Teaching in the U.S.
There are many resources available on campus to assist you in learning how to teach in an American-style classroom, how to connect with your students, and how to improve as a teacher.
We asked international TAs their strategies and suggestions for succeeding as a teacher at UCR. Here’s what they said.
Tips from UCR International TAs
Practice your English.
Most obviously, we have to improve our English, especially our accents. Listen more and practice more; watch movies and TV. I found my pronunciation changed depending on which TV drama I liked. This indicates that listening is the first step to improve English. I speak very softly, which makes students sleepy. I have learned to speak more slowly and loudly. Tones are very important in speaking English as they emphasize different things. Improving your English does not only mean practicing listening and speaking; we also learn through sharing American culture. Talking about an interesting movie, TV drama, or your favorite sports is a much better ice-breaker than just introducing which department and year you are in and so on.
Use alternatives to lecturing.
Improving English speaking is a long term process. We can make up for deficiencies by using available resource, such as (1) slide, whiteboard, or other visuals. Write down key words when teaching. It is not a waste of time; inaccurate pronunciation can cause misunderstanding. If you write down the important words or emphasize them in your slides, at least the students will not assume you meant other words. (2) Utilize office hours. Encourage students to come to office hours. We all have the experience that talking face-to-face is very effective. You can focus on an individual student. (3) Summarize the lecture at the end of class. Ask some open-ended questions related to this class or remind them of some key points.
Get to know US classroom culture and learn the background of your students.
It is very important to know the US classroom culture when teaching. American teaching style is learning-centered, which is different from that in China (teaching-centered), where I am from. Interacting with students is very important. Discussion is significant, and thus encouraging students to ask questions is very important. Students are not only taking notes from lectures– American undergraduates have lots of ideas, and they love to discuss their ideas. So our work is not really lecturing; we have to learn how to lead the discussion. Our most important responsibilities are teaching them the method and how to analyze the questions.
We also have to realize that the knowledge backgrounds of American undergraduates are not the same as those of college students in other countries. Students may have learned differently in high school and are from different schools, different cities, and different states. High school here is not the same as in China, where high school students use the same books throughout the whole nation. We cannot assume the students know the same things. Also, when we teach in a senior level course, we cannot assume that students have learned and mastered all the topics from the entry level. We have to ask questions about the background of our students. I always ask some fundamental questions of my students in the first class or discussion and also ask them during office hours or at the beginning of the second class to get to know the average background of my students. In that way, I can adjust my teaching to meet gaps in their knowledge.
In order to explain a topic to your students, you need to have mastered it. In my opinion, teaching undergraduates gives you a great chance to relearn basic knowledge that you thought you already knew very well. Even more importantly, while you are teaching, you are also practicing spoken English, and the more you practice, the more you improve your language skills.