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Student Expectations of TAs

It is probably safe to say that there are two expectations that all students hold. They expect TAs to be knowledgeable in the course material and they expect TAs to present the material in a clear, easy to understand, systematic way. Students are exposed to a number of teaching approaches and tend to adjust to the various teaching styles of their TAs and professors. Students also have personal expectations in regard to their instructors. These expectations will, of course, vary from student to student. Often a particular type of student will be more difficult for a particular TA to deal with this will depend on the match between the TA's teaching style and the students' individual needs, expectations and learning style. The following student typologies reflect not only student expectations of instructors based on individual adaption styles, but also behaviors that may accompany their adaption process.

In a research study, published under the title The College Classroom: Conflict, Change and Learning (Mann et. al., 1970), eight student types or student adaption styles were identified in American college classrooms. Descriptions of these eight types of students are provided here to help the TA gain insight into the motivations and expectations of particular students whose behavior may at first seem difficult to understand. Although typologies tend to be stereotypic in nature, they are used here to provide a guideline for helping TAs identify the needs of various students. Few students will fit the exact descriptions offered here.

The student types are listed here in the order in which they may be found in your classroom. For example, you will find more anxious-dependent students in your classes than independent students, and more independent students than discouraged workers. Combinations of various types are more commonly found than are the "pure" types. The majority of students are a mix of the first four categories described.

The greatest number of students are of this type. They have little self-confidence and are very dependent on the teacher for knowledge and support. Their feelings of incompetence and the outside pressures from others (especially parents) lead them to be overly concerned about grades. They may take notes on everything the TA says and will often ask "Will this be on the test?". They become more involved in the class and less concerned with grades when they feel that the instructor cares about them. With encouragement and patience on the part of the TA, the student has the potential to become a productive and satisfied class member.

These students are quiet out of a feeling of personal insecurity; they judge their own personal worth on the quality of their intellectual ability. Silent students speak only when they are sure that the TA will approve. Although they want a personal relationship with the TA, they are too shy to promote it. A TA who shows interest, encourages the silent students to participate in class, and is supportive of their comments can promote self- confidence in these students and enhance their learning.

Compliant students are quiet, non-critical, and trusting of authority. Although they are task-oriented, they tend to do only the work required for successful completion of the course. They are usually seen as good students and are liked by their teachers. Most teaching styles are compatible with this student type, although they prefer an instructor who takes the role of authority figure.

Independent students tend to be sophomores or juniors. They are confident of their abilities and do not feel threatened by the teacher, classwork or the other students. They favor class discussions over lectures. They enjoy collegial relationships with their TA during classtime but do not try to form personal relationships with the TA outside the class. They may resent a TA who is authoritative when they feel that their independence is threatened. At the same time they will not respect a TA who is so friendly that he or she loses control and authority in the classroom.

The discouraged workers are students who are dissatisfied with themselves. They become depressed with their academic work but use the depression to push themselves to improve their work. While they tend to become withdrawn from the teacher and other students, they understand that their feelings of discouragement are within themselves and do not blame others for their feelings. The best way a TA can help a discouraged student is to be patient and encouraging.

Snipers are typically underachievers who tend to be rebellious and defensive. They appear to be uninvolved and emotionally indifferent to classroom activities. They dislike ambiguous or highly abstract topics, and they are often intolerant of others. Snipers expect to do poorly in the class and are pessimistic about having a positive relationship with authority figures. They have low self- esteem, and one way they might counterbalance their feelings of inadequacy is by finding fault with the instructor's explanations of the course material. It is important to understand that snipers are often attacking the issues rather than the instructor personally. The TA needs to be able to distance him or herself from the issues so the snipers's attacks are not taken personally.

The "heroes" are very involved with the coursework and may feel superior to their classmates. When they enjoy the class, they may identify with the teacher, but dislike students who make unnecessary comments or try to challenge the teacher on minor issues. Hero students are very intelligent and resent being told what to do. They resent an instructor who they perceive as highly authoritarian since they fear having their "freedom" and classroom independence taken away.

Attention-seekers are the most social and extroverted students in the class. They are eager to be liked by their TA and peers. A desire to do well in class and get good grades is apparent, although at times they tend to be "show-offs". Being approved of and reassured by their teachers is very important to them, even though their behavior is sometimes inappropriate or extreme. Because they are very concerned with self-image, they want the TA to set clear guidelines for appropriate classroom behavior. They need to know just how far they can go with their behavior in class even though they often test the limits of behavior set by the TA. They are extremely sensitive to reprimands, and contrary to their attention-seeking behaviors in class, these students do fear being put on the spot by the TA.

Student types are not static and a particular student may display behaviors of various student types in various courses, depending on his or her relationship with the TA and the subject matter of the course. While a TA cannot hope to meet the expectations of every student, knowing about different types of students can provide a basis for understanding student behavior, facilitating student learning, and developing productive TA-student relationships.

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