On the Edge: A Case Study and Resources for Mathematics Teachers

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Florida State University]On: 06 October 2014, At: 17:57Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    PRIMUS: Problems, Resources,and Issues in MathematicsUndergraduate StudiesPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/upri20

    On the Edge: A Case Study andResources for MathematicsTeachersDavid E. MeelPublished online: 28 Jul 2011.

    To cite this article: David E. Meel (2011) On the Edge: A Case Study and Resourcesfor Mathematics Teachers, PRIMUS: Problems, Resources, and Issues in MathematicsUndergraduate Studies, 21:6, 485-511, DOI: 10.1080/10511970903270309

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  • PRIMUS, 21(6): 485511, 2011Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1051-1970 print / 1935-4053 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10511970903270309

    On the Edge: A Case Study and Resourcesfor Mathematics Teachers

    David E. Meel

    Abstract: A single case study approach was used to provide an in-depth examina-tion of the special events that take place in the experiences of a graduate mathematicsteaching assistant (MTA) during adaptation to a variety of physical, emotional, and psy-chological issues. Through intervention by a faculty member, professional counselor,and medical doctor, the MTA eventually achieved positive coping and adaptation awayfrom suicidal ideations. In the context of attribution theory, we will look at the partic-ular stressors and the how their concomitant effect led the MTA to consider suicide.The case study documents the interactions between the MTA and the faculty memberas well as how the MTAs attributions impacted their tone and tenor. Drawing from thisaccount and others encountered by other MTAs, the second half of the paper presents acase story to help MTAs consider how to navigate situations that contribute to stress.

    Keywords: Graduate Teaching Assistants, suicide, attribution, coping, case story,mathematics.

    1. INTRODUCTION

    Teaching assistants (TAs) are an integral part of academic life at the collegiatelevel. Since TAs teach a significant share of introductory and developmen-tal courses at research universities, both TA orientation programs and facultypreparation programs have come under scrutiny [2, 22, 40, 52, 53, 69]. Thepursuit of excellence in higher education and quality undergraduate educationmakes the training of TAs to handle complex classroom situations of impor-tance to educational leaders [47, 69]. But what seems to be missing is a focuson the TAs themselves, and the thorny issues they encounter outside of theclassroom. Those issues, external to the classroom, can impact the demeanorof the TA in the classroom and as Bender pointed out:

    Address correspondence to David E. Meel, Department of Mathematics andStatistics, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403, USA. E-mail:meel@bgsu.edu

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    . . . when graduate students fail in their teaching duties, undergraduatelearning suffers. A disorganized, ill-prepared, and ineffective class-room instructor can undermine the hopes of even the most dedicatedundergraduate to pursue the discipline in future semesters. [7, p. 267].

    Thus, a comprehensive TA training program needs to focus on content,pedagogical training, technology training, learning theory, diversity in theclassroom, and handling instructional issues as well as the thorny issues thatimpact a TA both inside and outside the classroom.

    Too often, TAs only experience the dry platitudes describing univer-sity policies and procedures that typically fill most mathematics TA trainingprograms, but these are insufficient preparation for mathematics teaching assis-tants (MTAs) to face the difficult challenges that lie ahead [10, 15, 28, 29,48, 76]. Unfortunately, many mathematics faculty, course coordinators, admin-istration, and MTA trainers discount the debilitating effects stress places onMTAs. Since they succeeded and overcame the stress, there is an underlyingbelief that the MTAs should be able to cope with those same stresses. In addi-tion, there seems to be a concern that faculty, administration, and MTA trainersare ill-equipped to address the more awkward issues because they lie outsidethe realm of their expertise.

    Additionally, the MTA training literature, such as Friedberg et al. [21] andRishel [56], fails to address the debilitating effects stress places on MTAsand how stress affects MTAs performance in the classroom. According toSelye, the father of stress research, stress can be defined generically as astate, manifested by a specific syndrome which consists of all the nonspecifi-cally induced changes within a biological system [62, p. 3]. Although such amechanistic, psychosomatic definition of stress is useful, it fails to address thepsychological and behavioral components created by the interaction of exter-nal and internal stressors and the resulting individual reactions to such stressors(i.e., any event or context that elicits a stress response [38]. Models such as theInteractional Model of stress [41] and the Cognitive-Appraisal Model [75]take these two components into account and consider stress to be the productof a persons cognitive appraisal of situations and events that might serve aspotential stressors when considered as threats to the psycho-social well-beingof the perceiving individual. Consequently, a stressor for one individual maynot be a stressor for another. However, some common stressors plague MTAsin academia: (1) TA as scholar and TA as teacher [7, 34, 44]; (2) financial status[12, 33, 74]; (3) interpersonal relationships [4, 11, 46, 70, 74] and (4) lack oftime [26, 32, 74] that pile on top of academic coursework, prelims and doctoralexams.

    Many TAs receive mixed messages concerning teaching and scholar-ship [7, 59]. In fact, Jennings poignantly characterized the conflict in thefollowing way:

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  • A Case Study and Resources for Mathematics Teachers 487

    Teaching assistants stand at the center of the enterprise in that theyplay such a multitude of these roles. They must respond to all the otherplayers, often in conflicting ways. TAs are simultaneously students andteachers, experts and beginners, inheritors of tradition and creators ofthe next generation of scholarship, amateurs, seasoned professionals, andmembers of a bewildering array of peer groups. . . . They may be lookedupon with respect or disdain, or an uncomfortable mixture of the two, byother members of the university community [34, p. 4].

    In fact, some advisors inform TAs that teaching undergraduates should beconsidered as a secondary, annoying responsibility [7, p. 265]. In contrast,undergraduate students expect the TA to be a teacher first and scholar second.This conflict in perspectives causes many TAs to stress over which role shouldbe dominant. Even though the TA position provides money and experience,Cryer warns TAs not to allow duties to detract from the goal of attaining thedegree and noted that, Some individuals find that a teaching session overshad-ows the complete day because they work themselves up for it and then needtime to unwind afterwards [17, pp. 105106]. Consequently, TAs face theexpectations to perform well as a scholar, progress in their program, completedegree requirements in a timely fashion, and search for a job while performingwell enough as a teaching assistant to not raise the ire of students or department[42, 65]. This continual conflict in roles, combined with a personal search fortheir academic niche, can magnify a MTAs stress [11, 20].

    Closely connected to the stress of being both a teacher and student arethe financial burdens typically encountered. Smallwood [63] reported that TAstipends vary from discipline to discipline, and degree-dependent differen-tial pay scales and minimal health insurance further exaggerates the burden.Unfortunately, many TA stipends, in comparison to those offered to ResearchFellows or assistants, are less lucrative (on average nearly $2,000 less) andesteemed [14, 67, 68]. Consequently, TAs can perceive that their contributionto academe is devalued. When taken into account necessities, the stipends donot provide considerable room for splurges. Closely tied to job and financialissues is that of interpersonal relationships of many TAs, since many TAs cometo the university either married or in some relationship.

    Another major source of potential stress for the TA are interpersonal rela-tionships that, according to a national study conducted by Brownson et al. [11],can contribute to suicidal feelings more than academic, financial, and familyproblems do. These relationships range from office mates to roommates andextend to familial relationships [4, 46, 70, 74]. Interactions with those aroundthe TA vie for a TAs time and attention whether it is with a significant other,spouse, child, extended family, or fellow TAs. For married graduate students,according to Nedleman [50], the greatest stressor is their relationship with theirspouse. This particular stressor exceeds that of work, finances, parenting, desire

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    for recreation/leisure time, and lack of institutional support. Attempting to bal-ance family and scholarship can be extremely difficult for graduate studentsand is particularly acute for female graduate students [4, 70]. Moreover, grad-uate students feel pressured to place academic achievement ahead of all othervalues, including personal activities and personal relationships [74]. With thatsaid, interpersonal relationships also provide a support structure that alleviatesstress. For instance, a graduate student who is a wife, homemaker, and perhapsa mother may find these multiple roles to be both sources of stress and satisfac-tion, since they provide alternative bases for deriving self-esteem, competence,and support [25, 43].

    The final common stressor experienced by most TAs is a perceived lack oftime. As teaching, research, relationships, and leisure activities pull on the TA,the TA may begin to feel that he or she does not have the time to accomplish allof the tasks and navigate the tension between work and leisure. Consequently,the commitments incumbent upon a TA divide the day into an unmanageablemorass. However, Gmelch [26] has argued that a TAs lack of time results froma lack of organization rather than of time. Whether the feeling of a lack oftime is derived from mismanaged time that could have been used to attain pro-fessional, personal, and civic goals or not, the end result of such a feeling isincreased stress impinging upon the TAs overall goals.

    2. METHOD

    2.1. Study Design

    A single-case study design was selected to optimize the understanding of thecomplexities of the research question. The case study identifies the problem,context, issues, and the lessons learned. In this case study, the problem wasMathematics Teaching Assistant (MTA) stress from a subjective point of view;the context was a regional state university-level Ph.D. program in mathematics;the issue was stress-induced suicidal ideations; and the lessons learned werethe different stressors that led the particular MTA toward suicidal ideations.This case illustrates the complex situations that may result as stress produces adebilitating and downward spiral for a MTA. As a result, this extreme case ofan MTA working through suicidal ideations reaches well beyond the commonstressor already discussed, but helps characterize the complexities that a MTAmay experience and the careful interaction that is necessary when an MTA isunder such debilitating stress. The collected data focused on the writings andutterances of the particular MTA on whom the case study is framed. The datawere analyzed using attribution theory as the primary conceptual framework.

    Attribution theory was first proposed by Heider [31], and is used toguide this case study. Specifically, attribution theory looks at how individualsinterpret events and how this relates to their thinking and behavior. Underlying

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  • A Case Study and Resources for Mathematics Teachers 489

    this theory is the idea that people try to determine why people do what theydo, i.e., attribute causes to behavior. This framework looks at how peoplemake attributions in order to maintain order and predictability in their lives,thereby giving themselves some semblance of cognitive control over theirenvironment. Specifically, the work by Heider [31], Kelley [36], Jones et al.[35] and Weiner [7173] expanded the ideas of attributions belonging to justtwo categories: internal (focused on dispositions) and external (focused onsituations) to include multidimensions. For instance, the Kelley [36] covari-ational model focuses on conditions that lead a perceiver to attribute a causeto an external entity with which the person interacts, whereas the Weiner [73]model of achievement attributions examines an individuals casual attributionsof achievement and their linkage to subsequent achievement behaviors andmotivation, future achievement expectancies, persistence, and feelings fromsuccesses and failures.

    This study used the Kelley [36] covariational model over the Warnier [73]model, since the Warnier model seeks to look at the attributions as indicatorsfor future actions, but the Kelley model seeks to provide explanation for theattributions themselves. In particular, Kelleys model integrates the analysis ofthree types of information in explaining an observed instance of behavior: (1)consensus is the behavior typical or atypical of the general populations responseto thesituation/perception; (2)distinctiveness is thebehavioracrossall situationsor just particular situations; and (3) consistency is the behavior evidenced mostof the time in the presence of the situation/perception or only some of thetime. Each of these three variables can be judged to be high or low, leading toeight possible combinations, often depicted as a 2 2 2 cube. Accordingto Kelley [36], internal or dispositional attributes are linked to observationsthat indicate low consensus, high consistency, and low distinctiveness, such asassigning causality to factors within the person, e.g., personal skill or foibles. Incontrast, external or situation attributions arise from observations that indicatehigh consensus, low consistency, and high distinctiveness, i.e., in failing a test,students may externalize and attribute the failure to not studying well, studyingthe wrong material, or the instructor not providing this information.

    2.2. The Case

    This case focuses on a 27-year-old, white female MTA, who will be referredto as Blue. Blue completed a Masters of Science in mathematics and justbegan the Ph.D. program at a mid-sized regional state university. She enteredthe program struggling with interpersonal relationships with her adoptive par-ents and extended family, and recently began searching for her birth mother.When entering the program, Blue was not in any significant relationship andwas connected to others through Internet chat rooms from which she devel-oped friendships with those also searching for their birth parents. From a

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    physiological perspective, she was slightly overweight and had an undiagnosedhormone imbalance. Spiritually, she displayed confusion about her beliefsconcerning Gods role in her life. Although in an advanced degree programconsisting of 4050 other graduate MTAs, the support structures Blue erectedconsisted of only a few people who took an interest in her. Specifically, Blueconnected with her office mate who did not remain in the program due to apregnancy. Blues advisor, the graduate coordinator, was seen by Blue as some-one with whom she could not share her problems, since doing so could impacther ability to stay in the program. Instead, Blue focused on her course coordina-tor, Dan, in whom she confided. Although a new faculty member, Dan becomeboth a source of support and frustration because he was ill-equipped to handlethe emotional and psychological turmoil that ensued.

    2.3. Data Analysis

    The utterances and writings of Blue, between herself and the faculty member,Dan, were used to get a raw picture of the stressors that Blue faced as a MTA,and how those stressors combined to promulgate suicidal ideations for Blue.Two, as Blue called them, quasi-suicidal notes were also analyzed to identifythe attributions for her consideration of para-suicide activities. Additionally, apoem Blue wrote Dan in the midst of her struggle, with suicidal ideations,served as an additional data point. In particular, the analysis focused on thereasons that Blue supplied as to why she was considering suicide as a means ofmitigating her morosity.

    These elements were analyzed using qualitative content analysis [13] thatprovided an objective and systematic means of making valid references todescribe the phenomena under study. In particular, patterns within the data wereidentified, classified, and then categorized as a first pass. From this initial dataorganization, the author selected meaning units for analysis, i.e., elements ofdata threads that are driven by the research questions. In this study, the meaningunits were every communicative written act connected to Blues interactionswith Dan during the time of her contemplation of suicide. The selected mean-ing units were coded and patterns emerged with respect to the reasons for hersuicidal ideations as well as her interactions with Dan. Next, the data were re-read, with these patterns in mind, to generate new codes within these threads.The final check of the analysis was to have Blue read this entire paper andcritique all of the assertions made by the author.

    3. FINDINGS

    The results are presented in several different parts. The first part focuses onthe initial attributions Blue made that led to her consideration of suicide. The

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  • A Case Study and Resources for Mathematics Teachers 491

    second section zeros in on the suicide notes and elements contained therein.The third section looks at the interactions between Blue and the faculty memberDan, in particular, how Dan, in attempting to befriend Blue, is drawn furtherinto the role of someone upon whom Blue could vent. Each of these themesleads to the penultimate break between Blue and Dan which eventually led toher displacing her reliance on Dan, and permitted the counselor to insert herselfinto the main role of emotional support providers.

    3.1. Initial Attributions

    Blues initial interactions with Dan were as a classroom instructor, under hisdirection as course coordinator. Consequently, Blue and Dan engaged in bothcourse-related conversations and chats about classes and life. It was duringthese times that Blue shared that she was in the midst of a birth mother search,issues about her adoptive family, and struggles with classes. These conversa-tions did not indicate undue stress but concern was warranted when a handwritten letter was slipped under Dans door during finals week that stated:

    Whats the plan tonight? Ive been asking myself that since after thealgebra final. Three finals, two completely fed up. The other might noteven get considered. Yes, I know its all my fault. Ive screwed up thewhole year, so why should a few weeks of improvement mean anything?Especially when I needed to prove myself on the finals and couldnt holdon. I dont think anyone understands that this is where Im supposed tobe. God put me here for a reason. He knows how hard it is for me to fail.He isnt cruel enough to bring me here just so I could ruin everything.But I suppose that when you screw up as much as I have, he really cantdo anything. A bunch of people are going out tonight. Part of me wants togo, get totally smashed; so when I accidently stumble out in front of thetrain Ill be too drunk to get scared. Or do I stay home and drink massiveamounts of rum alone. Somehow I think that the pain of alcohol poison-ing before dying is exactly what I deserve. The other option tonight is todo something with someone else who isnt going to drink, but its not likeI have any friends, let alone ones who would do that. Damn my soul thatremembers and clutches to this pain, (The) Late September Dogs sungby MLE (Melissa Etheridge). Im only lonely occasionally.

    It was at this time and a few subsequent times that Blue lamented herinability to perform to her expectations. For instance, Blue sent an e-mail mes-sage to Dan a few days later that said, what can i say . . . i make it all the wayto a Ph.D then suddenly I feel like i dont know jack. . . . Maybe Im reallynot able to be here. Im getting tired of all this b.s. This particular stressor,

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    even though mentioned first in the letter, had high consensus and low consis-tency since it only was mentioned a few times in her writings (especially incomparison to other stressors), as well as high distinctiveness. Even thoughshe had already successfully matriculated through both a bachelors and mas-ters in mathematics, Blues performance across all of her Ph.D. courses thatfirst semester was below par, and she attributed this failure in multiple placesto internal factors by claiming that it was her fault. She saw her inability toperform as being caused by her actions and not the actions of others.

    However, there are more elements contained in this initial letter to Dan.Her comments about God indicated that she viewed God as an external changeagent. Specifically, her writings indicated a divine power was at work in thisworld, an idea that has high consensus, but her writings were not dominatedby perception and only occasionally mentioned abandonment by God, whichimplies low consistency and high distinctiveness (e.g. the primary times thatBlue mentioned God was when she was at her lowest points). Even thoughreligion may serve as a buffer against depression and suicide, and that feelingsof attachment to God can substitute for other interpersonal attachments [24,37], there is an underlying supposition that involves the person holding fast tothe perception of a close, collaborative relationship with God. However, if thisperception changes to view God as distant or punitive, according to Rizzuto[57] and Exline, Yali, and Sanderson [18], that same attachment can causestress. In the case of Blue, she considered herself unworthy of Gods help, andconsequently felt that God could not or would not intervene. In other writingsof Blue, she made comments such as,

    I thought that maybe getting Jesus back in my life where He is supposedto be would fix everything. That was what I was always taught. No matterhow bad things are, look to God and everything will be better. But, I dontfeel Him here.

    And, He got tired of listening. Its sort of like you being a distant friend andlistening to all of this . . . but after so long you just dont want to listen any-more. Although it is on a much different level I cant believe that God is stilllistening. This lack of connection to a spiritual entity did not provide Bluewith solace and degraded her self-esteem, causing her to look to other ways tocope.

    One such way was for Blue to use alcohol to numb her senses and furtherdisconnect from the pain. The alcohol gave Blue both a buffer from pain andat times the courage to reach out, as seen in a variety of her e-mails to Dansuch as geesh i gotta quit drinking. . . . 4/5 of 750ML of rum within one hour. . . whats my name? and who the heck am I sending mail to? Regrettably,alcohol abuse and suicide ideations have been connected in a variety of stud-ies [6, 58, 61] and Stephenson, Pena-Shaff, and Quirk [64], and Mats [45]

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  • A Case Study and Resources for Mathematics Teachers 493

    found that the relationship between alcohol consumption and suicide was sig-nificantly stronger for women than men. Consequently, there is high consensusand high consistency, since Blue regularly turned to alcohol for solace and lowdistinctiveness, indicating alcohol served as both an internal and external factorcontributing to Blues suicidal ideations.

    The last characteristic stressor seen in Blues initial letter was that ofloneliness. This particular theme was poignantly repeated throughout Blueswritings to Dan, and dominated many of her long missives. For instance, inanother message, Blue wrote, . . . I feel like I have no friends . . . no one toreally talk to who really knows me. In fact, of the 36 different artifacts, thetheme of friendship, lacking friends, or loneliness was integrated into a third ofthem, revealing high consensus, high consistency, and low distinctiveness. Theissue of friendship and loneliness can best be heard in Blues poetic words shewrote to Dan:

    Why do you even bother? You know that no one really cares. You knowthat they think they care. But in truth they are just scared. Maybe it isout of guilt, maybe out of duty. But when it really matters, they wontbe there. They tell you there is always a place to call, But you knowthat talking to a stranger doesnt cut it. Youve seen people who workfor those hotlines. They like to polish their nails or play a few hands ofblackjack. But are they really listening to you if you call? Would theyeven notice if your name was mentioned in the obits? Your friends arealways too busy. And you, trying to be a good friend, dont want to taketheir valuable time. And you are absolutely convinced that their time isdrastically more important than yours. So you just cant say that youneed them. You cant tell that to a complete stranger. You cant eventell the counselor that you see once a week. You are terrified that theywill put you in the hospital, which to you is worse than being alone.You are tired of being alone. You are tired of trying to find that personwho really honestly cares, who will be there when needed. If this personexists, which you doubt, he will know when he is needed. But if not, hewill know that a suicide note is not a strange letter, but a big flippingsmack in the forehead that says the words you cannot utter. And he willknow that he only needs to take a minute from his insane schedule Andremind you that he is your friend and he cares. But after this many yearsof searching, you seriously doubt that he exists. So why bother? Becauseserious doubt is not proof.

    The loneliness from Blues perspective was attributed more to externalfactors than internal factors. Even though she thought of herself as a friendto others, she expressed a strong desire to have a friend part of her life expe-riences. Loneliness is of major concern since it positively covaries with the

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    prevalence of suicide ideation and parasuicide [8, 23, 54, 55, 66, 77]. As aconsequence, the extreme loneliness experienced was attributed to externalconstraints that were beyond her control, but the associated feelings becameinternalized and drove Blue to attempt to make connection with someone whoshowed caring for her.

    3.2. Looking at the Quasi-Suicide Notes

    Although the initial letter from Blue caused concern for Dan, it was not untilan e-mail sent several days after the semester that he concluded that Bluescomments raised red flags about her potentially ending her life. The content ofthe e-mail caused Dan to seek professional advice and suggest counseling toBlue. In this e-mail, written in all lowercase, and riddled with misspellings, shestated:

    . . . Ill quit bugging you after this message . . . and it will prolly be mylast for a long time. do you believe in reincarnation? ;) maybe I can comeback as something cute . . . a chipmunk perhaps . . . naw, chipmunks havefamilies too . . . I really dont want families anymore . . . I dont wantanything anymore . . . yes Ill actually be back here before school . . . stillalive . . . at least if Im not then Im not going to tell you . . . wouldntwant you to actually start to care about some stupid kid like me and tryto stop me . . . then again you need warm bodies or even cold ones if theystill move to teach your classes . . . right? isnt that all we are to you?ok Im tired . . . Im going to shut up now . . . you dont have to worryabout me killing myself . . . I dont have enough energy . . . I dont careenough to do that . . . yes I meant to quote the word worry cause I dontreally think you would do such a thing . . . even if you thought of me asa friend which you dont. . I still dont think youd ever worry.

    This was Blues second missive that raised concerns about Blue commit-ting suicide. Initially, those concerns diminished when Blue quelled Dansconcerns the next day. However, with this e-mails mention of reincarnationand not having to worry about her killing herself, she was again reaching outfor help. In particular, Blues comments were consistent with warning signs forsuicide described by Rudd et al. [60], and consistent with the national researchstudy conducted by Brownson et al. [11]. These warning signs divide into twolevels based upon an assessment of overt suicidal threat. High threat character-istics include: (1) someone threatening to hurt or kill themselves; (2) someonelooking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or othermeans; and (3) someone talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide [60,p. 259], and necessitate a call to 9-1-1 or a mental health provider. Second-tier

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  • A Case Study and Resources for Mathematics Teachers 495

    warning signs do not require immediate intervention and include exhibitingbehaviors of:

    (1) hopelessness; (2) rage, anger, seeking revenge; (3) acting recklessor engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking; (4) feelingtrapped, like theres no way out; (5) increasing alcohol or drug use;(6) withdrawing from friends, family, or society; (7) anxiety, agitation,unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time; (8) dramatic changes in mood:and (9) no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life. [60, p. 259]

    This particular e-mail pushed Dan to contact the universitys counseling centerafter talking to this department chair. The counseling center told him to con-tact Blue both via e-mail and by phone, and respond to her since she reachedout to him. Blues reaction to Dans attempts to contact her was conciliatoryin nature, and she began to feel that someone cared about her well-being.This belief helped Blue make an appointment with the Counseling Centeron campus and regularly see a counselor. This counseling started Blue on apath toward improved coping strategies, and seemed to ameliorate suicidalideations, although the process was fraught with ups and downs.

    In fact, a few months later, Blue composed a note indicating she was onceagain considering suicide as a possible means of managing the morass of herlife. The following handwritten note, in an extremely small font and entirely inuppercase, appeared designed to make it difficult for Dan to read and decipher:

    TO ANYONEWHOMIGHT CARE, IT IS TIME TO SAY GOODBYE.I AM TIRED OF FAKING THAT I BELONG IN THIS WORLD. IDO NOT DESERVE TO BE HERE NOR DO THE PEOPLE WHOCLAIM TO BE MY FRIENDS DESERVE TO HAVE ME LEAN ONTHEM. IM TIRED OF TALKING TO PROFESSIONALS. THEYHAVE BEEN TRAINED TO SAY THE RIGHT THINGS. FRIENDSARE JUST PUT ON THE SPOT BECAUSE THEY WANT TOHELP YET THEY DONT WANT TO GET INVOLVED. IT ISTIME TO END THIS STUPID LITTLE GAME OF NEEDING HELP,WANTING HELP, GETTING HELP, LOSING HELP, NEEDINGHELP, WANTING HELP, GETTING HELP, LOSING HELP, . . . IT ISJUST TOO MUCH FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED.

    This suicide note elicited strong feelings fromDan and caused him to againspeak with Blues counselor. The advice he received from the counselor anddepartment chair was to let them handle the situation, and begin to distancehimself. In particular, there was concern that Blue had become too dependenton Dan, and this may be inhibiting her treatment and eventual well-being, even

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    though as Blue stated, . . . you were the only one that I trusted with that quazi-suicide note and the poem (can you tell that I dont like calling them whatthey obviously are? ;) . . . . The next thread to be examined in this article willlook squarely at how this transference of dependence developed, and how itimpacted Blue and Dans interactions.

    3.3. The Relationship Between Blue and Dan

    In the time between the first and second suicide notes, a major theme appearedin Blues writings that even the counselor commented on when she said, Youtwo are both grown adults with just a few years between you, so it would makesense for you to be friends. Then again, hes a prof, youre just a grad student.Oh, just go figure it out. In particular, Blue vacillated between consideringand questioning if Dan truly were her friend. This fluctuation between statesimpacted the attributes Blue associated with Dan, since she was concerned thatshe might go too far and, in fact, stated this about why she wrote him e-mails,. . . I get to say things that I cant say in your office. But I always risk you justcompletely walking away from me. . . . This constant uncertaintly resulted inunevenness in her interactions with Dan as evidenced in various e-mails. Forexample, if Dan interacted with Blue then she would praise him. For instance,after a meaningful chat, Blue extolled Dans concern,

    . . . I was talking to my counselor and she asked me if you had to come upwith one reason why you wouldnt commit suicide, what would it be?And I told her, you, because you were the only person to act concernedabout me over break. And you went out of your way to do so.

    However, if Dan was unavailable, Blue drew him into conversations by alarm-ing him. For instance, one day Blue wrote, Did you notice all the smiley facesare gone? Except of course, the one on my hand, but you didnt notice that, didyou? >;) . . . Cmon, be honest, you could barely say that you were worriedabout me over break. This least line was a regular way, i.e., questioning hisconcern, that Blue enticed Dan to converse.

    These actions exhibited the classic counselor dependence that results froman active role in crisis counseling. According to Flegenheimer, crisis inter-vention admittedly begins with an intense, regressively tinged, dependent,and positive relationship [19, p. 348] that can result in a transference ofdependency, thereby causing the person that intervened to be viewed as a req-uisite element in the treatment process. As murray proposed, one caught insuch a dependency relationship should consider their role as a transitionalobject . . . a secure anchor point that allows the individual a certain controlat times of regression, and safeguards his newly won autonomy and growth

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    [49, pp. 123, 125]. As a transitional object, Dan sought to deftly balance Bluesfeelings of abandonment and his own personal space. When Dan received thatsecond suicide letter from Blue, and was informed by the counselor and hisdepartmental chair that he needed to disentangle himself, Blue expressed con-siderable frustration over the withdrawal of one of her supports. This wasclearly found in a portion of her message a few days later where she said,

    You said that you had to make sure things stay professional. Which inreality means that you couldnt be my friend even if you did mean thatthen . . . because it wouldnt be professional. . . . You also said thatyou werent avoiding me or (something else that I cant remember.) Buthonestly, you have every reason to avoid me. You dont know what to door say . . . you dont have time to just listen . . . you cant just be a friend. . . you have to remain professional . . . I just keep bugging you . . . sowhat the heck are you supposed to do?

    As a result, she balked at the realization that the counselor would be her mainsupport and stated,

    . . . I can tell you from this end that talking to a counselor just isnt goodenough. One objective person for an hour a week just doesnt cover thebases. . . . This is Monday . . . my counselors appointment isnt untilThursday. . . . It stinks that I can be a friend to anyone at anytime, butI feel guilty when I want someone else to be around when I need them.Not talking to the one person who seems to listen to me isnt going tomake the week go any faster. . . .

    The recognition of Dans withdrawal sent Blue into an emotional cascade thatpeaked the day she was to meet her counselor.

    3.4. Epilogue

    Blue made, as she put it, a big decision and wrote Dan the following crypticmessage that again was initially perceived by Dan as a means of drawing himback into further conversations: Today is probably the best day of my life. It isalways a relief to make big decisions. April 15th is going to be a big day . . . andnot just because its tax day. That was the extent of the message. There was noexplanation, just a date sufficiently in the future which happened to be Dansbirthday. The message caused Dan to ask Blue for clarification. In response,Blue wrote the following message to Dan early the next day,

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    First I need to say thanks for talking and listening to me. . . . The truthis, I dont want April 15th to be D-Day. . . . I pray every night that Ifigure out a better way . . . and I thank you for praying too, . . . . Lastnight was probably the first night that I actually felt like someone caredfor more than five minutes. (This sentence is intentionally ambiguous . . .do I mean that I felt that way for more than 5 minutes, or that you caredfor more than 5 minutes? I dont know the answer either. :) But I needto know that it wasnt a Hey shes hurting so let me say what I think sheneeds to hear discussion. . . . I dont know what kind of time you havetoday (Friday), if any. I feel really guilty about taking all this suicidalcrap out on you . . . then I take up your time too. And, no, Im certainlynot trying to make you feel guilty . . . you have gone above and beyondthe call of duty. But IF (yes I said if, and I may regret that. ;) you can find1530 minutes today . . . Id like to talk. The reason I say today is thatweekends are pure hell for me. When Im at home (or in the office alone)I sit and think about all this stuff. If we can talk then maybe I can get anew plan. Maybe this new plan could change D-Day into S-day (thatsSmiley day).

    Blue, consistent with her previous interactions, implied but did not equateApril 15th or D-Day to mean the day for which she was planning her suicide.Further exchanges made it clear that Blue was not honest with her counselor.For instance, in one e-mail, she stated,

    Im sorry that I ever shared my plan of April 15th with you. It is MY dayand I shouldnt have shared it with anyone. . . . You are the only one whohas heard anything about this date . . . , It would probably take divineintervention to stop it this time.

    It appeared to Dan that Blue had made a momentous decision to which hercounselor was not privy.

    To be certain, Dan asked Blue why she had not shared her plan with hercounselor and she replied,

    I shouldnt have told you (and wont tell her) because it is MY day . . .and I shouldnt have shared it with anyone. But the, other part is becauseit just doesnt matter. I dont want the attention that comes with it. LastFriday you asked me if I really wanted to die or if I wanted attention.At the time 1 said both. Well now, I realized the answer is really neither.I just want the pain to go away . . . I just want to feel like I belongsomewhere . . . I just want the void to fill up.

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    After this exchange, one final e-mail saying, I think it is slightly amusingthat you ask if I see my counselor . . . I say yes . . . but what does that reallymean? I didnt even tell her about my plan. So, whats the point in going?, wassent by Blue that indicated to him that he needed to do something, and so heprovided the counselor with copies of all their correspondence so Blue couldget the help that she needed. As a result, Blue no longer wrote or spoke withDan except Professionally, She avoided him whenever possible and severedfurther e-mail contact.

    The end of this case found that although Blue made comments that sheconsidered suicidal as a means of escaping her psycho-emotional turmoil, itwas through counseling and medical, psychological, and spiritual interventionthat Blue found ways to transcend the feelings of a void over time. Blue did notcomplete the Ph.D. program in mathematics, but chose to leave the programand pursue other interests. In particular, she went on to teach mathematics ata local community college. Approximately three years later, she went to semi-nary to pursue theological training. In the intervening years since that time, shehas married and continues to teach mathematics at community colleges andbranch campuses.

    4. DISCUSSION OF THE CASE

    The data indicated that Blue attributed her initial failure in the doctoral programto internal factors. Her screwing up during the semester could not be saved bya few weeks of hitting the books. The feeling of loneliness was internal but theroot cause was external in the sense that Blue considered herself a good friend,but due to lack of real relationships, no one was truly her friend. In the end, evenDan was abandoned from consideration as a true friend because he revealedher secret to the counselor. Blues perspectives on God being an external agentwere closely tied to her assertion of her unworthiness of have God intervene.In particular, she considered herself unworthy of Gods friendship, and that shehad done enough things to cause God to no longer listen to her.

    Furthermore, Dan was not prepared to handle the fixation and concur-rent emotional barrage from Blue. He was genuinely concerned for her, andattempted to befriend her while maintaining some modicum of professionaldistance. This resulted in passive-aggressive interactions with Blue. Bluewanted Dans attention and desired his interaction since it helped her vent herfeelings, but she was always concerned that she could push too far and hewould walk away. If she felt that he was pulling back or avoiding her, Bluewould aggressively attempt to draw Dan back into interactions, and when hedid interact with her, she praised him for his display of concern. The inter-actions with Blue were emotionally draining for Dan, and he was concernedamount how it was affecting the emotional, physical, psychological, and pro-fessional aspects of his own life. The decision to intervene with the counselor,

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    that caused the final dissolution of Blues linkage to Dan, was a hard deci-sion but one that he felt he had to make. His lack of expertise was becoming adetriment to Blues eventual psycho-emotional healing.

    5. RESOURCES: A CASE STORY AND RESEARCH-BASED COPINGMECHANISMS

    Asmentioned in the beginning of this article, manyMTA trainers, faculty mem-bers, and administrators avoid the thorny issues surrounding MTA issues byfocusing on university and departmental policies [2, 22, 40, 52, 53, 69]. One ofthe major reasons for this is that the resources for MTA training do not containtools to helpMTAs grapple with thorny issues such as stress. It is the purpose ofthe second half of this article to help illustrate the stressors that impinge uponMTAs. In order to accomplish this, the second half of the article presents a casestory to help MTAs consider how to navigate situations that contribute to stress,by drawing on the account of Blue and other situations culled from MTAsjournals teaching college-level mathematics. Specifically, a case story blendsstorytelling into the case-study method [1] by providing narratives explicatinga realistic, engaging learning situation using multiple variations that accordingto Costanzo and Handelsman, helps avoid the trap of prematurely settling onthe right answer [16, p. 97]. In particular, this portion of the article presentsthree scenarios and a discussion of research-based coping strategies that can beshared with MTAs encountering similar stressful situations.

    5.1. The Case Story: How Do I Handle the Stress?

    The scenarios contained in this case story focus the MTA on various instancesof stress they may encounter. For instance, elements of scenario 1 were pulledfrom the case study already discussed in this article. It serves as a reminder ofthe seriousness of mishandled stress, and how to detect the warning signs. Thesecond scenario explores time management and an MTA who has attempted topick up the slack for a poor-performing MTA, while attempting to balancehis teaching and his own studies. This balancing act is perhaps one of themost common stressors for MTAs. The third scenario focuses on finances andnegotiating interpersonal relationships. Each of these scenarios brings differentaspects of common stressors to light, and asks MTAs to generate a variety ofcoping strategies.

    5.1.1. Scenario 1

    Sandra, a fourth-year graduate teaching assistant, has a particularly difficultclass this semester. She has been teaching the same course for the past three

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    years and is quite frustrated. The students have the same problems, she keepsgiving the same explanations, and she keeps seeing the same mistakes on thestudents tests. She does not completely understand her malaise concerning theclass. Shes tried different things like having students work in groups, incorpo-rating more technology, lecturing more, lecturing less, giving harder quizzes,giving easier quizzes, and even changing homework assignments, but none ofthem has alleviated her dissatisfaction with the class.

    To make matters worse, her despondency has spread from her work asshe struggles with her dissertation. She chose a notoriously difficult topic andalthough she built two descriptive algebraic structures, she was struggling tolink them with a viable proof even though experiments pointed toward thetruth of the hypothesis. Her advisor provided encouragement but no directionor help, and she just feels so alone and unsupported after months of trying.Consequently, she has started to contemplate suicide, and has made a couplecryptic comments to you (as fellow grad student, teacher, advisor, mentor, etc.)concerning her suicidal thoughts.

    Over the past couple of weeks, you have receive the following e-mailednotes:

    Why cant I figure out this stupid proof? There doesnt seem to be any-thing that works. I feel so helpless and like Im walking around in ablack hole. These days are so frustrating and at night I just cant sleep.I need to think about something else but what am I to do? Why ismy advisor getting angry with me? I meet with him but I just donthave anything new. No new insights, no better plan I just keep goingin circles. Do you have a few minutes today, so I could bounce ideasoff you?

    I just cant take it any more. I keep struggling and not getting anywhere,I have no life, I have no friends, my work doesnt satisfy me anymore.nothing excites me anymore. I just feel like I am trapped in this deep holeand there is no way out. I feel so lonely and my body just aches. I wantto curl up into a little ball and have this emptiness to go away. I think itwould be best if I just gave up. I just want to sleep forever to never wakeup again and be out of this pain and misery. I would be willing to comeback a bird that flies around and never has to worry except for finding aworm or building a nest. I think if I was gone, my advisor wouldnt bethat upset at least he wouldnt have to deal with my whining and tantrumsand my family might be sad but they would get over it. I just dont careanymore. Im not sure why Im telling you this and you probably stoppedcaring or reading a while ago, I just thought I had to tell someone sinceyouve listened to me. I am so tired. maybe Ill see you tomorrow ormaybe if I have the courage, Ill just be gone.

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    If you were in Sandras situation, what sources of support are available toyou? What options are available to you as a graduate student to help you copewith the struggles you face? If you received the note from Sandra, what advicewould you offer her? Should you tell anyone about this? If so, who? If not,why not? What if you received this note not from Sandra but a student in yourclass? Would you handle the situation any differently, why or why not?

    5.1.2. Scenario 2

    Bob is a graduate teaching assistant in a multi-section precalculus course. Hisoffice mate, Tim, also teaches the same course but often misses his office hours.Hence, quite a few of Tims students have started to attend Bobs review ses-sions to get some of their questions answered. At first, Bob was just being niceby allowing the students to sit in while he was answering the questions of hisown students, but lately the students from Tims class have begun to domi-nate the conversations, and Bobs students are upset. They feel Bob has beenspending too much time trying to address some of the shortcomings in Timsinstruction instead of ensuring they are prepared for the tests.

    Bob is concerned. He feels obligated to help as many students as he can,but at the same time he does understand his students complaints. In addition,quite a few students of his and Tims have started stopping in unannounced,leaving him to drop what hes been working on and spend his time helpinghis students. Unfortunately, this has gotten him quite behind on his AbstractAlgebra assignments, but he feels that he is not doing his job if students havequestions and he does not answer them. As a result, he decided to confrontTim. When Bob talked to Tim, Tim responded that he knew that he was slough-ing off on his teaching this semester, but reminded Bob that he was preparingfor his preliminary exam, and that was dominating all of his time. He con-fided in Bob that he was really concerned about the analysis portion of theprelim, and has been spending all available time hiding in the library gettingready for the test. He told Bob that after next week, when he is done with theexam, he will focus again on teaching his course and be available for officehours.

    What do you think Bob should do next? Where should Bobs loyalties lie?Is it reasonable for Bobs students to be upset with what has been happeningduring review sessions? Would it make a difference that the third test in thecourse was going to be early next week (prior to Tims prelim exam)? Is thereanything Bob should have done earlier in the semester to alleviate this problem?Does Bob have a responsibility to Tims students who have been coming toBobs class? What about Bobs responsibilities toward his own students? Howdoes one balance the responsibilities of being student and teacher? What if,instead of preparing for his preliminary exam, he was tending to his sick motheror he himself was under a doctors care?

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    5.1.3. Scenario 3

    Tina is a mathematics graduate student and her husband Steve has been work-ing part-time at two jobs since Tina decided to go on to graduate school. Theymoved halfway across the country, leaving family and friends. Unfortunately,when Steve arrived in town, he found out that there were no job opportunitiesthat fit his degree. He has been frustrated that he has not found a permanent joband feels that delivering pizzas is not something that a college graduate shouldhave to do. On top of that, Steve sees Tina studying so hard, spending time inher office working with her students and other graduate students. He has won-dered if Tina would be better off without him since everyone she works withseems so mentally stimulating.

    So far, Tina and Steve have been living off Tinas stipend, Steves part-time work, and savings. The two of them thought that they could scrape byuntil she was finished with her degree, and they would move back to New Yorkwhere Steve would find work in his field and Tina would get a job teaching atthe local college. Steve tries to be supportive of Tinas passion to complete herdegree as quickly as possible, so they get out of the three-room apartment andonto a better life. Unfortunately, every time Steve looks at the budget, he getsupset. With most of their monthly budget tied up in rent and other payments,they have little money for splurges and this really frustrates Steve.

    One night, after Tina spent a wonderful day in class teaching the quadraticequation, and her students appeared to understand both the algebraic andgraphical arguments for its development, Tina arrives home to a dinner ofMac-n-cheese prepared by Steve. She quickly recognizes that Steve is upsetand asks, Whats the matter, hon? Steve replies,

    Tina, I am really trying. I just am sick of all of this, pointing to the Mac-n-cheese. We have so little for food and my parents used to spend nearlythe same amount we budget each month on a family dinner at a fancyrestaurant. On top of that, you never seem to be home and when you are,youre always studying or preparing for class. We never see each otherany more. Remember what it was like in college? We spent time together,went to concerts, and took strolls in the woods. It just seems like wehave nothing now, except Mac-n-cheese and tuna noodle casserole whichcomes out our ears, no time together, no money, no fun!

    If you were in Tinas situation, what would you say to Steve? Do you feelthat Steve has a right to be frustrated by the situation? How does one copewith the financial strain of being a TA?What if Tina says, Steve, we may havebigger problems, I didnt know how to tell you this but I think Im pregnant. toSteve? How would having a family impact being a graduate student? How willTinas pregnancy impact her professional future, their financial picture, and

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    their relationship as a couple? What role(s) would you expect Tina to play onceshe becomes a mother? Would this impact your opinions about the situation ifthe rous were reversed? How would your opinions change if Tina and Stevewere not married but simply living together?

    5.2. Research-Based Coping Mechanisms

    First and foremost, to handle any of the stressors encountered, MTAs needto seek out a social support network of people who understand what difficul-ties they are encountering. This can be in the form of an informal networkof other MTAs with whom they communicate, or more formal structures suchas counseling and therapy groups designed specifically to help people navi-gate the particular stressors they are encountering. Another coping mechanismthat researchers have suggested is a model of mentoring relationships [9, 30,39]. Beginning MTAs who struggle with balancing their roles, as teacher andscholar, need mentoring from more advanced MTAs who have achieved greatersuccess. In some universities, these mentoring relationships are formalizedwith a teaching fellow providing guidance and support [39]. A peer mentor,according to Grant-Vallone and Ensher [27], provides increased support, bothon psychosocial and instrumental levels. This peer mentor can empathize withthe fears of novice MTAs, inspire confidence, and explain how to accomplishTA tasks efficiently and effectively. Allen, Russell, and McManus [3] foundthat psychosocial mentoring from peers improved performance socialization,and that career-related mentoring helped TAs improve organizational relation-ships. Beyond improving socialization and relationships, they also found apositive relationship between the amount of mentoring and the MTAs abilityto cope with stress. Consequently, entering into a mentoring relationshipwith a peer with whom there is less difference in age and hierarchical levelthan faculty-student mentoringprovides MTAs with greater support, and canincrease their ability to cope with the stresses associated with being a teachingassistant.

    As mentioned previously, time is a major issue for many MTAs who areattempting to balance their role as teacher and student with outside interper-sonal relationships. Cryer noted, Sometimes the urgency of certain tasks mustdictate the order in which they have to be done. Although this may occasion-ally be unavoidable, it is seldom ideal. Firstly, it may mean that an importanttask has to be rushed; and secondly, it may be an inefficient use of a timeslot [17, p. 94]. Consequently, a MTA needs to learn how to efficiently matchactivities to time slots in order to avoid as many interruptions of the requisitetasks as possible. In order to accomplish this, Gmelch [26] suggests classi-fying activities as High-payoff (HIPO) and not urgent (long-range planning,personal development, relationship building, proactive problem solving); HIPOand urgent (handling an irate student, preparing a talk, completing a homework

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    set before class); Low-payoff (LOPO) and urgent (meetings, phone calls, drop-invisitors), and, finally, LOPO and not urgent (sorting, repetitive tasks, off-taskconversations). Unfortunately, while most of a MTAs time should be spentaddressing HIPO activities, sometimes most of it is expended on LOPO activi-ties that appear urgent. However, to eliminate all leisure activities or talking toother people is not advisable, MTAs need them to maintain physical and mentalhealth [17]. In fact, by exercising, eating correctly, and getting sufficient sleep,a MTA will be able to focus on HIPO activities without feeling completelydeprived.

    For some, as evidenced in the case study presented in the first part of thisarticle, achieving balance can be difficult. If the stress faced by another MTAor a student becomes too great and reaches a crescendo where discussions ofsuicide or physical maltreatment are contemplated, there is a moral obligationto refer the person to a counseling center. Although a counseling center caninvite the MTA to participate in therapy, it remains the choice of the person toengage in the therapy. As mentioned previously, there are a variety of warningsigns that a person needs immediate attention, described in Rudd et al. [60], andexpressing interest in a persons well-being can make an important differenceto a person in severe distress. It takes being a good listener to increase thelikelihood of the person accepting a referral to a counseling center. The goal isto assist the distressed person, not resolve the difficulties. However, in doingso, those assisting may also need additional support from colleagues, family,friends, or a counseling center for themselves.

    6. CONCLUSION

    This article began with a case study looking at the particular stressors impact-ing an MTA at a regional state university. The goal of this case study is toexamine the attributions made by the MTA, as well as illustrate how failure tocope can lead to extreme situations and even suicidal ideations. As part of thecase study, the analysis also uncovered how Blues suicidal ideations impactedher relationship with a faculty member, Dan, who was unprepared to handle herfixation and emotional barrage. Certainly, Dan would have benefited from somepre-emptive training on how to handle such extreme circumstances, where he,like many MTAs, only received information about departmental and universitypolicies. The avoidance of the more thorny issues, such as dealing with MTAstress, does not allow for opportunities to construct insights and possible solu-tions for some of the unique issues and problems which potentially may befaced in academia.

    It is the goal of the second part of this article to draw upon the insightsfrom the first portion, as well as cull from MTA journals scenarios, explicatinginstances of MTA stress, to provide a framework to help MTAs grapple withsome of the unique issues and problems they potentially may face in academia.

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    The case story was written with MTA staff development in mind sincethe scenarios present realistic situations. Stories, like these, of professionalpractice are a powerful tool for developing understanding and critical think-ing [51]. The stories also promote active participation, where the analysis ofa case story encourages engagement with the story rather than merely learn-ing vicariously. The story format initiates anticipatory sense-making, helpingto bridge the gap between action and thought. As a consequence, the use ofcase-based activities in professional development permits a facilitators empha-sizing problem-solving and active student participation, while using real-lifesituations that the participants may likely encounter in the near future. Thisprovides relevance and timeliness to class discussions.

    In combining both a case study and a corresponding case story, this articlebridges the gap between the worlds of research and practice. Through this arti-cle, one hopefully has gained insight into the complexities defined as TA stress,as well as insight into specific situations in which TA stress manifests itself.Learning how to manage stress and cope with dynamic and ever-changingexpectations as an MTA is as important as learning to navigate the complexitiesof serving as an MTA. As Sir Francis Bacon [5] stated, knowledge is power,but this article takes that idea one step farther to insinuate that anticipatoryknowledge is more powerful.

    REFERENCES

    1. Ackerman, R., and P. Maslin-Ostrowski. 1995. Developing Case Stories:An Analysis of the Case Method of Instruction and Storytelling inTeaching Educational Administration. Paper presented at the AnnualMeeting of the American Educational Research Association, SanFrancisco, CA (ERIC Reproduction Number: ED 390 132).

    2. Adams, K. A. 2002. What Colleges and universities want in new faculty.Preparing Future Faculty Occasional Paper Number 10. Washington, DC:Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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    BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

    David E. Meel is an associate professor at Bowling Green State University.He received a B.S. in mathematics from Houghton College, a M.S. in math-ematics from South Dakota State University, and an Ed.D. in mathematicseducation from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests includegraduate teaching assistant training, the effects of alternative assessments, themathematical understanding of preservice teachers, and the teaching and learn-ing of undergraduate mathematics, particularly calculus and linear algebra. Heenjoys spending time with his family, gardening, and relaxing.

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