To students who frequent the campus tutorial labs, I would like to offer some advice. I recently gained employment in the Math Lab, and I have spent many frustrating hours in the Physics Lab staring stupidly at the white board while the teaching assistants gave 30 second dictums on things that took Einstein years to understand. I’ve had lab experience from both ends, so I think I’m in a good position to give advice.
First, never forget that the T.A. thinks you’re an imbecile, and nothing you do or say will change that. For this reason, it is useless to explain how you used to do integrals forward and backward in seventh grade, but you’ve since served a mission, studied sociology in Russia, and earned a Nobel Peace Prize, none of which requires calculus. The T.A. doesn’t care and will still think you’re an imbecile.
Also useless is any effort to save face by saying you understand something when in actuality the explanation you’ve just received may as well have been in Swahili. You don’t have to make the T.A. like you — put him through hell and make him explain it five times. If it still doesn’t click, tell him he stinks and ask for another T.A., preferably a non-egocentric female.
Lastly, in dealing with big-headed T.A.s, it’s good to have some artillery up your sleeve. For example, after hearing a completely encrypted lesson on partial fractions, don’t let the T.A. pat himself on the back. Blow him out of the water by spewing out a line of poetry (most math T.A.s can no longer understand the English language save where it involves numbers), and ask sincerely if he knows, since he’s so smart, whether that was a complex-double-subjunctive-insubordination or a compound-hallucinatory-objective-with-a-triple-whammy. Ten bucks says he’ll try to answer.