Teaching Assistants Make the J-School Experience Possible

A group of people standing together and smiling for the camera.
Former J-School teaching assistants pose with current Professors Mike Wagner (far left) and Katy Culver (far right) at the 2018 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Conference. (Photo by Bethany Swain)

When you think back on your time in the J-School, what do you most remember? Tracking down a source for the perfect quote for a story? Late nights working on an advertising campaign book? Waiting by an elevator door in Vilas Hall that never opened?

For many of us, these memories and more are underscored by the instructors that taught us everything we know. We remember not only the faculty and staff, but the teaching assistants that made our J-School experiences possible through every lecture, discussion, assignment, project and exam.

A vital part of the academic experience in many J-School classes, TAs have a range of responsibilities from leading discussions and labs to presenting lectures. Much of the work they do is behind the scenes, like grading assignments and helping to develop course curriculum. All of this crucial work is on top of their roles as researchers and graduate students.

“Our TAs are incredible,” said SJMC Professor Mike Wagner. “They live in this tension between being the professional scholars and teachers that they are, on the one hand, and being students themselves, learning deeply in a discipline on the other hand. They embody that space with great energy, skill and compassion.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, TAs have played an important role in maintaining the high-quality of instruction for which the J-School is known. One excellent example of this is Ph.D. student and teaching assistant Xerxes Minocher, who received the College of Letters and Science’s Continuity of Instruction Award in the 2020 Campus-Wide Teaching Assistant Awards.

“Being a TA takes a lot of work, but I find it really gratifying. Our students are caring and smart individuals, and I appreciate the opportunity of getting to work with them in small classroom settings where we can talk about the material and also discuss how it relates to their own real-life experiences,” Minocher said. “Being a TA is a big responsibility, and as TAs we have to do much to lead and teach, but I also like that I get to learn from my students too.”

Research M.A. student Arina Tveleneva echoed the experience of learning through teaching. She received the SJMC Excellence in Teaching Award earlier this year for her work as a TA.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity because I learned a lot about the educational system from the other side,” Tveleneva said. “I’ve spent most of my life being a student and with this experience I finally got an insight into what goes into developing learning objectives for a class and preparing assignments and discussions.”

While the job of a TA is often challenging, their hard work and dedication does not go unnoticed by students. “TAs are the folks our seniors seek out for a selfie and a thank you at graduation,” Wagner said.

Those graduating seniors go on to be professionals, researchers and sometimes educators themselves, taking the skills and experience imparted upon them by their J-School TAs out into the world.

We asked @uwsjmc Instagram followers who their favorite TA was and why. Here are some of their responses:

  • @dana_munro: Hyungjin Gill! He guided us through J202 so well and was patient with us and proud when we succeeded.
  • @tiamartin10: Elaine Almeida. She’s super receptive of students’ needs and incredibly funny.
  • @ana_demendoza: Brandon Storlie, he really guided me and supported me since I was new to the Midwest area.
  • @cailyn_schiltz: Shreenita Ghosh! She juggles SO MUCH between multiple sections, and we appreciate her.
  • @olivia.fulton: Gryffin Loya! He made an online lab so engaging and always goes above and beyond!
  • @maddiebergstrom: Danny Parker!! She gave us super good feedback and made J202 lab so much fun!