Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Working as an Assistant

This semester I've had the pleasure of working as an assistant for our Intro to New Testament class. This experience has taught me a lot. While I'm preparing for my study session tomorrow night (the class has their final next week), I'm having to answer for myself the question: What do you do when you disagree with the professor teaching the class? Of course, in a class that's very broad and basic, I agree on most things. But, for instance, Markan priority has been assumed with Matthean priority not really addressed. I think Ehrman (the author of our textbook) is fundamentally mistaken on what "Apocalypticism" was in the 1st Century and a lot of the questions asked of the students have Ehrman's stance as their underlying premise.

I have a list of potential essay questions for the exam and there are a few that I think could be more nuanced. With some of them I disagree with the premise of the question entirely. So, what to do? Naturally, I want these kids to make good grades, but is it appropriate to note where I disagree and give them my reasons why?


Anonymous said...

Are you grading? The professor sets the standards for grading and what should be learned from the course. If you're grading, then you have to base it upon his/her standards. When you're discussing with students, you could communicate the information in a way that distinguishes between different "views" including the professor's.

Once you're teaching your own classes, you will get to set standards that your TA's may not agree with.

Markan priority is a pretty firm consensus. I can't blame the prof for not questioning it for a survey class.

Josh McManaway said...

I'm both grading and running little study sessions for their exams.

I still think there needs to be an explanation of the argument for Matthean priority. What harm would it be to take 15 minutes and discuss Matthean priority?

Douglas Mangum said...

Remember that most of these issues that we like to stay up late discussing fly right over the heads of students in an undergrad survey course. Expressing your disagreement and your reasons might help them think more critically about what they're reading, or it might just confuse them so much that they don't know what the right answer is for the exam. Education is like that. Start out with baby steps. There is a right/wrong answer. It means you have to pick sides on issues that are based more on argument than evidence. Your students are more than a few steps away from the reality of ambiguity and no firm answers, only more questions.

Josh McManaway said...


That's definitely a concern - I don't want to just confuse them and then have them thinking, "Wait, which is the right answer?" come exam time. I try to keep it simple,'s difficult.

John Anderson said...

When I worked with students in intro classes, they would often ask me come test time about a particular issue, and my response was always the same: answer this how the teacher for the course would want you to answer.

Now, at the same time, there is something to be said for you discussing these issues or concerns over the questions with the prof you are working for, not so much to express your disagreement, but to express your concern that the questions may be confusing, misleading, or not clear enough. I don't see a problem with that at all, at least not in my experience.

Dave Black said...

Nice to you see you're getting some grading experience, Josh. God has given me some excellent graders through the years. (BTW, one thing they never do for me is "grade." Either the students grade their own work, or else I do that myself. My graders are really more like teaching assistants.) At any rate, I hope the experience of working with your professor is a positive and beneficial one for both of you.

Roger Pearse said...

You're there as an assistant (paid, I presume). So you assist.

You're not there to get creative. You're an extra pair of hands for him. You teach what he wants taught, and if it is complete tosh, you teach it anyway along the lines of "this is what you need to know for this course."

Incidentally I agree with you on both issues. But it isn't for an assistant to do in this context. Separate the person from the employee. We all have to do this. "Ours not to reason why, ours but to teach and sigh."

If you do anything else, you'll just get sacked.

You could refer the issue to the man paying, the chap you are assisting, but I think he would just look at you strangely and accuse you of "bigotry" or something of the kind. Don't go there.

Mike Koke said...

Hey Josh, it is an interesting dilemma you raise. I was tutoring an intro NT course at the UofA and the prof works from the Burton Mack school of thought. He is a excellent prof but he knows that I take a very different approach to the NT. So in the tutoring sessions I really tried to help the student understand Mack's views so he could pass his final essay & exam, but I could also gave pastoral asides and let the kid know some of my own views. So maybe if you ever do a study session, you could do the same while briefly mentioning the existence of competing views.