Friday, March 22, 2013

International Teaching Assistant Training Program

I can still remember the first semester I had here last spring. . In my prior education experience, there was no such thing called syllabus, not mention the complete English-speaking learning environment and the culture shock. I noticed that in some classes, there was one student claimed to be the teaching assistant, which was new to me (meaning, I did not know what exact purpose the guy was for). I kept feeling dizzy until the end of first three weeks, when the professor in my statistical class assigned the first homework. I felt so upset about the first assignment, then I was “saved” by my teaching assistant, a guy from middle east, who covered all the knowledge I needed to do the home assignment during the lab session. Although he spoke English with strong accent, he perfectly demonstrated his expertise on statistics.
The international teaching assistants in U.S. universities have been increasing in the past decade. Undoubtedly, qualified international TAs have showed great value for their assistance in on-going teaching, research, and service. However, As Kathleen Bailey discussed in her article “The ‘Foreign TA Problem’”, international TAs may lack clear understandings about the role of TA in American education system and thus may face both linguistic and cultural difficulties in facing their students, which probably lead to problems sometimes.  Thus, helping international TAs to adjust them to American classroom is important for TAs, native students and the university.

I enrolled in a program called “international teaching assistant training “program, which is designed to help non-native English speaking TAs (or potential TAs) to improve their oral communication, get them familiar with American classroom culture and effective classroom teaching skills. The program is consisted of three parts: lecture and discussion of specific topics each class session, observation of other international TAs, and four tasks operated individually by students.
Each class size in the program is intentionally controlled within a small group of students. A mild amount of reading is assigned each week, which is written and edited by experienced international TAs and professors. For example, one article is about “compensatory strategies classroom English” which indicates what others measures TAs can do to minimize the possible misunderstanding because of accents. Students discuss their specific practical problems since they are all international students and part of them are TAs. A set of concrete, detailed and actionable instructions for international TAs can be concluded from readings, lectures instructions and discussions. Sometimes, we were asked to role play to practice what TAs should do in one  specific situation. For example, I pretended as a student who was always late, the other trainee was the TA. What kind of conversation should she talk with “me”? What measures could she take to avoid such situations?
There are exemplars we can observe, both successful exemplars and unsuccessful ones. After comparison and contrast, we made conclusions what may cause problems and which measures could do communications that are more effective. We had four presentations to perform. Each presentation was related to classroom teaching, such as how to explicit a concept, how to compare and describe a process and so forth. All the presentations were recorded and fully discussed one week after the presentation.
I benefited much from this program for I clearly understand the role of TA in the university, get to know part of important class culture and some crucial communication skills with native students.

---by Yan Liu

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