Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

The Story of Us: Who Are We?

Stepping into a Calculus class at Harvard is different from stepping into a Calculus class in most high schools and colleges. Instead of a lecture based course, the Math Department here emphasizes the importance of active learning, self agency, and student collaboration. In order to facilitate this, the department hires CAs to assist the Math Preceptors in the classroom. What makes this position so unique is that we are current undergraduate students and are able to connect to the students in the course on a different level than the Math Preceptors and provide more support in certain areas. Because many of us end up working as a CA for a math class we’ve previously taken, we’re also able to genuinely support our students. Just like our students, Math MB CAs are current undergraduate students across a wide range of concentrations. Some are Sophomores, others are Juniors, and the rest are Seniors ready to enter a new stage. Some CAs are part of various organizations here on campus, such as Kuumba Singers and Harvard Crimson Dance Team. Math CAs understand what it means to be a student at Harvard and what it means to struggle at Harvard, something that many Preceptors aren’t able to do. 

On a more technical level, as a CA for the Math MB course specifically, we are tasked with grading problem sets, co-leading Workshops, attending each class, hold MQC shifts, and attend weekly team meetings to discuss the upcoming material and work through problems together. During our MQC shifts and Workshops, the CAs take charge without the supervision or guidance of a Math Preceptor, and it’s during these times that students and CAs get to connect with each other. 

When you first apply to the job and schedule your interview, you’re sent a few documents, one being The Tao of Teaching and Learning Calculus. At the end of this document is a quote from Lao Tzu that perfectly sums up what a CA should have, “Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” We are here to support our students not to boast our possible mastery of the course content, to be patient and not quick to give up on them, to be compassionate and not dismissive. It’s common for students to say they dislike Math or that they don’t like it because they aren’t confident in their skills and their knowledge, as a CA we uplift and highlight the greatness that is already in our students while simultaneously helping them understand the areas they’re struggling in. And as this document says, “the most effective CAs are the ones who can get a student to go far while saying/doing very little for the student.”

So to answer the question, Math MB CAs are students just like our students who are passionate about helping just how we were once helped. We are student’s who genuinely enjoy the job, not simply for the income, but for the connections that are made. 

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