Teaching assistants and English skills

The University strives for clear instruction and exposure to the wider world that international TAs can provide.

In response to the editorial of April 13, we agree that teaching assistants need to communicate well in English in order to teach effectively. ThatâÄôs why the University of Minnesota sponsors a program of assessment for prospective international teaching assistants and sets a higher spoken language score than many of our peer institutions. ItâÄôs also why we offer two-credit classroom communication courses for students with lower scores. These teaching and communication courses address the practicalities of pronunciation, word stress, clarity, fluency and the rhythm and intonation of U.S. English. The courses engage TAs in practice teaching and discussions of cultural topics. Does this training result in âÄúperfectâÄù English? No. Our goal is that international TAs develops the skills required for clearly organized, fluent and comprehensible communication. Is this standard too low? Not according to a 2008 study conducted by the Center for Teaching and Learning which looked at student satisfaction with the overall teaching ability of TAs who had taken required courses on English, teaching and U.S. culture. More than four out of five undergraduates in the study reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with their TAâÄôs overall teaching. Can more be done? Certainly. Departments hiring TAs must continue to monitor the language proficiency of their international graduate students and refer those who need additional help to the ongoing training and classroom support services available through the CTL. Professional development training can be required by departments for all TAs. Claiming a world-class education requires flexibility and openness to new ideas and experiences; it requires openness to hearing global versions of spoken English. With its strong policy and numerous teaching and learning resources in place, the University strives for a win-win: clear instruction and exposure to the wider world that international TAs can provide. Barbara Beers, International Teaching Assistant Program, Kate Martin, Jane OâÄôBrien, Associate Director, Center for Teaching and Learning. Please send comments to [email protected]