Kate Whitman ’23 on the ‘Gratifying Experience’ of Being a Teaching Assistant
Kate Whitman ’23, a sociology major and rhetoric, writing, and media studies minor from Bedford, New York, is a student writer for Trinity’s Office of Communications. She is a part of the Ivy Society at Trinity and sings with the Trinitones, Trinity’s oldest all-female a cappella group. Here, she reflects on her experiences as a teaching assistant for a creative writing course she took herself as a first-year student:
I always enjoyed English and writing courses in high school, so when coming to Trinity, I knew I wanted to continue studying the art of writing. I specifically enjoyed writing short stories and poems because of their abstract and personal elements.
By the spring of my first year here, I had already taken some introductory social science and math courses to fulfill my major and graduation requirements, but I wanted to broaden my academic experience. I had heard wonderful things about the “Introduction to Creative Writing” course and its instructor, Trinity Artist-in-Residence Clare M. Rossini, so I decided to enroll.
Despite the course switching to Zoom halfway through the semester due to the pandemic, my skills as a writer developed immensely and I had a newfound love and appreciation for English courses at Trinity. The course prompted me to continue taking English courses, as well as to declare a minor in rhetoric, writing, and media studies.
In the spring of my junior year, Prof. Rossini reached out to me about being a teaching assistant for the “Introduction to Creative Writing” course this fall. I was thrilled to hear from her again, as I hadn’t taken a course with her since my first year.
I never envisioned myself being offered the teaching assistant role as a senior leader for the course three years later, and I was eager to accept it. I get to work with students who—like my first-year self—enjoy the freedom and diversity of creative writing. This opportunity allows me to pay back the guidance and help that was given to me by a TA when I was in the course.
Teaching assistants are an extra resource for Trinity students, offering them increased personal attention and engagement within and outside of the classroom. The exact job description varies between subjects, since each course requires specific support from the student selected for the job. TAs are meant to bring a lived experience to the role, because they are required to have taken the course themselves previously.
As the TA for “Introduction to Creative Writing,” I’m available for meetings outside of the scheduled class time to go over assignments, readings, midterms, and final portfolios. I am a link between the students and the faculty member if they have any questions or concerns about the curriculum, assignments, or general housekeeping notes. We go over the pieces they write in one-on-one and group meetings. This way they can get feedback from different perspectives and not just the instructor. I have taken the course before, so the feedback I offer comes directly from my own experience in creative writing. Every student this semester has met with me at least once, allowing me to not only help them enhance their own writing abilities, but also to get to know them as people and as peers.
Prof. Rossini sees the ways a TA can help improve her students’ writing. She told me, “When the students meet with you a few days before the due date, they get a friendly, experienced writer’s perspective on their work before they revise it. So, the poem or story has marinated a little before it’s handed in. In class, I often hear comments like, ‘Kate had a great idea about the title,’ or, ‘Kate really helped with the ending of the story.’ It seems to me this is a win-win-win arrangement—the TA, my students, and I all benefit.”
In the beginning of the semester, Prof. Rossini was out of town and was unable to teach a class, so she asked if I would teach solo that day. This course meets once a week for 2 hours and 40 minutes, so skipping a class would mean losing valuable discussion and learning time. I’ve taken educational studies courses at Trinity, which I’ve enjoyed, but I had never before had the opportunity to actually teach a group of college students. It helped me to further my relationship with the students in the course, as I was able to really get to know them through the group discussions that I was leading. We spent the class on deep dives into some of the students’ poems, having discussions on what we liked and offering our suggestions. It was a productive and gratifying experience to be able to help the students who reminded me so much of my first-year self.
The experience of being a TA is something that will stay with me long after I graduate Trinity, and I will definitely use the skills I developed in the role in my future endeavors.