A few weeks back, Virtual Learning Academy, an online elementary and post-secondary school based in New Hampshire, shared this infographic arguing for the most in-demand job skills of the future.

Automatically, my English degree brain sighed, “Welp. Looks like a jobless future for me.” Then, a much more encouraging voice deep, deep down reminded me, “You’ve already got half of these skills.” Instantly I recognized that voice to be my inner graduate teaching assistant (and I also recognized I had had way too much coffee that day).

The point is, as GAs and TAs, we are developing in-demand skills every day that go far beyond our ability to teach effectively. Some like to call these “transferable skills.” Fine. But half of the time those skills aren’t defined at all. Using the the “10 Job Skills You’ll Need in 2020,” we can think about how being a GA/TA helps to develop skills that apply to just about any job in the current (and future) economy while also pinpointing how and when you demonstrate them. What are we missing?

Sense making. Maybe you’d recognize how often you practice this skill if we called it “critical thinking.” Critical thinking is every student’s job, but as a student teacher, you’re also in the business of helping others make sense of the world.

How and when?

  • Developing strategies for active learning to reinforce course concepts.
  • Providing insightful discussion questions that align discussions with the most important aspects of the course content.
  • Acting as a resource for students looking to better understand the course content and assignments.

Social intelligence. Leading a classroom (or a tutorial, and even an online discussion group) absolutely requires the ability to connect with others. Maybe you switch between appealing to your students as a fellow student and appealing to your students as an instructor. Maybe you’ve even developed a sense for how best to engage different kinds of students. If you know how to connect with students in a meaningful way, you can connect with colleagues, employees, or customers, too. Business world, take note: student teachers have highly developed social intelligences.

How and when?

  • Diffusing conflict in the classroom.
  • Helping students to understand the course’s expectations through conferences, written feedback, and other interventions.
  • Recognizing a student is struggling and offering him/her an opportunity for improvement.
  • Constructing questions that lead to healthy, positive discussion and encourage student participation.

Novel and adaptive thinking. As you’ve likely noticed, things don’t always go according to plan in the classroom. An advisor once told me that it is important to be flexible because sometimes it’s necessary to deviate from the lesson plan when an opportunity for deep, meaningful learning presents itself. The ability to assess a situation and determine the best method to move your group forward towards the course goals can come in handy when those Fortune 500 companies are looking for someone to lead their next project.

How and when?

  • Handling students’ questions.
  • Overcoming issues with technology.
  • Managing class time.
  • Keeping students on task.

Cross cultural competency. Surely there isn’t a GA/TA at UWindsor that doesn’t encounter cultural convergence on a daily basis. Understanding how different cultural settings can affect different learning experiences is absolutely essential on a campus with such a diverse student body. Cultural experience also plays big in the world economy.

How and when?

  • Considering how a particular student’s cultural background or beliefs can impact their understanding of the course content.
  • Taking the time to introduce yourself to students and get to know a little bit about them.
  • Immersing yourself in UWindsor’s vibrant campus culture (i.e., join a club, volunteer, etc.).
  • Making connections between course content and other aspects of students’ lives.

Computational thinking. This is where simultaneously being on both the teaching and learning sides of the classroom comes in handy for a student teacher. Teachers are constantly working on ways to use classroom data to improve student learning. Whether you’re looking at hard data or just taking the temperature of the group, you’re likely assessing and reassessing the signs in your classroom that indicate what’s going well and what needs improvement. Luckily, you can combine your developing study skills with your new role in the classroom to practice making abstractions and develop effective strategies.

How and when?

  • Analyzing individual student responses (whether formal or informal) for insight on areas the whole class could use further instruction on.
  • Recognizing trends in student performance based on a number of factors, including the elements of class instruction.
  • Reviewing the available literature to draw parallels between your teaching experiences and the experiences of others with the intention of implementing changes to you teaching strategies.

New media literacy. This is especially relevant to those GAs and TAs who find themselves running discussions on CLEW, or managing the class wiki, or putting together the clicker questions for next class, or are otherwise involved in any other aspect of a course that requires media-know-how.

How and when?

  • Managing your class’ CLEW site, wiki, blog, or any other media interface.
  • Using media to connect your students with further resources, support, etc.
  • Utilizing social media and technology to engage students and improve classroom participation.

Transdisciplinary. University is the best place to expose yourself to multiple disciplines. If you’re assigned to a first year or a survey course, you’re likely encountering students from a range of disciplines. The more you can do to expose yourself to different disciplines – different ways of thinking and doing – the better off you will be for collaborating with professionals outside your field.

  • Attending professional conferences – both in your field and for larger pursuits like teaching and learning.
  • Connecting with fellow GAs/TAs to discuss your practices.
  • Drawing comparisons between the course content and related subject fields.

Design mindset. Every time you develop a new activity or try out a new way of presenting the course content, you’re using design to influence the way students work. This doesn’t just mean having an eye for what’s cool and flashy. The design mindset means knowing how to organize your strategies into a format that will help achieve the best possible results, and results make the world go round.

How and when?

  • Translating the class notes to multimodal presentations using PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.
  • Compiling a detailed lesson plan organizing class time.
  • Organizing a classroom activity.
  • Developing a marking scheme.

Cognitive load management. This might as easily translate to “the ability to multitask,” and no doubt you’re already figuring out that being a GA or a TA is all about multitasking. Some professors are fond of telling you that grad and undergrad are a breeze compared to the rigours of everyday academia. Maybe. But right now you’re figuring out for yourself how you best balance an increasingly busy workload. If you can manage your own studies and still help lead a lab/classroom/research project, chances are you can help manage the heavy thinking in just about any other professional setting.

How and when?

  • Leading class activities while simultaneously assessing student performance.
  • Balancing students’ needs with your own academic responsibilities.
  • Developing your identity as a student/teacher.

Virtual collaboration. Another area of strength for those of you in courses that are either fully or partly online, the ability to use networked technology to help get work done is an important asset.

How and when?

  • Using Blackboard Collaborate or Skype to host virtual office hours.
  • Coordinating classroom efforts via email.
  • Organizing classroom activities online through CLEW or other interfaces.

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