Entering teaching assistant Rachel Sanders' quiz section on a Wednesday morning, one might have easily mistaken Introduction to Political Theory for Football 101. Students happily discuss the current season with her before class starts, and it's easy to discern the positive connection Sanders has created in only a couple sessions.
The laziness of summer hangs on the first week of fall quarter, yet the eagerness to get class started is evident on every student's face. Sanders begins by making sure she knows everyone's name. When she stumbles on names, right away, she is quick to engage the class and learn them again.
Mackenzie Powell, a sophomore in Sanders' 10:30 a.m. quiz section, appreciates that her teaching assistant pays rapt attention to the classroom and to her students.
"She is really engaged in what is going on," Powell said. "It makes me want to learn more. She would be a really good teacher someday."
Learning names is only part of being a great teacher, and Sanders takes her job as a TA very seriously. She realizes that being in the position to have a more personal and educational experience with students on such a large campus has a huge influence on how open students are to learning.
"It's easy for students to get lost in the fray and their lives outside of school," Sanders said. "I try to be receptive to people's ideas and to be as encouraging as possible so that they feel comfortable to speak up."
When classes are finished, Sanders continues to work for her students while managing her own studies as well by planning her next discussion and grading papers. As a TA, time management is crucial, and Sanders takes pride in her ability to get things done.
Assistant professor Jack Turner, whom Sanders is a TA for, is aware of the amount of time and effort that she puts into school.
"She is a model TA who is widely admired by her peers," Turner said. "I don't know quite how she manages to balance it all - being a good student, a thorough and precise TA, and an all-around good colleague. But somehow she does it, and quite gracefully."
Sanders' day begins at 6:15 a.m. when she goes to the gym to work out. This is her personal time, the time she enjoys the most outside of the school atmosphere. After that, she reads for her own courses, which include a geography seminar called "Theorizing Cities" and an urban theory and core political theory seminar. Then Sanders heads to the lectures or quiz sections she is teaching.
Sanders hangs out in the department computer lab because it is a good way to socialize with people in her department. Sometimes, she will head to her favorite cafe in her neighborhood or spend time in Fremont.
These places allow her to tackle her own workload as a graduate student. She admits that it is sometimes tough, especially when graded assignments are due for her students.
At the end of the day, she will either work out at a private gym in Fremont or go home to a house she shares with a coworker. She or her coworker will make dinner in the evening and watch television. She really enjoys when she can cook for her friends or they can go out together.
"My days are planned down to the minute, and I have to be careful with my time," Sanders said. "My courses have a heavy reading load and expectations are a lot different [in graduate courses]. I have to prepare analytical papers before class and connect the reading to personal interest. It relates what we are reading to what we are interested in."
Though Sanders' workload of two graduate courses per quarter and teaching 20 hours a week is sometimes tough, at the end of the day, the focus is on her students.
The hope Sanders has is that her students will continue to use her as a resource after the course is over. Sanders realizes that professors have a profound impact on people and that they have the ability to change the way people think about the world. This reasoning explains why Sanders is in school and teaching today.
"The way they view society, politics and the media - I want them to think more critically about what they see in the news, art, music and literature so that they are more critically perceptive of public culture," Sanders explained.
Sanders loves to see students interacting with each other. One of the things that she has learned is that it is best for her not to put on authoritative airs in the classroom and to just be herself.
She believes this leads to students having more confidence with her, increasing participation and discussion. Sanders appreciates when students can talk to each other for answers, but she's confident she has much to learn as well.
"I hope I build the type of relationship that they come to me for advice and assistance later," she explains. "I am not there to expand their knowledge, but to facilitate their learning."
Acceptance as a teacher was something Sanders was afraid of when she first became a TA. Sanders has grown since then, and she brings herself ease of mind knowing she is always better prepared than her undergraduates, and in that, she hopes to build long-lasting relationships with the people she teaches and assists.
"Rachel has an unusually sophisticated elegance of mind. She is able to comprehend and synthesize a vast amount of tough philosophical material and then present it in the most concise form possible, without losing any nuance," Turner said. "She is going to make a phenomenal professor one day. I look forward to her making the transition from student to colleague."
Reach contributing writer Mary Jean Spadafora at email@example.com.