Hiring a Helper by Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D.

By meggin@meggin.com
Feb 26th, 2014

About the second or third semester that I was a professor, I realized I needed a “helper” to assist me in getting back and forth to class, handling various details at the beginning and end of class, and so forth.  So, I announced on the first day of each new semester (in each of my 3 or 4 courses) that I needed a helper and that I would pay $5/week (most of my courses were 3-hour classes that met once/week).  I always got a “volunteer” for that role and only once had to “fire” the person.

One semester, a student designated himself as the “sherpa” for the class and that name stuck.  It was perfect since I had SO MUCH that needed to be carted (literally) to class and then back to my office and I needed a wise guide (sherpa) to help everything happen smoothly.  Here are ten reasons  (and ways) to use a “sherpa” for your courses.

  1. Your sherpa/helper can fetch you from your office or lab, help you get packed up and then to class on time.  It is never good to be late to your own class (or rushing in at the last minute.  Bad form.
  2. Your sherpa/helper can make sure you get packed up and OUT of the classroom and back to your office in a timely and orderly manner.  With students needing to talk with you and the next faculty member waiting to get in, you need to vacate the room as quickly as possible and your sherpa helps that happen.
  3. Once back in your office, your sherpa/helper makes sure that the course materials, demonstration items, papers, books, or whatever else was taken to class is put away properly (this helped me SO much because my first thought when I got back to my office was how tired I was and that “I will just put all this stuff away tomorrow.”  Yeah, right.  That didn’t happen.  With my helper, however, s/he was only there for a few minutes and took care of it post haste.  It was great!
  4. Your sherpa/helper can facilitate gathering up the assignments that are being turned in at the beginning of class.  That is NOT what you need to be doing.  Hire a helper!!
  5. Your sherpa/helper can assist in returning papers to students at the beginning of class.  There is no need for you to be dealing with this; you need to be talking with students and/or getting set up for the class.
  6. As you are leaving the classroom, your sherpa makes sure that everything is gathered up.  You don’t want to be half-way back across campus and THEN remember that you left the extension cord you had brought or the special chart paper and markers, etc.  Part of the helper’s job is making sure that whatever was brought into the room is taken back out of the room.
  7. Since most classrooms are scheduled so tightly, you need someone to help you get into the classroom (going against the tide of those who are leaving from the previous class) and you want to be timely in getting OUT of the classroom – as the tide of students coming for the next class is rolling in.  Your sherpa assists in this process and can be your “guard” – sort of parting the seas.  Have I mixed enough metaphors in this tip?  You get the idea, I hope.
  8. Particularly as the semester goes along, the sherpa can answer routine questions from students as you are trying to get set up for class or are handling more specific questions from students.
  9. Your sherpa/helper can put students papers (that have been submitted) either in alphabetical or numerical order (depending how you like them) to help facilitate your grading and recording of grades.
  10. I like an orderly classroom and don’t want my students coming in to a mess (nor leaving a mess for the next class).  My helpers could do a quick straightening of the room and get other students to assist them in doing so.  It made for a much more pleasant environment for all of us.

Should I have paid my students more than $5/week?  Maybe, but it’s all I could afford at the beginning and it seemed to work.  Students often offered to do it for free but I wouldn’t allow that since I didn’t want to be taking advantage of them and wanted to offer at least some remuneration.  Find what works for you…but whatever it is, hire a helper, i.e., a sherpa for your classes.

After this set of tips went out to an early subscriber, she wrote back later in the semester and told me this:

I just wanted to share that I put this into action this semester and it has been wonderful. I will ALWAYS do this in the future.  Not only do I have a student helping me with each class, but doing that has inspired me to identify other ways students can help.  For example, I want to explore creating a Facebook site for my students, but there are several issues to investigate and I have not time so  I recently asked for students who would be interested in helping me with this (for extra credit).    I have 3 interested students.  I’m looking forward to learning from them…and excited that I’ll be able to explore this option sooner rather than later with student help.  Plus the students are excited about the opportunity.

Another faculty member wrote this caution after reading this set of tips:

Check with your department to see if there are any policies related to hiring a student to help you.  As so often happens, a policy may have been put into place because one person was hiring students to do all of his grading and to teach all of his classes.

Meggin’s note:  Read this set of tips carefully and you’ll see how I made sure that students knew it was voluntary and that the pay was minimal enough and the work was clearly defined enough that no eyebrows could be raised.  I really encourage you to hire a helper for your back and forth to class, put stuff away in your office, etc. support.

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