Eugene Weekly : Cover Story : 10.07.2010


Back to Campus 2010

Getting Medieval Relieving stress the nerdtastic way

Q&A: student on the street

The Room Upstairs A tale of lust and mystery off-campus

21 is Just a Number Things to do in Lane County while you’re still young

Welcome to your GTF We’re students, too, but we know stuff

Welcome to your GTF
We’re students, too, but we know stuff
By Christy Vrtis

“How do you train a cock to fight?” one student earnestly asks, referring to the reading I had assigned for class “Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight” by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. 

“Well,” I begin, “first you hold the cock’s head between your legs” (I demonstrate, standing up in front of my 18-year-old writing students, most of them male). “Then, you gently stroke the head until the cock calms down. “

“Finally,” I announce, shooting both hands out from between my knees, “you release the cock into the ring …” The entire class bursts out laughing, some students laughing so hard their faces are red and yes, tears run down their cheeks. I look around, bewildered. 

Oh. Ohhh. Oh, no. 

I look over at the veteran composition instructor who is sitting in on my class to evaluate my teaching. Thankfully, she too is silently laughing as she types away on her laptop. Unable to get the class’s attention back, I release them, laughing and shaking my head. On the bright side, I think as I walk out of the classroom, at least I have a great story to tell my fellow graduate students at the bar tonight.

My first term as a Graduate Teaching Fellow (GTF) at the UO I spent my meager paycheck on a “professor outfit” that exuded the authority that my childish face, wispy blond hair and high girly voice negated: smart black blazer, dark trouser jeans, professional looking jewelry and, of course, “teacher shoes.” Unfortunately, one of my students walked in wearing the exact same outfit. All at once, my manufactured “professor cover” was totally blown. 

So, I had to rely on only one thing to keep me from fleeing the room: the knowledge that I actually did know more than the students in my class. As hard as this is to believe, your GTF knows what she’s doing. In most cases, she’s been trained in what she’s teaching and (in most cases) she has a passion for the subject and wants to share that passion with you. 

But keep in mind: Your GTF is a student first. So, yes, there are times when she’s stayed up all night scrambling to finish a seminar paper with some semblance of graduate school worthy academic flair and comes to class (gasp) having not done the reading she assigned. Hello, small group work! And yes, sometimes it is incredibly applicable to the unit on terrorism in the U.S. to watch an episode of The West Wing because she likes it. And it fits. 

Sometimes when you email at 11 pm, freaking out about your paper, we might not get back to you right away, because we’re asleep. Or out with friends. Surprisingly, we have lives.

However, GTFs are also here to teach and to learn how to be better teachers. It’s true that we are only contractually allowed to spend 20 hours or less working on the courses we’re teaching. But we are all here to help you understand the course material and pass the class. GTFs teach almost one third of all the courses offered by the UO (though only account for 14 percent of salary expenditures).

Bottom line: We want you to succeed nearly as much as we want to succeed ourselves, even if that means being humiliated in class by “cocks” on Tuesday and returning, smiling and wearing the smart black blazer, on Thursday. 

Christy Vrtis is a first year Ph.D. student in English with a structured emphasis in folklore at the UO. In addition to teaching composition classes, she has also been a GTF for ENG 250 :Introduction to Folklore.