Being a TA sucks. It is usually referred as “cheap labor”, “academic slavery” or even “cheap slavery”. I personally enjoy it. Teaching is fun, though I cannot say the same thing for grading or tutoring. However, sometimes, the pleasure kicks in secretly. Masochistic as it sounds, it is the exams when I enjoy TAing the most.
The first wave of joy comes when you wake up in the exam morning. Having had enough sleep for an adult during the night, you open your eyes to a day when there is an exam in your calendar, but you haven’t studied a bit. You don’t feel anxiety or horror. It is just like an article in your to-do list. Take out the garbage, buy lemon juice at the market, and give an exam. This is a joy spread out entirely to your day. And the pleasure starts from the beginning.
You have distributed the exam papers, set the clock, made the explanations, and there, you have 50 minutes of full observation. This constitutes the second wave of joy.
As a TA, besides answering little questions or keeping an eye over the cheaters, you basically do nothing—or do anything! Drink coffee, read an article, check your facebook page on your palm, talk to your TA buddy, or my favorite, just tweet! You are in a very familiar environment, you sense the well-known tension, but you are engaging with that atmosphere very differently. A sweet indifference, a feeling of relief, a sense of victory… You are finally there.
It is also a spectacle. When you are in a large classroom, say 300, the harmonious movements of the test takers are visually entertaining. How they gradually complete their perfect lining at the beginning of the exam, how they randomly lean on the paper or stretch to accelerate their blood circulation; they all actually make up a show. When the professor makes a remark about a question, all 300 heads get up in a heart beat, they all turn the page to the mentioned question and what you see as a TA is an orchestra of heads and hands, realizing the choreography and creating a homogenous sound of flipping papers.
And there are individual stars of this spectacle: The faces with numerous expressions. Sleep is the most common one. Anger or frustration fight for the second rank. My favorite is the deliberation: How the students try to recollect what they have studied, or reconnect certain members of that chunk of information they acquired. While all the data are travelling from one part of the brain to another, it seems like they are passing through face muscles, creating wonderful and as many as possible expressions. This show of facial expressions completes the secret pleasure of giving an exam. Once they hand all the exams to you, you are back to your lousy TA life, minding your own cheap slavery, and perhaps wishing you were the one taking the exam rather than grading hundreds of pages.
This is human-being, as soon as the secret pleasure ends, he moves on for another yearning.