How am I going to teach these students? Will they laugh at me because of my accent and language mistakes? How will I control their behavior in the class? Is it true that culture can affect the students-TA relationship? How can I prove that I am a good TA? These were just some of the questions I had in mind when I received my first TA assignment, four months after arriving to Canada as an international graduate student. Now, after spending three years at the University of Waterloo and being a TA for a number of courses, I still think that teaching in the Canadian classroom can be a challenge for many international TAs (ITAs). This is mainly due to language barriers, cultural differences and uncommon backgrounds.
To be fair, undergraduate students might also face difficulties when dealing with their ITAs due to their language and communication skills. This can be very stressful to the undergraduate students, especially since they expect high quality teaching at the University of Waterloo.
The challenges that both ITAs and students face raises an important question: how can the University of Waterloo overcome all these issues in order to ensure a high quality learning environment in the classroom? The answer is simple: train the ITAs.
In January 2008, the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) started a new training program for international graduate students. The main objective of the training is to help the ITAs prepare for the teaching tasks that they might have while pursuing their graduate studies and to help them learn about the teaching environment of the Canadian classroom. The training has two components; first, a series of interactive workshops that address a variety of topics such as communications skills for ITAs, teaching methods in the Canadian classroom and many other topics relevant to the ITA experience. The second component is a series of micro-teaching sessions where the ITAs can practice their teaching skills. Usually, four ITAs come together in one session. Each ITA gives a 15 minute lecture then receives feedback from other participants and from the ITA developer. The training also offers one – on – one consultation sessions where the ITA can discuss any concerns about teaching with one of the ITA training staff. To encourage the participation in the training, the CTE offers a letter of recognition to those who attend six workshops and present in three micro-teaching sessions.
After one year of running the training we, the ITA training staff members, are really excited to see the first international graduate student completing the requirements of the training and receiving the letter of recognition. We are also excited to see that the training is getting more popular among international graduate students. Moreover, the positive feedback and comments received from the participants in the training, especially about the workshops, encourage us to do our best in choosing topics for the workshops that can benefit the ITAs.
Finally, I would like to ask you to share with me your ideas about other training activities or workshop topics that you think can be useful for the international graduate students, so that we can to modify the training to suit the needs of our participants.