I was invited to talk in a panel during our orientation week for the new Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA’s). The focus is on how to lead and practice excellence by being outstanding GTA’s. I will focus my presentation in my experiences as an international GTA teaching in a U.S. institution.
Some of the advices that I will give to the new GTA’s are:
1. Care about your students. I find really important to demonstrate them that you care. For me, that means to learn their names, to remember the things that they say, and to try to connect with them at different levels. One strategy I use in every class to break the ice and get to know them better is “Tell me something I don’t know,” I take the first 3 minutes of every class to let them share something that they think is interesting, cool, or fun facts, and that probably no one else in the classroom know. I also try to focus on one student at a time to try to remember something about them, for example if someone had an issue with his/her computer, came late to class because of the rain, or missed a bus, or anything very specific, I try to remember that and bring it up later so they know I’m aware and care about them.
2. Create a network of GTA’s. Having support is crucial when you are a GTA, specially if this is your first time doing it. I think is really important to use your peers to share and talk about your experiences, to ask questions on how to approach things, and also to understand that you are not alone. Probably the things and fears that you are experiencing were already experienced by someone else that can make you feel better.
3. Become available (just not too much). It’s difficult (but possible) to find a balance between answering emails or questions on time and still have a life. Always remember that graduate school is a job, but not a career, the most important thing is to get out. I had a rule to try to answer emails for my students in less than 24 hours, but also have a rule to not check my email after 11:00pm (at least regarding the classes I’m teaching). Trust me, it’s not ok to answer to your students at 4:00 am.
4. Finally, as international GTA for me it’s really important to be aware of cultural differences. In the classroom you will find students from all over the world, and it’s important to understand that they think different, they have a different sense of humor, they value different things. In addition, I believe is important to openly talk about differences and to make sure everyone feels comfortable in the classroom. One of the things that I always do is let them know that english is my second language (they already know that because of my accent) so it’s ok for them to correct me if I’m saying something wrong, or to ask again if they don’t understand me.
The most important thing is to realize that they probably are more scared than you are and that is a two way street, we are all here to learn.