAs from last year?
J.O.: My TAs were good. Ali Husain Ahmed was my TA in Business Statistics. His TA sessions were easy for us to understand. So I am trying to follow in his steps, because he did a really good job. He is supporting me very well now. If not for him, this semester would not be so easy.


After this experience of being a TA, what would you recommend to students to take full advantage of TA sessions in the following semesters?
J.O.: I think everything is OK. My recommendation is for the students to do their own job, because they may think they understand in class but cannot reproduce that understanding later. If you do not review on your own, you may mess up in the exam. I think the TA structure is good. Teachers or TAs cannot exhaust all the examples that you might encounter in the exams, so a better performance can be achieved by practicing more on your own outside of the classes and the TA sessions.