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Being a 'Teaching Assistant' for AP US History-- many benefits for students!
Daniel Burns, AP US History online teacher, 4/25/2011

Editor's Note from Susan Richman: Daniel Burns has been teaching AP US History with our online program for many years now-- and he started out as my 'teaching assistant' when he was just a freshman in college. He'd taken many of our AP Online classes, and was always a top student-- and with his deep love of history, it was a natural for him to move into this field while still a student himself. I'm so pleased that Daniel has now extended this opportunity to his own AP US History students-- often when these students are still in their high school at home years. Many of our other AP teachers also offer this type of honor to students who have done exceptionally well in their course-- and students really take the leadership responsibilities seriously and have a great time helping new students, too. And sure does look great on college applications, too!

One of the advantages of homeschooling is flexibility. With flexibility can come great opportunities to do things that would not be possible in a traditional setting – such as serving as a Teacher’s Assistant (TA) in an AP class while still in high school.

For the last few years of teaching AP U.S. History, I have brought back one of my top students from the previous year to help lead the next class. I chose these students because they were not only highly successful on the AP exam, but they also showed an unusual interest in history, depth of analytical skill, and maturity in interacting with their peers. Their responsibilities can include initiating and contributing to discussions, responding to informal writing assignments, and leading live chats. Serving as a TA is an extension of an academic course and an opportunity for exceptional students to develop teaching and leadership skills.

I surveyed three of my TAs about their experiences in AP U.S. History and working as TA's: Anna Wright, Elisha Keenan, and Julia Wenger. Here are selections from their responses.

How has being a TA benefitted you personally?

Julia: I personally have loved being a TA—it’s been a great opportunity to help fellow students and a great chance for me to continue to learn about APUSH. Being a TA has allowed me to experience the duties/joys/difficulties of a teacher without actually teaching the entire class. It’s very rewarding to be contacted by a student with questions about their lessons, study habits etc., and then receive a later email thanking me for the helpful tips. I know from personal experience how helpful advice from a previous student can be, so it’s been a great opportunity to give back to my fellow students. Obviously the designation of Teacher’s Assistant is a beneficial thing to have on a college application or for college recommendation letters, but the real joy in becoming a TA is just the opportunity to help younger students, learn helpful leadership skills, and have fun.

Elisha: I took APUSH with Mr. Burns in my Junior year. It was a strong class that year, and we had a great time debating and discussing everything from whether the Revolutionary War was justified to how much we all disliked our textbook’s treatment of Margaret Sanger. The summer after the exam Mr. Burns asked me if I would like to be his TA.  In the end I joined as a TA whose main responsibility was to run biweekly online chats where the class could interact real-time. This gave me a chance to continue participating in a U.S. history class which I enjoyed, helping me to retain the information that I had accumulated the year before.  Not only that, it was also helpful to me as I was applying to colleges.  Many admission officers fear that homeschooled students may prove socially-inept recluses once they arrive on campus.  The fact that I arranged and oversaw student-run class discussions definitely helped to address that fear.  It was also a good experience in its own right.  It can be interesting moderating a discussion between 4 or 5 rather heated parties, but it is definitely worth learning how to do so.

Anna: I loved being a TA in Daniel Burns' AP US History class.  I've always enjoyed history, and my time as a student in Mr. Burns' class compounded that enjoyment.  A still better experience, though, was my TA experience.  Mr. Burns was great to work with, and the students all interacted wonderfully, which made my job relatively easy.  TA'ing can be time consuming, but for me it was more than worth the effort.

How has the AP program benefitted you academically?

Anna: The Pennsylvania Homeschoolers AP program has prepared me tremendously for college.  I think the AP U.S. History course is actually the most intensive class I've taken, and I'm in the Honors Program at Montana State University.  I plan to obtain a B.A. in Global and Multicultural Studies with minors in Music and International Business.  Eventually, I'd like to go into international law.  The AP program prepared me excellently for the academic challenges I have faced and will face on a daily basis. 

Julia: I have taken four AP classes, all through PA Homeschoolers, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. Each AP class allowed me to focus intensively on that particular subject, whether it was Biology, Language and Composition, US History, or European History, and increased both my knowledge and interest in each subject. The actual AP credit was very helpful to have on my high school transcript because it provided an outside confirmation of my academic record to the colleges. The numerous writing assignments greatly increased both my writing proficiency and my comfort level with lengthy research papers at the college level. The most beneficial thing I have learned from taking AP classes is the importance of good study habits and how to prepare for a comprehensive final exam (the May AP test).  Throughout my AP courses, my study-skills have dramatically improved, and I continue to use those skills in my current community college classes. 

Any advice for future TA's?

Elisha: For those who might be interested in volunteering as TA’s, I would say that the position is a fairly natural next step after an AP course that you enjoyed.  Helping to teach is very different from studying, and makes for a deeper experience in and understanding of the material.  One thing is very important however, you must be quite facile with the content of the course!  Students will not be impressed with a TA whom they feel knows less than they do.  Frankly, you probably want to have scored a 5 on the AP test before you try to weigh in as a TA.  But if you were the student who liked to ask questions that were really a little beyond the scope of the course – and then went and researched those questions – you’ll do great as a TA.


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