My name is Jin. I applied to work at the Learning Center Spring of 2012 and was hired as a MSI Learning Assistant for Econ 100B Intermediate Macroeconomics Fall of 2012.
I applied to be a MSI Learning Assistant, thinking, "I want to help people study and learn." Being a learning assistant is tough work and requires lots of training and discipline. I've always had strong motivation for learning and doing well in school. It is thanks to this motivation that keeps me going, to devise study strategies and manage my time well. These academic strengths came in handy when I realized I had to learn a lot of new material in the class I was the learning assistant for. I was taking the class along with students that would attend my sessions. Being able to manage stress and time well would the best skill to have taking on a MSI position. Stress can influence your behavior during MSI sessions as well as the performance in your own courses, so it's best to keep stress under check by managing time.
In addition, I found that being organized, resourceful and keeping a positive attitude in the face of challenging topics goes a long way. The organization will help you be up to date on material being covered, keep track of sign-in sheets and plan out sessions. Being resourceful as in utilizing the textbook, and sometimes outside material such as the Internet to clarify difficult topics will pay off for you and help guide students in the right direction in terms of studying. Students come to MSI sessions wanting to learn and get some help, they may already be confused and not feeling very well. It's not always a good sign if their MSI Learning Assistant is also confused and hating the course. A bit of enthusiasm and not beating yourself up when you can't answer a question is really helpful. When I can't answer a question, I usually ask if anyone else can answer the question and if not, I get back to them with an email later.
However, MSI Learning Assistants are here to help students with their learning and studying, not handing them the answers. But often students tend to expect MSI Learning Assistants to know the answers to everything, and it shouldn't be embarrassing to tell a student to ask a TA or a professor. In this manner, students are encouraged to utilize more of their resources to help them learn and understand. Other difficulties that I've experienced and experience still are not being prepared enough, and lacking knowledge. To minimize the problems of not feeling prepared enough and lacking knowledge, it's best to pay attention during lectures, take good notes, ask the professor and TAs for help, use the textbook, and plan your sessions ahead of time. At the same time, it is wise to set standards and limits for sessions. If I would like students to bring their textbook, copies of their homework to sessions, I would make those expectations clear.
After becoming a learning assistant, I've become more observant in noticing emotions that appear on students' faces. This is helpful because you can spot anyone, who seems confused or bored and that helps you slow down or quicken the pace of the session. Communication between you and students should be a top priority. I would call myself socially awkward, but through the course of this year I've become more outgoing, socializing with students about how their quarter is going and if they had a good weekend. This helps me connect with students and relate to them as a peer.
I recommend connecting with students like a peer, and make sure they understand that everyone's on the same boat. Tell them, "Hey! I am a student just like you and I have definitely been in similar situations. I've gotten through some difficult times and survived, I think I can be of help." I struggle in economics classes just like everyone else, but Econ 100B was the one class I had the most difficult time in. It was that very class where I failed my first exam in. It was also that very class where I worked day and night, outlined the textbook, re-did all of homework problems and studied day and night to finally get an A on a curve in the course. Seeing the results made my hard work worth it. But of course, the results weren't so apparent in the process. I was studying like a mad woman for the second midterm and I still got a C. Deciding to work even harder did pay off. I'm glad that I didn't give up. This is the story I tell to students who seem extremely worried about doing well in a course or plainly scared about not passing. It is always difficult to see students in panic and that in turns actually negatively affects their performance. So it's always ideal to try to calm them down by helping them plan study strategies.
The Educ 96 training for new MSI Learning Assistants is informative and gives a ton of resources that will help in holding effective and interactive sessions. My favorites were the packets handed out featuring the different tutoring strategies for large study groups and the reader. I love reading the essays in the reader. The reflections and observations from previous learning assistants and tutors made me more aware of how tutoring can have a positive impact on a student's learning and what to watch out for. In addition, there was a peer observation assignment in Educ 96. Actually seeing an effective MSI learning assistant inspired and motivated me to help students study and learn better with your sessions.
I hope my experiences and reflections help you in your journey in learning on how to be an effective educator.