Recent Developments in International Teaching Assistant (ITA) Training – Mareike Mueller

Launched in the spring term of 2008, the ITA program is currently heading into its third year of existence, and so it’s about time to have a closer look at some current developments within the program. My reflections will mainly refer to the fall and winter terms of 2009 and 2010 respectively, in which I have worked as an ITA Developer for this program.

Every term four different workshops cover a variety of teaching and learning related topics that are of specific relevance to international TAs. Additionally, we facilitate an orientation session at the beginning of each term for new international graduate students. Starting this winter semester, the orientation session has been expanded into a full workshop, giving students the opportunity to receive credit towards the ITA training if they decide to continue with the program. This strategy has proven quite successful as many participants in the orientation session have not only remained in the program, but for the first time two students have managed to complete the training within only one term. Hence, offering the orientation session as a full workshop appears to support ambitious students in their fast progress.

In addition to these workshops, participants are given the opportunity to practise their teaching skills in microteaching sessions, which are usually offered three times per month. Each of these sessions take about 2 to 2.5 hours and 3 to 4 participants receive both oral and written feedback on different elements of the structure and delivery of their teaching presentation. The main difficulties which I have noticed in participants over the last two terms consist of the use of interactive activities, participants’ questioning strategies as well as the creation of transparency regarding learning goals and the overall structure of the lecture. In order to help ITAs overcome these obstacles, we have decided to ask participants to fill out a lesson plan template before each microteaching session, starting this spring term. This way, typical challenges will be addressed before the session takes place and ITAs’ awareness towards the importance of considering such elements will be raised.

Since its beginning 2 years ago, 21 international graduate students have completed the ITA training so far, with a record number of 10 completions in this winter term. The majority of this term’s ITA-training graduates have completed the program within two terms or less. In this context, I feel that it has helped to regularly talk to ITAs about their progress and objectives in the program in order to encourage their active participation and avoid unnecessary delays.

I hope the current trend of an increased and very active participation in the ITA program will continue and expand over the next terms, helping more and more international graduate students tackle the challenges of being an ITA in a Canadian classroom, as well as enjoy teaching as a rewarding and exciting activity.


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Mareike Mueller

As the International TA Developer, Mareike Müller is responsible for developing and facilitating a series of workshops and microteaching sessions to help international TAs in enhancing their teaching skills and to familiarize them with the specifics of teaching and learning at Canadian universities. Additionally, Mareike is pursuing a doctoral degree in Applied Linguistics at the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies. Her research interests encompass multiple aspects of second language acquisition and pedagogy, with a focus on learner beliefs in the acquisition of foreign pronunciation. She has teaching experience at various institutions across Germany and Canada.

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