I found out today that Robert Pruett, the Communications professor at Wright State for whom I worked as a T.A. for several years, died last Saturday. He was only 69, which is fairly young, but he was of a different era. Dr. Pruett had a Wright State e-mail address which he never used because his university-issued computer always sat unplugged on the floor of his office. The years I worked for him were his last before retirement, and, for COM101 at least, his only duties were one lecture a week—he never heard any of his students' speeches nor graded any of their work. In exchange for the work we TAs did for him, he treated us each quarter to dinner, usually at his country club, where he flirted gently with the girl TAs (yes, to him they were girls, not women) and shared stories from his long career. My glimpse of Robert Pruett was from a strange vantage point towards the end of his life. He was a good man.
Here's to Dr. Pruett and the quarterly TA dinners:
- December 6, 2002
- May 15, 2003
- November 21, 2003
- March 17, 2004
- June 8, 2004
I know I said that March's dinner was the last COM101 TA dinner I'd ever attend, but actually tonight's was the last one. I was not a COM101 TA this quarter, but Dr. Pruett graciously invited me to attend. It was at his country club, Sycamore Creek, again.
This was his last COM101 TA dinner too because he's retiring after summer quarter, and summer quarters are the only time he doesn't use TAs but instead listens to and grades all the speeches himself. (That's how we met; I took COM101 in the summer of 2001.)
Here's some interesting gossip from tonight's dinner: apparently the dean has decided that the Communication department at Wright State will no longer use undergraduate TAs after next year. The TAs for next year are already hired, but after that Wright State's program will be like every other college in the state and use graduate TAs. Dr. Pruett says he's never had problems using undergraduate TAs, but I have to admit feeling fairly unprepared to teach COM101 when I started, and I was an adult who'd had experience working and thus doing some presentations, not a young freshman or sophomore who'd just taken COM101. Oh, well, nothing stays the same.
Yes, the picture's blurry (I guess the bright light of the TV above the bar flummoxed the autofocus of my camera), but it's the only record of the last COM101 TA dinner I'll ever attend. At the end of every quarter, Dr. Pruett takes his COM101 TAs to dinner at his country club, Sycamore Creek. Filet mignon and a couple of seven and sevens aren't a bad reward for a quarter of hard work, especially considering that we're only paid $300 per section (you can do the math if you want -- class time alone for one section is two hours a week for ten weeks, and that doesn't count preparation, grading or proctoring quizzes and finals).
Still it's not for the money that one really decides to be a TA but rather for the experience. I'm still amazed that undergrads who have no training in teaching and no training in communications beyond having taken COM101 are the ones who listen to and grade all the speeches in COM101. I think I'm a much better instructor now, having taught eight quarters of COM101, than I was when I started in Fall 2001. Part of that improvement comes from having learned some pedagogy in my other classes, but most of it comes from the actual experience of seeing what doesn't work well and what does.
This was my last quarter as a COM101 TA because next quarter I'm doing my Phase I practicum (doing observations in the field at a high school) and I won't have time to do both. A perk that I will miss is having an office in Millett to work in and to store things in. I'll also miss all the free printing (no one said I could print only COM101-related things so just about everything I've printed for all my classes at Wright State has been courtesy of the Communication department!). A plus, however, is that I'll never again have to listen to lame speeches on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, on parking, on donating blood or on a host of other stupid topics.
Today was the end of the quarter, and as has become custom, Dr. Pruett treated us COM101 TA's to lunch at his country club again. A fine way to celebrate not having to listen to speeches for a while!
Yay for no more classes until January!