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It’s your first day of leading a classroom discussion as an ITA and you are anxious about facing a classroom full of American students.  Agonizing questions start to bombard your mind. Will they understand my accent? Will I be able to meet their expectations? What if my English isn’t good enough? What if I don’t know the answer to a student’s question?

Most ITAs face these common teaching anxieties when they learn that they are required to teach. This may be due to a lack of teaching experience as well as by a lack of language proficiency. The following suggestions will not only help you become more confident about teaching in an American classroom but you may also find teaching to be a delightful experience.

Communicating Without Words

These tips are adapted from Connie Van Zelm’s essay in The Foreign TA: A Guide to Teaching Effectiveness, Handbook of State University of New York at Buffalo, 1988.

  1. Become an actor. Great skill is not necessary, just a little boldness. If there’s a keyword you don’t know in English, use your hands, body and facial expressions to act it out. Don’t be afraid of acting silly or looking funny. Do whatever you need to do to get your point across and learn to laugh with the students. Your students will appreciate your efforts and enthusiasm.
  2. Use a chalkboard or a piece of paper whether you are dealing with one student or a whole class. Write down the keywords you use as you talk about them, and draw a simple picture, map, or diagram of what you are talking about. You can usually sketch examples of what you mean.
  3. If you are afraid that someone might misunderstand you, draw a picture of what you don’t want the students to do or think, and then draw a big “X” through it to show that’s not what you’re talking about.
  4. Instead of explaining a formula or an equation, show how it works, and if the students don’t understand the first time, try explaining it with the help of illustrative examples.
  5. Be creative. Use visual aids whenever possible. Have models available whenever you can, and consider using the students themselves to model how something works.

If you are willing to step out of your shyness and do all you can do to communicate with them, they will really appreciate it, no matter how good or bad your English is.

Additional resources for ITAs:

  1. Resources for International Faculty and TAs by Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning
  2. English for Academic Purposes at the University of Notre Dame

Additional Reading:

Sarkisian, Ellen, Teaching American Students: A Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities. Harvard University, 1997 (accompanied with a video, Teaching in America)

Smith, Jan, et al, Communicate: Strategies for International Teaching Assistants. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992.

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