May 2014
ITAIS Newsletter

Leadership Updates

LETTER FROM THE CHAIR


Hello to all of my fellow ITA-ISers! This is Rebecca Oreto, your new chair. I am excited to be your voice at TESOL, and I am interested in hearing your ideas.

I’d like to start out by thanking the 2013–2014 Steering Committee for all of the behind-the-scenes work they did to make it such a successful year. Much of that work is never seen by the IS membership, so let me lead a virtual round of applause for our fearless leaders!

We have a great Steering Committee for 2014–2015:

Chair-Elect: Liz Tummons, University of Missouri
Past Chair: Kim Kenyon, Cornell University
Secretary: Elizabeth Gillstrom, University of Pennsylvania
Co-editors: Sarah Emory, Carnegie Mellon University
                      Mary Jetter, University of Minnesota
Members-at-Large: Barbara Beers, University of Minnesota
                                    Stephen Looney, Pennsylvania State University

Our IS had a great business meeting in Portland at the 2014 convention, with a lot of brainstorming for sessions in 2015. At the IS Leadership Meeting, our IS took on a task that addresses an issue that has been plaguing the IS for several years—the overlapping scheduling of many of our sessions with the academic sessions, InterSections, and posters. Our IS is going to sponsor a resolution, submitted to the IS leadership, bringing official attention to the problem. I will be taking the lead on this, working with the Rules and Resolutions Committee to write a good resolution that will be voted on at the next IS Leadership Meeting.

Other Steering Committee members will be taking the lead on other projects; they will ask for help from the membership as their projects come to fruition.

Looking forward to a great year!

LETTER FROM THE CHAIR-ELECT


When I was first approached about becoming chair-elect for the ITAIS, I was hesitant. I’ve so admired the insight and expertise of previous chairs, and I’m not sure that I’m in the same league. Most came from large, established programs, while I come from a small ITA program, where I am the only full-time employee. So, I wasn’t sure what I have to offer.

But last year in Dallas at the 2013 convention, I came to the realization that there are a lot of one-person ITA programs out there and, maybe if we pull together, we have a lot to offer each other. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already queried the listserv to get answers to questions that no one at my university knew. The sheer number of responses, not to mention their helpfulness, is always greatly appreciated. Even this month, I sent out a query and received responses from more than 30 different individuals, each with a unique perspective. I’m hoping we can continue to tap into that collective knowledge and do it on a much greater level.

I think our new chair’s, Rebecca Oreto’s, plan of having ITAIS members mentor others in proposal writing is fabulous, and I hope it is just the beginning of many positive collaborations with the result of building relationships across universities and furthering our profession as a whole. The ITAIS is a great place, and I look forward to the next few years as I serve you and learn from you.

ABOUT THIS ISSUE


Fellow ITA Professionals:

I’m Sarah Emory, and as a co-editor of the ITAIS Newsletter with Mary Jetter, I’m pleased to introduce our May issue. There are brief letters from our chair, Rebecca Oreto, and our chair-elect, Liz Tummons, as well as three fascinating articles.

Our first article, by Barbara Beers, Miki Mendelsohn, and Pamela Pollock, is a summary of the ITA training activities that they collected in their interesting session the 2014 convention in Portland. Their session was a discussion and compilation of activities that ITA professionals were successfully using in their programs to help develop various skills. As they gathered a huge amount of information, this article will include a variety of activities that might be of interest to you. The second part of their article, due to publish in our next newsletter, will look at pedagogy.

Our second article, written by Ekaterina Arshavskaya, is based on the author’s research and interviews with ITAs on their experiences in U.S. classrooms, and how this type of research can be used to better meet the needs of ITAs.

Our last article, by Baburhan Uzum, addresses the author’s interviews with several Fulbright language teaching assistants and reflects on how their cultural backgrounds influence and inform their interactions with their students as they teach in the United States.

Enjoy!

Articles

A SUMMARY OF ACTIVITIES TO HELP INTERNATIONAL TEACHING ASSISTANTS BUILD THEIR LANGUAGE SKILLS: PART 1

 


Barbara Beers


Miki Mendelsohn


Pamela Pollock

Professionals who work with international teaching assistants (ITAs) are always looking for new activities to use with students. ITAs have a variety of goals and needs in order to work effectively as teaching assistants and instructors: They need to improve their speaking skills, but at the same time they need to build their familiarity with the United States, their new universities, and the expectations of their prospective students. There are many different approaches and activities being used to help ITAs develop their linguistic, cultural, and pedagogical skills. This article is based on the activities we collected at TESOL 2014 in Portland, Oregon at a workshop designed to share the wealth of practices in ITA education. In the session, the organizers were specifically looking at ITA curricula from the standpoint of three major categories: pronunciation and grammar; vocabulary, fluency, and listening; and pedagogy. This article focuses on activities from the first two broad language categories. Pedagogy will be featured in the second installment of this article, slated for the next issue of the ITAIS Newsletter.

Pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, fluency, and listening are the main linguistic skills that ITA professionals target, either directly or indirectly, in their courses. Pronunciation and grammar tend to be more discrete and related to accuracy, while vocabulary, fluency, and listening tend to be broader, more holistic features of language. Here we share a brief description and some detail on each category. For anyone interested in developing ITA curricula, a careful consideration of the balance of skills you want students to learn and overall goals of your program is needed. Each of these categories on its own could be one class; the beauty of ITA curricula is how they are balanced and integrated.

Pronunciation

First, let’s explore some major trends in the teaching of pronunciation. Although all instructors agree that the needs of new ITAs encompass much more than a change in pronunciation, it is a salient feature for undergraduate students, and is often the linguistic feature that will help ITAs improve their comprehensibility most noticeably. By pronunciation, ITA instructors mean the suprasegmental aspects as well as (or even more than) the segmental aspects of language. Targeting suprasegmentals, or the overall rhythm and intonation of speech, is a primary point of focus in most ITA courses.

The pronunciation textbooks used in the programs represented in the workshop are:

  • English Communication for International Teaching Assistants.  G. Gorsuch, C. Meyers, L. Pickering, and D. T. Griffee. 2010
  • Well Said. L. Grant. 2010.
  • Clear Speech. J.B. Gilbert 1984, 1993
  • Targeting Pronunciation. S.F. Miller. 2000.
  • Focus on Pronunciation. L. Lane. 2005.
  • Pronunciation for Success. C. Meyers and S. Holt. 1998.
  • American Accent Training. A. Cook. 2009
  • Whadday Say, N. Weinstein. 2000
  • Learner English. M. Swan and B. Smith. 2001.
  • English Pronunciation in Use. M. Hancock. 2003.
  • Academic Interactions. C. Feak, S. Reinhart, and T. N. Rohlck. 2009
  • Accurate English. M. Thorn. 1989.

Various kinesthetic activities, which include clapping rhythms, using rubber bands to show syllable length, and showing jaw openness using markers have come from some of these textbooks and are also used on their own.

Programs are also using software to assist in recording, comparing, and analyzing pronunciation. Praat, Carnegie Speech Software, and American Speech Sounds for Academics were discussed in the session. Other online resources that can be used for mirroring, imitation, watching mouth movements, and so on, include:


In conjunction with consideration of both mirroring and online resources, many programs include audio journal assignments in which students record themselves speaking and then analyze their own speech. While useful for pronunciation (for example if a student listens to, records, and practices key terms and sentences from his academic field), audio journals can also be useful to help students monitor their grammar, fluency, and vocabulary development. Pronunciation can also be paired with grammar when considering the pronunciation of reductions, and -ed and -s endings. A deeper consideration of how ITA programs treat grammar is relevant.

Grammar

While most ITA programs don’t teach grammar explicitly, there is agreement that grammatical accuracy should be addressed with individual students if it is interfering with comprehensibility. Generally, students in ITA courses already know the grammar rules; they just need to be reminded to use them properly. Discussions of grammar also arise in discussions of informal vs. formal language, different phrasing options, and general pragmatics. There are many activities that help students consider various structures and uses of language. Simply brainstorming with a class different ways to say something is a great way to begin. An instructor could target and analyze grammar functions based on particular types of presentations and activities (i.e., persuasive speech or debate). Some specific functions to consider are: storytelling and narration to work on verb tenses, description to work on order of adjectives, or use of modals to be polite. The list is endless.

As mentioned before, audio journals can be very useful to help a student monitor his or her grammatical accuracy. Having students transcribe and correct errors from various production assignments or correct their peers can also be helpful. There are various online tools that can be used to facilitate this process, such asVideoANT. Some programs help students notice the difference in structure and usage between English and their native languages, using resources like EnglishDaily.com.

Finally, a great suggestion for how to help students use the language structures they will need as teaching assistants is to ask them to consider themselves as “translators” between the textbook and the students. This requires them to practice saying things in shorter, simpler sentences; use analogies and examples; and pay attention to transitional words and phrases.

Vocabulary

As with grammar, most ITA programs don’t teach vocabulary explicitly. The idea is that students need to activate the vocabulary they may have already learned in a written context and augment it with common words and phrases used frequently in the graduate school environment.

A general topic that needs elaboration (but is good to keep in mind) is having students learn “lexical bundles.” In a more traditional vein, a list of some useful ideas follows:

  • Read TED Talks transcripts in conjunction with watching videos.
  • Observe a class: What types of transitional phrases are being used?
  • Observe a lab: How do they give instructions?
  • Go over idioms, both for listening comprehension and for usage.
  • Teach a “new word of the day”: Teach it in class, on board. Have students try to use it.
  • Have students define a term and then restate it using examples. Go from shorter to longer, or longer to shorter depending on the goal.
  • Read a definition or watch a teacher talk about a term and have the student restate it in his or her own words.
  • Teach Latin and foreign expressions students may encounter in conversation, such as vis a vis.


In addition to these activities, there are useful games that allow students to practice definitions. These include Taboo, Catch Phrase, or a field-specific Password game. In these types of games, students take turns explaining the words while the rest of the group, or a partner, guesses them. The game Dictionary, with real and made-up definitions, is a good activity to work on vocabulary as well as fluency. These games also allow students to practice the interaction and negotiation that teaching assistants encounter, especially when they have to come up with alternate explanations or examples.

Fluency

A broad goal for ITAs, and any language learner, is to develop fluency. Once again, audio journals can be quite useful here. For example, students could record themselves for 3 minutes each day on a topic of their choice or as assigned by their instructor. This can also be done in class with everyday topics where the students are asked to explain and elaborate on the issue. To help with fluency, clarity, and conciseness, have students practice giving a talk three times: the first time for 5 minutes, then 2 minutes, then 1 minute, with time for feedback provided after the first two times. Another fun way to get students talking more is to have student and undergrads do role plays to practice the language of specific situations (e.g., departmental reception, cocktail party, office hours).

A motivating activity for those students who are focused on their research, and of course a good fluency activity for all, is for students to do poster sessions for other ESL teachers, graduate administrators, or any audience of at least three listeners. Students explain the poster several times, improving their delivery each time. A follow-up to the poster session is to have students then give a talk about the topic. Students can practice giving their talk to different audiences, and it can be particularly helpful to have them work with a novice audience. For example, one program is able to have ITAs talk about their research to high school students.

Summarizing or paraphrasing is also a good way to work on fluency. Some sources that were suggested are:

Another way to use summarizing or restating is in small group discussions where students choose a topic and lead a discussion. In this activity, while increasing their fluency in response to the contributions to the discussion, they also work on listening and accuracy by restating what another student has said.

Listening

Through all of these activities we can see a clear connection with listening skills. Listening is also not usually taught explicitly in ITA programs, but comes up in conjunction with the skills mentioned above. Summarizing oral material, while clearly a fluency and vocabulary building activity, also demands careful listening. In addition to the listening skills necessary for the above tasks, listening can be focused with such additions as having students notice various elements, such as stress, phrases, lexical bundles, idiomatic phrases, and transitions. A favorite website for listening to quick and idiomatic speech is Common Student Questions on the University of Minnesota’s website.

In conclusion, it is clear that ITA professionals are using a variety of methods and activities to help students develop the skills that will carry them through their graduate programs (through development of their communication skills, both for teaching and scholarship) and into their future careers. ITA programs are providing strategies that launch students into graduate school and onto the path of being lifetime language learners; many of the activities shared here are ones that ITAs can do on their own as they continue to improve their language. It is also apparent that some of these skills are well connected with general professional development activities for all graduate students, not just for international students who are working to improve their English. In our next installment, we will share what we learned from the discussion of activities that programs use to target pedagogy, and how these linguistic skills can be developed in conjunction with the specific pedagogical environment for which an ITA is preparing. We also plan to share more detailed descriptions of some of the key activities mentioned here. Stay tuned!


Barbara Beers works in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota in the International Faculty and TA Program, providing instruction and consultation in English language and classroom communication strategies to nonnative-English-speaking faculty, teaching assistants, and prospective teaching assistants.

Miki Mendelsohn is the coordinator of the English Language Program at Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. She has been working with international graduate students for more than 20 years and has taught in Israel as well as the United States.

Pamela Pollock currently works as an assistant director at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, where she teaches classes and develops programming for international graduate students, and oversees the Teaching Certificate Program (an important professional development initiative for graduate students).

ITAS' EXPERIENCES IN U.S. CLASSROOMS: A REPORT FOR ITA PROGRAM DEVELOPERS


International teaching assistants (ITAs), as new instructors in an unfamiliar instructional context, encounter a variety of challenges, which has led to the emergence of a body of research dealing with ITAs’ preparation. However, up-to-date research on ITAs remains quantitative or merely offers descriptions of ITA preparation programs (Trebing, 2007). Less attention has been paid to the ITAs’ own perspectives on the nature of their experiences in U.S. classrooms, the kinds of challenges they face as instructors in a new instructional context, and their views on how their ITA preparation programs and departments can better support them. Based on a series of in-depth interviews with a number of ITAs, this study draws attention to the ITAs as critical members of U.S. academic communities and raises awareness of their unique contributions to the U.S. educational system.

That said, the purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to provide insights into the ITAs’ perspectives on their first semester of teaching in the United States, including examining the challenges they face, and (2) to consider possible revisions to existing ITA preparation programs based on the ITAs’ own views and a review of the available literature. Overall, this study presents information that has the potential to prompt future empirical investigations into educational cultures as the apply to new instructors in international contexts and to possibly inform ITA preparation programs at U.S. universities which may lead to revised curricula. The study will answer the following research questions:

  1. What are the challenges faced by ITAs in U.S. classrooms?
  2. How does U.S. educational culture compare to the ITAs’ home country educational cultures?
  3. How, from the ITAs’ perspective, can ITA preparation programs better prepare and support incoming ITAs?

The Study

Methodology

Informed by the qualitative methodology approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), this study examines three semistructured interviews with each of the six participating ITAs. The goal of qualitative research is to “understand the nature or the meaning of the experience” of the ITAs (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 11) and “to offer insight, enhance understanding, and provide a meaningful guide for action” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 12). Additionally, a series of subsequent email exchanges with the participating ITAs served as a member check (i.e., the qualitative researcher's technique to improve the validity and credibility of the findings) and was integrated into the data analysiswas integrated into the data analysis. Consequently, the data analysis reflects the collaborative and co-constructed interpretation of the interviews with the participants, which strengthens the validity of the final analysis.

Participants

Table 1. Participants

ITA pseudonym

Country of origin

Level

Major

Gender

Michael

China

Master of Science

Computer Science

Male

Madhav

India

Master of Science

Computer Science

Male

Pia

India

Master of Science

Computer Science

Female

Vickey

India

PhD

Computer Science

Male

Irina

Russia

PhD

Chemistry

Female

Saleh

Nepal

PhD

Chemistry

Male


Table 1 presents the six participants in the study.

Instructional Context

The ITA training workshops are offered twice throughout the academic year (the summer and fall semesters) at the same university. During the workshops, the ITAs discuss topics related to U.S. educational culture, are introduced to the concept of interactive teaching, learn about the discourse of teaching, and talk about issues related to office hour meetings with students. In addition, the ITAs participate in daily practicums. For example, they are required to present a concept or a term from their respective field of study, or explain a problem and its solution, applying the principles of interactive teaching discussed as part of the ITA workshop.

Data Collection

The data were collected during the ITA training workshops offered at a large southwestern U.S. university. The ITAs were interviewed about their teaching experience in the United States at the beginning, middle, and end of their first semester of teaching in this context.

Results

Research Question 1: What are the challenges faced by the ITAs in the U.S. classroom?

In this study, similar to the findings of earlier research (Bresnahan & Cai, 2000; Kuo, 2002), the ITAs identified the following challenges: classroom management, and linguistic, instructional, and cultural challenges. Table 2 summarizes the kinds of challenges identified by the participants. The categories (the kinds of challenges) in Table 2 were drawn from the previous literature (Bresnahan & Cai, 2000; Kuo, 2002), while the language (i.e., the specific examples) was provided by the ITAs and paraphrased by the researcher to better suit the genre of the academic article, without modifying the content of the participants¹ interviews.

Table 2. ITAs’ challenges in U.S. classrooms

Classroom Management Challenges

1. U.S. students do not review the course syllabus.

2. U.S. students do not clean their desks and equipment after a laboratory session.

3. U.S. students do not pay attention during the class and do not take notes from the board.

4. U.S. students use bad language and act disrespectfully during an office hours’ meeting.

Linguistic Challenges

1. U.S. students use more informal language, like slang.

2. U.S. students do not talk in long sentences, like international students.

Instructional Challenges

1. ITAs lack knowledge in regard to the academic level of their students.

2. ITAs need to develop additional techniques for teaching in the lab, as it is difficult to be interactive in this environment.

3. ITAs need to learn to match the professor’s level when coteaching the same course.

Cultural Challenges


1. ITAs deal with the negative attitudes towards international instructors exhibited by U.S. undergraduate students.

2. ITAs learn the differences in relation to the physical contact between themselves and their students as compared to home country norms.


Research Question 2: How does U.S. educational culture compare to the ITAs’ home country culture?

All the participants admitted that even though at first they felt less comfortable in U.S. classrooms, as the semester progressed they were able to gradually adapt to U.S. culture. In part, this may be explained by the participants’ prior familiarity with the United States, in terms of both general and academic culture. For example, two of the participants reported that they had previously visited the United States on a tourist visa, and four others reported that they had a level of familiarity with U.S. culture gained from the mass media and through interactions with friends and relatives already residing in the Untied States. Table 3 summarizes the key differences identified by the participants.

Table 3. U.S. educational culture through the eyes of the ITAs

The differences identified by the participants

  1. Less formal classroom culture (e.g., the students are referred to by their first names, can eat in the classroom, arrive late, and wear jeans and other informal attire)
  2. More extensive use of technology
  3. More approachable faculty members
  4. More flexible and less systematic teaching style
  5. More interactive classrooms


Research Question 3: How, from the ITAs’ perspective, can the ITA preparation programs better prepare and support incoming ITAs?

Table 4 summarizes the changes proposed by the participants.

Table 4. The changes proposed by the ITAs

ITAs’ suggestions on how to revise the ITA preparation program

  1.  ITAs were interested in learning more about the differences between the classroom culture of the United States and that of their home countries.
  2. ITAs suggested inviting professors from their respective fields of study to give demonstration lessons during the ITA training workshop.
  3. ITAs were interested in learning more about the phonetics of English in order to improve their pronunciation.
  4. ITAs were concerned about learning additional techniques for teaching in the lab as it is difficult to be interactive in this environment.
  5. ITAs recommended bringing “real” students to the ITA workshops in order to participate in the office hours’ role-plays. For example, one playing a really aggressive student or another asking “silly” questions.


Discussion and Implications

Overall, the ITAs in this study valued the opportunity to teach in a new instructional context and learn from this experience. Yet, in accord with the findings of previous research (Bresnahan & Cai, 2000; Kuo, 2002), they experienced classroom management, and instructional, linguistic and cultural challenges. Consequently, ITA preparation programs and respective departments clearly need to do more in order to support the international instructors.

In order to address the social and cultural challenges, a Buddy Program for ITAs has been proposed and successfully implemented at Michigan State University (Kuo, 2002). According to this initiative, an ITA is paired with a U.S. undergraduate student for a short period of time, which allows both groups of students to learn more about each others’ struggles and beliefs and to develop a better understanding of each others’ experiences. In addition, some U.S. universities engage U.S. undergraduate students in an intercultural training course (Trebing, 2007), which helps this group of students become more open to other cultures and less ethnocentric. In regard to the linguistic challenges, some ITA preparation programs have introduced a component on English as a global language, which increases the overall tolerance for world Englishes and helps shift the students' mindset away from the deficit construction of the ITAs (LoCastro & Tapper, 2006). In relation to the classroom management and instructional challenges that the ITAs face, there seems to be a need of greater collaboration between the respective ITAs’ departments and the ITA preparation programs. This idea was explicitly suggested by four of the participating ITAs. For example, professors from the ITAs’ respective fields of study can be invited to give demonstration lessons during the ITA training workshop. In addition, ongoing instructional support and meetings with other teaching assistants and mentors are necessary for the ITAs’ successful adaptation to the U.S. educational system.

Despite a limited sample of participants, this study contributes to the data-driven accounts of the ITAs’ experiences in U.S. classrooms and calls for further longitudinal ethnographic studies of ITAs. Such research is needed to help improve the ITA preparation programs at U.S. universities. In addition, by focusing on the ITAs' lived experiences in the U.S. classrooms and making their challenges visible and their voices "heard", this study hopes to increase awareness of the importance of ITAs as crucial members of U.S. academic communities and urges ITA preparation programs and respective departments to provide greater ongoing support to this group of international educators through, for example, promoting greater collaboration between the ITA programs and respective departments. While the scale of the study is small, the perspectives of the interviewed ITAs can help inform other U.S. ITA programs which might experience similar challenges. On a larger scale, other issues that many ITA programs in the U.S. face are the lack of consistency among the ITA preparation programs (including the length of the preparation, where the programs are housed within a university, etc.) and how it is difficult to find a streamlined ITA program or a system between many universities.

REFERENCES

Bresnahan, M. J., & Cai, D. H. (2000). From the other side of the desk: Conversations with international students about teaching in the US. Communication Quarterly, 48(2), 65–75.

Kuo, Y-H. (2002). International teaching assistants on American campuses. International Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, 4(1), 63–71.

LoCastro, V., & Tapper, G. (2006). International teaching assistants and teacher identity. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 3(2), 185–218.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Trebing, D. (2007). International teaching assistants’ attitudes toward teaching and understanding of U.S. American undergraduate students (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale).


Ekaterina Arshavskaya completed her MA studies in the applied linguistics program at the Montclair State University (NJ) in 2008, and she received her PhD in applied linguistics at Penn State in 2013. Currently, she is an assistant professor of English as a second language (ESL) and ITA program coordinator at Utah State University (Logan, UT).

CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON INTERNATIONAL TEACHING ASSISTANTS' CLASSROOM INTERACTIONS

In line with the increasing rate of globalization, language teachers find themselves working in diverse educational contexts. This trend has been common for English-speaking teachers going to other countries, but it is becoming increasingly more common for teachers of Chinese, Arabic, and other critical languages, who are coming to the United States to teach their first language. In multilingual classrooms, the cultural differences between teachers and students may create potential conflicts in classroom interactions. Teachers and students may have different communication routines and instructional expectations due to different past schooling experiences. These experiences are often formed throughout one’s schooling years. Lortie (1975) refers to this process as apprenticeship of observation. Before new teachers start teacher education programs, they spend thousands of hours learning from their own teachers, not only the content of a class but also ways of being and thinking, thereby establishing a model of teaching. These experiences inevitably shape their beliefs about teaching and learning. Because the Fulbright language teaching assistants (FLTAs) have different schooling experiences than their respective American students, the differences between the host culture and that of the FLTAs’ home countries might create potential communication breakdowns in teacher-student relationships. In order to address these communication problems and create a cohesive classroom community, FLTAs go through a professional socialization process in which they revisit their biographical experiences in an effort to address the needs of their current institution and students.

Literature Review

Early teacher socialization research in the 1980s examined student-teachers during their transition from preservice to in-service, and argued for limited effect of teacher education programs in comparison to students’ initial socialization into the profession of teaching as past-students (Lortie, 1975). In the 1990s, several literature reviews and meta-analysis studies appeared, summarizing the findings of the empirical studies conducted over two decades. These reviews (e.g., Zeichner & Gore, 1990; Staton & Hunt, 1992) synthesized the changes in teachers’ beliefs and methods in preservice and in-service settings and argued for an interactional (Zeichner & Gore, 1990) or a communicative (Staton & Hunt, 1992) analysis that focuses on the language used in the classroom discourse to understand the nature and the functions of the talk between the teachers and various agents (e.g., students, colleagues, administrators). To date, there is still a paucity of research investigating teacher socialization at an intercultural level. In the present study, I aim to contribute to the literature by studying FLTAs who are not only transitioning between institutions but also different language communities.

Research Design

The study is qualitative in nature and follows an ethnographic multiple case study design, using content and discourse analysis methods. The context of the study is a less-commonly-taught-languages program at a Midwestern university. The participants are Turkish and Uzbek FLTAs (pseudonyms: Sebahat, Nargiz, and Bakhrom) and students enrolled in these classes, who are all White American. Turkish and Uzbek classes are chosen because, as the researcher, I am familiar with these languages and will be able to translate and analyze classroom observations. Data for the study were drawn from multiple sources such as interviews with teachers and students, video-recorded classroom observations, field notes, and classroom materials. The written documents and interview data were analyzed using a content analysis method, by coding and categorizing emerging themes within and across participants. These themes were used as a basis to identify supporting excerpts in the classroom interaction data.

Research Findings

The research findings indicated that FLTAs’ cultural experiences shape their interpretations of and interactions with the new educational context. Sebahat, Nargiz, and Bakhrom all interacted with their new educational context, drawing from their past cultural experiences.

Sebahat’s Story

Sebahat is a female in her late 20s, and she worked as an EFL teacher in an adult education program for 4 years and at an intensive English language program at a major university in Turkey for 2 years. She taught Turkish language in the Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 semesters at a Midwestern university in the United States. Sebahat's experiences as a language learner and EFL teacher shaped how she understood the new educational context. According to her past experience, good language teaching practice creates affective change and develops positive student attitudes. To accomplish this, she needed to establish close relationships with the students. She needed to understand their needs and interests and be able to talk to them about their problems and concerns. Sebahat wanted to be receptive and responsive to students' needs and expectations, as she had been when she taught in Turkey. When Sebahat started teaching in the United States and explored the differences between her biographical experience and the contextual requirements, she initially yielded to the contextual requirements, keeping a professional distance from students’ personal lives. In the course of the semester, she was able to create a middle ground to blend her biographical experience with the contextual requirements.

Nargiz’s Story

Nargiz is a female in her late 20s and worked as an EFL teacher in a World Languages program in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for 2 years. She came to the United States in fall 2011 while she was enrolled in a PhD program at her university. Nargiz's biographical experience also shaped her understanding of the U.S. educational context. She believed that as long as students worked hard and were motivated, they could learn any language, as she learnt Russian, English, and German. Her biographical experience as a learner of multiple languages and an EFL teacher determined what she expected from the students. When the students in the U.S. classroom did not live up to her expectations of error-free and fluent language production, she was initially disappointed and frustrated, but later understood that there may be other reasons: (a) It may be difficult for English speakers to learn Uzbek because it is from a different language family, and (b) students may not have a lot of opportunities to practice Uzbek because there are not many speakers around them. Therefore, while her biography initially informed her experience in the U.S. context, her interactions with the students and the institutional resources later shaped her transforming understanding of language teaching and learning.

Bakhrom’s Story

Bakhrom is a male in his 30s, and he worked as an EFL teacher and Uzbek language teacher in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for more than 6 years prior to his participation in the Fulbright program. He came to the United States in fall 2010 and started teaching intermediate Uzbek language classes. Bakhrom's biographical experience also effected how he interacted with the new educational context. In his past teaching experience, Bakhrom was fascinated by the use of technologies in the classroom. Although he strived to use these methods in his classes in Uzbekistan, he did not have the chance due to limited access to instructional technologies. When he came to the United States, he immediately found out which technological resources were available to teachers and started to experiment with them. The good and bad examples in his schooling experience, such as the traditional approach using chalk and board versus modern approaches using SMARTboards and PowerPoint, informed his curricular decisions in the U.S. classroom. He looked for opportunities to integrate technology in his lessons, such as document projectors, video cameras, and audio recorders. Bakhrom’s biographical experiences and personal interests were reflected in the ways he taught his lessons in the U.S. educational context.

Conclusion

In summary, all three teachers come from different educational backgrounds than their students. Therefore, their biographical experiences effected how they interacted with the students, understood the educational context, and made curricular decisions. Their biographies were dynamic and evolved with their new experiences in the U.S. educational context. These biographical experiences often interacted with the contextual factors and helped shape and reshape the teachers’ beliefs and practices. For example, all three teachers reflected on their previous experiences by making comparisons between students in the United States and in their home countries. Moving beyond these comparisons and making connections between past (biography) and present (context), they gained a better understanding of themselves as language teachers and their students in both educational contexts.

Implications

The study will contribute to the knowledge base of international teaching assistant education, exploring the cultural influences at the intersection of biography and context. In improving teachers' socialization process into a new educational context, reflection on past experiences is a key element in bringing teachers' thoughts and implicit beliefs to the level of conscious analysis. The findings from the study can be implemented in international teaching assistant orientation programs and ongoing professional development workshops for language teaching assistants.

REFERENCES:

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Staton, A., & Hunt, S. L. (1992). Teacher socialization: Review and conceptualization. Communication Education, 41, 109–138.

Zeichner, K., & Gore, J. (1990). Teacher socialization. In W. R. Houston, R. Howsam, & J. Sikula (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: A project of the Association of Teacher Educators (pp. 329–348). New York, NY: Macmillan.


Baburhan Uzum teaches in the Language, Literacy, and Special Populations Program at Sam Houston State University. His research is on teacher identity development and teacher professionalization.

ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY

WHAT IS THE ITA INTEREST SECTION?


Statement of Purpose/Goals

The International Teaching Assistants Interest Section (ITAIS) serves TESOL members who work with nonnative-English-speaking teaching assistants as researchers, teachers, and program administrators.

History

ITAIS was first established with interim status at TESOL '92 and subsequently granted full status in October 1993.

The formation of ITAIS recognizes the contribution ITA specialists make to TESOL through service to the profession and to the organization. For more than a decade prior to the founding of ITAIS, ITA issues had been the topic of preconvention institutes, papers, and workshops at TESOL meetings, but not all specialists, especially newcomers, had a reliable means of networking or contributing to or learning from these discussions on ITA concerns.

The ITAIS makes it possible for ITA TESOL members to meet one another; share concerns, research, and ideas; and develop a strong basis for research on and pedagogy for ITAs. The IS selects sessions and sponsors a range of conference activities—a preconvention institute, academic sessions, and discussion groups. ITAIS also aims to explore how the insights and experience of its members can be shared with members of ISs with common concerns, thus more broadly benefiting TESOL.

All information taken from ITAIS website