by Gurpreet Kambo, Peak Associate
SFU’s sessional instructors and teaching assistants are underpaid, have a huge workload, and are often treated poorly by some students. While SFU students have been vocal about needing leniency and understanding from professors and TAs, given how radically everyone’s lives have changed since the onset of COVID-19, SFU’s teaching staff deserve just as much care and understanding from us. We, as students, need to start treating our teaching staff like they are humans worthy of respect, rather than adding to their challenges and dehumanizing them.
Most instructors at SFU are sessional and are often also PhD candidates. This is a stressful, high-pressure, low-paying job with generally little to no job security. Sessionals get rehired every semester and their prospects are, to some extent, affected by the anonymous evaluations they receive from students — students who seem to have little to no investment in the outcome of these evaluations.
It’s not uncommon to see students appear to not care about engaging with the course material, despite the best efforts of the instructor or teaching assistant. This is an awkward and unpleasant experience for everyone, especially for the instructor. I’ve often found myself sympathizing with them because they are clearly trying their best, and having a ‘dead,’ uninterested class is usually not their fault. Granted, some instructors are better at engaging their students than others. Though, more often I’ve had instructors who I thought were great, but the class itself could not be roused from their great, disinterested slumber.
There’s a lot of reasons to actively engage with course material. University is expensive and students should ensure they are getting value for their money by putting in the effort to learn all that they can. A lot of this material will pay dividends by making us into more intelligent, skilled, or well-rounded people, which for many, will result in better jobs and pay. By not engaging, students are cheating themselves out of the very education they paid to have.
However, one of the biggest reasons to engage with courses is because instructors have put so much effort into creating their materials. The sudden changes that COVID-19 has brought on, including remote learning, have been challenging and emotionally fraught for students. It is certainly just as much, if not more so, for instructors and TAs at the best of times. It is even more so now because they suddenly had to learn how to deliver class material online that was originally designed for in-person instruction.
SFU’s instructors and teaching assistants are human, despite often not being treated as such by their students. During this pandemic, many students have asked for empathy and understanding navigating the uncertainties we’re all experiencing right now. When we ask for empathy and understanding from teaching staff for the changes wrought by COVID-19, we should give it back by engaging with their courses. SFU’s students and teaching staff certainly deserve as much.