Actions

Work Header

10 Tips on Effective Communication for TAs

Work Text:

Speak clearly and concisely.

“Hi,” a voice says, breaking through the hopeful haze Dan always adopts as he’s waiting for students to filter out of the discussion session.

This section is four pm on a Friday. No one’s ever all that eager to stay late.

Except apparently this guy. Dan’s eyes flicker up and down, taking him in.

(He could say for the first time, but he’d be lying.)

“Lester?” Dan asks.

Lester’s face brightens. “Yeah, that’s me!”

Dan smiles. Just a little bit. The tiniest bit. Almost not even a smile at all. “What can I help you with?”

“I was wondering if you… do you have the notes you were going over, but digitally? I tried to take them myself, but-” Lester scratches the back of his neck. “I sit in the back.”

“And?” Dan asks, not following.

“You sort of… mumble,” he says, all at once in a rush like he’s trying to get the words out as fat as he can. “You mumble so I don’t think I got everything.”

It’s not the first time he’s heard that he mumbles, but most students in this intro to philosophy course don’t even give enough of a fuck to care what they’re missing.

This guy doesn’t look like most intro students, though. Now that Dan’s getting a proper look and isn’t just stealing glances at him he can see lines around his eyes and mouth. He’s got to be thirty at least, probably older than Dan.

“Yeah, whatever,” Dan finally says. “Which lecture?”

“The one about the Perdurantist theory of personal identity in analytic metaphysics,” Lester says. “And - ah. All the ones before it.”

 

Maintain positive body language when interacting with students.

Dan really does hate academia.

He hates it so much but he can’t seem to get out of it. Maybe that’s just his masochistic streak coming through. Maybe he’s just testing fate, wondering how far along this path he can continue to half-ass a thing because it makes him miserable before everyone around him actually notices and all of it disappears.

He might be able to survive this just knowing that teaching isn’t for him, but… he’s not so sure learning is either. Not anymore. Not like this.

Sometimes he dreams of just walking away and never coming back. He’s tired of endless questions with no answers and endless students who just want their credit and don’t give a fuck either way.

He doesn’t care if that’s contradictory. Sometimes the truth is.

“Uh.” One of the students hesitantly raises a hand.

“Yeah?” Dan asks.

“Are we gonna… start the discussion?”

“Fuck.” Dan sighs dramatically. “Fine, yeah. Where did we leave off last time?”

 

Walk around and be active. (Engage all students. Do not play favorites.)

Lester’s actually a good student.

It’s a bit annoying. He’s clever and he’s clearly paying attention when he’s there. He does the readings, even the Probability and Partial Belief paper that Dan feels guilty for even assigning. He has no idea why any professor is expecting an intro phil class to read that. But it’s not like he has a say in it. If he did, half the reading list would probably be reddit threads or his favorite youtube channels.

But Lester even did that one. His discussion input is coherent and it’s clear he did actually read all of the notes Dan’s sent him. He sits near the front now to try and hear Dan’s mumbling better. He engages well and Dan’s always been a sucker for smart guys. He really can’t help that sometimes he slows when walking by Phil’s seat or sometimes he leans over to check the notes Phil’s taking.

Sometimes Phil’s wearing a button down without a shirt underneath and Dan gets a glimpse of dark chest hair on pale skin and he has to remind himself that he’s here to do a job and that job isn’t to ogle the people who show up to try and learn something.

That job is to try and teach them things he barely feels like he understands himself. To try and show up and be present and answer questions and not feel crushed under the weight of the expectation on him to be good at this, to be good at his own classes, to speak up and volunteer, to start trying to get published, to do it all and beg for more while feeling like he’s barely scraping by.

The cold claws of dread start sinking into his gut and he realizes this isn’t the time or the place for this sort of crisis, so he wanders back over to Lester and stares at something pretty instead.

 

Behave respectfully toward all students.

The problem (one of the problems) with being a TA is that Dan doesn’t have time for a lot of the things he used to do.

Sometimes it’s a good thing. His bank account and his liver probably both appreciate the lack of general club and party habits.

His mind and his dick? Not so much. He’s lost a crutch that got him through undergrad, the ability to go completely mindless on booze and chase some pleasure in the most basic way possible.

He doesn’t even have time pull even if he had the energy. The most he’s inclined to lately are hasty morning wanks in the shower and this: the occasional Friday evening with a pair of headphones and his laptop.

It takes him twenty minutes to find some decent viewing material, thumbnail surfing what feels like endlessly before he lands on a good one.

He’s got a hand on himself and he’s on the road to a fantastic orgasm when he realizes the top looks an awful lot like one of his students. Not a perfect match; the hair is styled wrong and the nose is a little too small, but it’s close. Pale skin and sharp blue eyes and a body that just goes on and on.

Dan’s mind starts to wander, and thinking about staring over Lester’s shoulder the week before. Broad shoulders, they’d be so good to hold him down on the bed…

His hand speeds up. Maybe it’s wrong, but it’s not like anyone can read his mind.

 

Keep conversations with others brief.

“Mr Howell-” A hawk-eyed student spots Dan even as he tries to slink into office without calling attention to himself.

“No.” He shuts the office door. They’ll see the sign with his open hours. Probably.

“Um.”

Dan jumps and lets out a sound he’ll defend as far too manly to be a squeal.

(It’s a squeal.)

“Fucking Christ on a bicycle, Lester-” Dan tries to catch his breath.

He’s definitely not thinking of how he got off to Lester the other night. Nope. No sirree. Dan would never.

“Call me Phil, please,” Phil says.

“Fine. Phil. Didn’t you see that office hours are over?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “But you weren’t actually here for them. I was waiting.”

In the office?”

Phil shrugs. “Why not?”

Dan wants to argue. He would argue with most students.

But Phil is wearing a maroon button up with little hearts on and black framed glasses and he looks fucking edible and not really like most of the other people in the classes Dan teaches.

Lester actually does look like someone that would wander into their TA’s office without even questioning why he shouldn’t be there. He looks far more like he fits than Dan does. “Why are you so dressed up?”

Phil looks down at himself like he’s surprised to see what he’s wearing. “Oh, I work in the mornings.”

“You work?”

Phil smiles a bit, a little crooked one. “Yeah, I work. I’m a video editor.”

“Then why the fuck are you back here?”

Phil shrugs. “My company offers continued learning bonuses.”

“For philosophy?”

“They never said what I had to be learning.”

“Huh.” Dan contemplates how rude it is to ask Phil if his company is hiring. “Anyway, office hours are over.”

“Do you take bribes?”

“For grades?” Dan’s mouth drops open. No one’s ever been bold enough to ask.

“No!” Phil looks scandalized. “For office hours!”

“... what kind of bribe?”

“Coffee?”

“...” For a span of just a few seconds, he considers saying no, because he knows that’s what he’s meant to do.

But Phil probably does just want to talk about something class related. Maybe he wants to talk about Perdurantist theory some more.

Dan could get down with that. He’s all about splitting himself into temporal parts. He feels more like fragments than a person most of the time anyway. What even is being whole? Fuck if he knows.

He’s only got one life to live, and if he’s never going to know who he is, why not just do whatever the fuck he wants?

“You’re buying me food, too,” Dan says. “And I want Starbucks, none of that sewage water they peddle on campus.”

“Is that… allowed?” Phil asks, a touch of hesitation in his voice.

Dan sighs noisily. Mostly it’s to cover the fact that he suddenly realizes Phil could actually get him in trouble if he decided to report Dan for this.

But Dan doesn’t want to sit in this office. He feels choked in here, like the room is closing in on him. He does everything he can to be not here as much as he can. “Do you want the office hours or not?”

Phil shrugs shrugs and says, “Alright. Starbucks it is.”

 

Maintain a positive attitude regarding students.

Sometimes life has a way of just fucking Dan from a direction he didn’t even expect it in.

Phil does buy him coffee. He buys him two coffees, because they sit talking for so long that they finish their first ones and the girl behind the counter starts making impatient passes by their table every ten minutes.

For the first half hour or so they really are talking about class. Not personal identity, but lighter stuff. Phil’s got some travel coming up for work and he’s concerned about what he’ll miss while he’s gone.

Dan offers to send him the lecture notes.

He also offers to meet with Phil again to go over them, if Phil wants.

Phl looks pleasantly surprised by the offer. “You have a reputation of being…” He pauses, like he’s trying to find delicate words.

“A twat?” Dan finishes.

“Brusque,” Phil says.

Dan contemplates the word. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess so.”

“But you’re not,” Phil says.

He’s giving Dan a look that’s… a Look.

Dan thinks.

Maybe not. Probably not.

Phil’s probably got a nice pretty girlfriend he goes home to every night.

Dan smiles anyway, because he’s not actually a twat, not really. Well, half a twat, maybe. But the other half is just a guy that’s really fucking lonely and burnt out on the life he chose.

 

Do not discuss private matters with students.

It’s an accident that he runs into Phil at the queer cinema festival.

Dan’s there because he likes to consume that good gay shit when he can, and he’s there alone because there’s no one left in town he likes enough to want to invite with him.

He can’t even stay for the whole thing. He’s got grading to do later on. He’s sure he’ll stay too late and procrastinate too long and end up not sleeping at all, marking the papers in a zombie-like state at four in the morning.

That’s exactly what he’s thinking about when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns and he’s surprised to see a familiar face there. He’s dressed in a black t-shirt with constellations on and jeans and he looks good enough to eat.

Dan’s always liked them a bit nerdy looking. “Hey,” he says. “What are you doing here?”

Phil raises at eyebrow at the bluntness of the question. “Here to watch some films. What about you?”

Yeah, okay. It was a stupid question.

“Same,” Dan says.

“Do you know if they have popcorn?” Phil asks.

It’s an outdoor festival, but Dan as it happens does know that they have popcorn. “Yep.”

“Mind showing me where it is?” Phil asks.

He doesn’t seem to have anyone around him, and he doesn’t text anyone or even give a look back as Dan leads him away.

Half an hour later they’re sat on a blanket on the ground eating popcorn. It’s Phil’s blanket. Dan hadn’t thought ahead enough to bring one, but Phil offered to share as a thanks for Dan leading him to the great bounty of concessions.

It’s actually nice to watch the films and have someone to talk to them about. He’s still not sure at first whether Phil’s interest is purely cinematic or a bit more personal, but then Phil mentions how hunky he finds the lead in the first one shown. It’s such a casual admission, said around a mouthful of buttery popcorn, but it throws Dan into a tailspin of one of those hallmark Gay Panic moments when he realizes that someone he’s been fantasizing can move from the Keep Dreaming category to the Actually, Maybe? category in his head.

Phil’s starting at him like he’s waiting for a reaction and - oh, yeah. Dan gets that too.

“Not my type,” Dan says, and the flicker of disappointment in Phil’s eyes is gratifying. “Too many muscles. I’m more the emo boy type than the blonde surfer guy.”

A small smile curls the corners of Phil’s mouth. “Oh, well. Nothing wrong with that.”

Dan goes home that night feeling new and untold levels of personal frustration because before they left Phil offered up his number to Dan, so they could meet up to go over the notes after his travel.

At least that’s what he says. Dan isn’t sure he believes him. He’s not sure Phil meant for himself to be believed. But either way, he has Phil’s number now and he’s breaking at least a dozen code of conduct rules.

He’ll be good, he decides. He won’t fuck this one up. He’s going to try his best.

 

Refrain from complaining or gossiping to or about students.

He rings Phil for the first time while sitting and staring at the email in his inbox.

Semester’s over. It’s been over for a week. He’s spent most of that week face down in his pillow. He called it hibernating.

He’s done hibernating now. He might be done with more than that. He feels hollow and hot and cold all over and like… well. Like he really needs a drink.

So that’s exactly what he says when Phil answers the phone. “I really need a drink.”

“Alright,” Phil says, easily enough. He doesn’t sound put out at the call or like Dan’s interrupting plans. He doesn’t even ask who it is. “I’ll text you my favourite place.”

Phil’s favorite place turns out to be a proper nice bar. Dan’s reminded again that Phil’s an actual adult with his shit together.

He is at least relieved to see that on a Sunday evening Phil’s dressed much more casually than his straight-from-work appearances during the semester. He has a t-shirt on that’s a bit too big for him and black jeans. Even his hair looks a little more casual, still pushed back but maybe with less product than normal.

He looks fantastic and Dan’s too miserable to really appreciate it.

Phil orders their drinks and then turns to Dan. “Alright, out with it.”

“I think I’m done,” he says.

Phil frowns. “With what?”

“With university. I got my student evals back today and… fuck, Phil. One of them literally says please don’t let this man ever teach again. What was I even doing?”

He knows Phil can hear the genuine distress in his voice. “I don’t know,” Phil says. “What were you doing?”

Dan raises his head and looks at Phil. “I was so shit, wasn’t I?”

“You were…” Phil pauses. “Disconnected.”

“Fucking…” Dan sighs and buries his face in his hands. His mind is just a constant refrain of don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. “I don’t know why this happens sometimes.”

“What’s happening?”

A semester long depressive spiral. “Self-sabotage.”

“When else has it happened?” Phil asks.

“When I was nineteen. Law school.”

Phil makes a face. “Law school sounds horrid, though.”

“I took a whole year out after that. But I didn’t know what else to do so I just went back to school again, for a different degree. Philosophy seemed… interesting. I liked what I was reading. I liked the lectures. I felt good at it.”

“And you don’t anymore?”

“I don’t even know.” Dan curls his fingers into his hair and tugs at it. “I have no idea.”

“You do like philosophy,” Phil points out. “I can tell, sometimes. So maybe it’s just teaching you’re not meant for.”

“Then what the fuck am I meant for?”

That’s it. That’s what it always comes back to. He’s a failure at everything.

Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.

“Dan.” Phil sounds calming, voice just deep enough, just commanding enough.

Dan looks at him, really looks. His eyes meet Phil’s and they’re so fucking blue. “I think I’m done with academia.”

 

Maintain professional verbal and email communication with faculty.

“How do I even quit?” Dan asks. “Do I just send an email that says hey, fucking off forever, soz.”

Phil laughs. “Maybe not that. Can you just ask for some time? Next semester off?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know.” Dan’s breathing goes shallow.

Phil puts a hand on his arm. “Are you having a panic attack?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hey,” Phil says, touch firmer and voice gentler. “Let’s go back to my place okay?”

Dan’s head snaps around. “What?”

Phil seems to only then realize what his words sounded like. “Just to relax,” he says. “You look like you could use it. When you said you wanted a drink I didn’t know if…”

“Didn’t know if what?”

“I just-” Phil looks actually nervous now. “I just didn’t know.”

“Well, welcome to the club.” Dan downs the drink in front of him. It tastes sweeter than he’d like, but strong. “Fine, yeah. Let’s go back to yours. But we’re not fucking, okay.”

 

Communicate your mistakes.

“This was a mistake.” Dan lies there naked, the sweat still cooling on his skin.

Phil frowns at him. “Are you serious?”

“What? I mean, fuck. No.”

“Dan.”

“I don’t know!” Dan would do something temperamental like throw a pillow except they’re all already on the floor.

Phil… laughs.

“I think I’m offended,” Dan tells him.

“That’s alright,” Phil says. “We had sex and you immediately said it was a mistake. I’m offended too.”

“Not… fuck. Not you. That’s not the mistake.”

“What is?”

“Me.” Dan doesn’t mean for it to come out so somber. It just happens that way. “My whole fucking life is a mistake.”

“Dan.”

“Sorry, I’ll just-” Dan starts to get up as he speaks.

Phil grabs his hand. “Don’t go.”

Dan doesn’t go. “I didn’t ring you tonight for sex.”

“I didn’t ask you to come back home with me for sex,” Phil says.

“Then why did you?”

“Because you looked like you needed to be somewhere else,” Phil says. “What about you? Why did you ring me?”

“Because.” The silence is heavy, at least to Dan. “Because I don’t fucking have any friends left. And something about you makes me want to talk to you.”

Phil smiles at that. “Good. I’m glad.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Dan says. “I can’t just quit.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Actually, you can.”

Phil’s hand drops down, fingers sliding through Dan’s.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “It is.”

Strangely, Dan has no argument for that.

Until he does. “What do I do once I quit?”

“Easy,” Phil says. “You have dinner with me.”

“What?” Dan looks at him.

Phil’s pretty. It’d be a crime if Dan didn’t devote at least five percent of his brain power to appreciate that. Pale skin and long limbs and pretty dick and messy hair. He’s so pretty.

“Have dinner with me,” Phil says. “For us to discuss your options some more.”

“Oh, like. Not a date?”

“Definitely a date,” Phil says. “But we can multitask.”

Dan groans. “Stop sounding so calm.”

“I’m not calm,” Phil says. He picks Dan’s hand up and presses it over his heart. “Feel that.”

“Oh.” Dan swallows. That five percent is suddenly more like ten now that he’s touching Phil again. “Why?”

“Because you’re proper fit and I like you loads, Dan. Maybe school is something I’ve done before, but it’s been ages since I’ve dated anyone.” He clears his throat. “You might be a shit TA, but I think you’d be a nice boyfriend.”

“Oh my god. Oh my god.” Dan laughs suddenly, so hard it almost hurts. “That was a fucking line and a half, Lester.”

“Hey!” Phil sulks. “That was good!”

“No, that was horrible.” Dan rolls over, on top of Phil. “But luckily, I also think you’re proper fit, so fine, yeah.”

Phil wraps his arms around Dan. “You’ll date me?”

“Yeah.” There’s a pause, a kiss. Happy feelings swirling in Dan. He’s really not used to those.

“And you’ll stop being a TA? Because Dan, as your boyfriend now, I have to say - you’re very shit at it. You let a student take you out for coffee. And invite you to watch films with me. And you rang me-”

“Shh. Shush. First of all, you literally did already say it, and once was enough. Also I’m ignoring all of the rest of that for reasons I’ll return to later once I think of them. Second of all, does one date make me your boyfriend?” Dan asks, his weight crushing Phil. Phil isn’t complaining.

“I’m an optimist,” Phil says, and kisses him.

Dan kisses him back and lets his mind go beautifully blank. There are still a lot of fragments of him floating in the ether unsure of where they belong or how they fit together, but just for this moment isolated here in Phil’s bed he’s happy with this slice of himself. The rest can wait.