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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Teaching Assistant (TA) Guide: International TAs

Resources and guidance for teaching assistants (TAs) on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.

Quick Tips

•   Instructors are open to helping you adjust to teaching in the United States. Ask them questions, and use their resources.

•   Don’t change who you are, but learn from working in a new environment with different expectations.

•   Students will appreciate your help if you know the subject, no matter if you have an accent unfamiliar to them. 

Additional Resources

Adventurers in Cultural Crossings: The Guide for and by International Teaching Assistants at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.” University of Hawai’i at Manoa: Center for Teaching Excellence Office of Faculty Development and Academic Support, 2003.

Improving Oral English Skills. Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Sarkisian, Ellen. Teaching American Students : a Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University, 1997. Call Number: 371.1020973 Sa73t1997 (SSHEL)

Smith, Jan. Communicate : Strategies for International Teaching Assistants. Long Grove, IL Waveland Press, 2007. Call Number: 371.14124 Sm613c (Communications Library)




Questions and Answers

      What should my relationship be like with my professor?

Prior to the start of term meet with your professor. Be clear on expectations. If need be, this can be done by email rather than in person. But it is important to have clarification and understanding before going forward. If the professor does not reach out to you, reach out to him or her. This is the opportunity to have your questions answered directly

      What is it like to teach in the United States?

Teaching is often less formal in the United States than in other countries. A professor might want you to call them by their first name. This is not unusual, and it is to make you feel comfortable with the professor, now that you are on a more similar research level. The purpose is to put you at ease. If using first names makes you uncomfortable, let the professor know and surely you can come up with an understanding. 

The United States is also less formal when it comes to clothing. TAs and faculty often wear jeans to class. They do this because it is comfortable and there is no expectation to wear formal attire. However, you should wear what makes you feel comfortable. If you are uncertain, it is better wear more professional clothing. You can relax as the semester goes on, and wear more casual clothes. 

      What if an instructor makes a mistake in a lecture?

Certainly you want students to be given the correct information and it is appropriate to speak with the instructor about the content of the course material, however it is a matter of timing. Correcting the instructor in the middle of the lecture undermines his/her authority and disturbs the flow of the class. Instead, speak with the instructor after the class. Perhaps you can say that it is your understanding that an issue is a certain way, and ask if the instructor could clarify what was said in class. This allows instructors to re-evaluate what they said, without feeling like you are disrespecting them. People learn through discussion and evaluation and instructors are not immune from making errors. 

      What if students cannot understand my accent?

You might have some students who have limited experience with people from other countries, and they might be unsure about your accent at first, or automatically think that they cannot understand you. You should not allow students to use your accent as an excuse for their own poor performance. They might complain about misunderstanding, when it is really a matter of them not paying attention or their poor study skills. If students are confused you can explain to them that an accent does not equate to lack of English language skills. The more that students work with you, they will become more familiar with your accent. 

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