Grad Assistant’s Nightmare

So, I spent a couple years working as a graduate assistant while I was getting my master’s degree.  (Actually, I’m still getting my master’s.  But referring to it in the past tense gives me some hope that I’ll complete it someday.)

Anyway, as anybody who’s done it will tell you, being a GA has its ups and downs.  Usually you just spend a lot of time responding to emails with “READ THE DAMN SYLLABUS” and then deleting that line and typing something way nicer but still passive aggressively wishing you’d sent the first email.  You’d be amazed by the number of college students who have (somehow) never learned to read directions or utilize the resources available to them.


I taught music theory for non-majors at 7:30am for two years (yes, pity me.) I was responsible for creating my own lesson plans, homework assignments, in class worksheets, tests, and exams.  Everything.  Which was actually really nice because I could teach in a way that made sense to me.  It also meant there was a giant learning curve for me in terms of learning how to teach well.

By my second year of teaching, I was pretty sure I had it figured out. I’d seen all the curveballs before, and I was READY.  My attendance records were impeccable, my paper trail on struggling students was pristine, and I’d even gone out of my way to try to make class interesting and fun.  Did I sleep very much? No.  But that’s beside the point. (Side note: working part time and going to school full time is the best.)

But, such things can’t last, and just as I was about to say goodbye to another semester of students (90% of whom would promptly forget everything they had learned) I made a mistake.  A terrible, terrible mistake.

You see, I had created the final exam a few days early, and sent it to my supervising professor for him to check.  I was actually pretty proud of it – writing tests that are fair but not laughably easy is actually way more difficult than I thought it would be.

My supervising professor okay’d my final and it got sent to the office for copies. I picked them up, and that was that.  Let finals week come – I would be ready with my stack of exams and a red pen.

So you can imagine my surprise when, as I passed out my beautiful exams, everyone stared at me strangely.  After an awkward silence, my best student sort of cleared his throat quietly and said, “Um…you know this is the midterm…right?”


My heart stopped. It had never occurred to me to check under the classroom label to make sure the stack of papers I was handed was the right one.  Yet, here I was, at 8am, without my final exam, and with a bunch of college students staring vacantly at me.  Looking back, they were probably all wondering if they were about to get 100%s on their final exam because I clearly couldn’t get my life together.

ran to the School of Music office, praying the administrative assistant would be there.  After some confusion, and near hysterics by me, she managed to print me an older draft of my exam.

By this time, I’d taken up 20 minutes of the exam period.  In order to be fair, I had to let my slower test takers have their full two hours.  Which meant we had to relocate to the library after our official exam time was up AND I was late for everything.

On the list of “moments of sheer blind panic” in my life so far, this one is pretty near the top.

The moral of this story is: Always check the stack.  Never trust the label.  Always check the stack.

Always, always, always.


(**Side note: You ever notice that if you write a word enough times it starts to looks super trippy and then you start second guessing whether you spelled it right? Like, “always” is such a strange word.  Who decided it should look like that?  Weird.)


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