International TA Training: One year in service – Walid Omran (ITA Developer)

successHow 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.

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As an international TA Developer (2008-2009), Walid Omran is responsible for developing and facilitating a series of workshops and microteaching sessions for international TAs. The objective of this series is to help the international TAs in developing their teaching skills and to familiarize them with the teaching process in Canadian universities, especially in UW. In addition to his work at CTE, Walid is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering.

3 thoughts on “International TA Training: One year in service – Walid Omran (ITA Developer)”

  1. Bonjour Jeffrey,

    Just so folks know, there are occasional workshops specifically for professors who wish to improve lecture techniques. Some private work with a voice coach can also be arranged by referral through our office, for those who feel they need it. Rarely does something come down merely to pronunciation, though, and we do run workshops on voice care, projection, stage presence — to name a few — plus the Instructional Skills Workshop (three days of videotaped microteaching and feedback sessions — next one in August). I find that students play an important role in training their *ears* though too! I know someone whose English is absolutely impeccable, but not Canadian-sounding, and students typically claim not to understand her because of the “foreign”-marked speech patterns. So, I think that communication acts involve the speaker and the listener, and that both need to make efforts to make such acts understandable. I believe that universities are richer for having so many accents around us all day every day!

  2. Hi Jeffery, it is good to hear from you!

    I totally agree with what you said about training international lecturers. I believe that the CTE offers programs for lecturers and professors in general. Maybe there is no specific training program for international lecturers due to the fact that most of them have already spent at least a couple of years in Canada to get their PhD. The situation is a bit different for TAs who might have to teach just a couple of months after arriving to Canada.

    The point that you mentioned about examining the international teaching staff before assigning them teaching duties is very interesting. I know that many universities in the US use this, especially with international TAs. Maybe, this is the next step that we should take!

  3. Unfortunately, there are some international lecturers who could benefit immensly form such programs as well. In my opinion, professors, and lecturers should have to pass an ELPE-style examination (with oral and written components) before being allowed to lecture/teach. If there already is such an examination, then I would have to say that its standards need to be raised.

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