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Teaching U.S. Students: a Challenge for International Scholars

Internationals faculties and teaching assistants whose English is not their first language face challenges when they want to teach U.S. students. This is because they are not acquainted with the U.S. educational system nor with U.S. culture. Based on my personal experience, as an international teaching assistant, I was shocked when my undergraduate students did not understand the fundamental math problem that I was explaining in the class. Because we (Iranian students) learn these math concepts before high school, I had no idea that the U.S. student does not know about these concepts and I need to teach them first. I just understood that undergraduates in the US, come with an unevenness of preparation and there is no standard curriculum for American schools. As a teaching assistant, we are on the front line. We have more contact with undergraduate students than faculties. Therefore, we need to know about their backgrounds and try to help them overcome difficulties at the university.

To overcome these challenges, there are some recommendations for international scholars that I found helpful:

  • Collecting about the students’ backgrounds and why they take the course and balance your expectations.
  • In the U.S., students are expected to keep up with assignments and lectures during the semester. Therefore, you need to go through and provide a comprehensive syllabus to clarify your plans and expectations.
  • To improve the learning, the student must be encouraged to participate in the class and ask questions.
  • Students must have equal opportunity to participate in the class. Thus, you need to prepare your lecture to serve everyone in the class not only the brightest students.
  • S. students are sensitive to criticism. Therefore, you need to be patient and polite and not criticize their lack of knowledge or questions with sarcasm or sense of superiority.
  • You must set up a specific time for your office hour because U.S. students expect that their professors and teaching assistant must be accessible.
  • You should not feel challenged by students if they ask a question in the class. You must try to re-state question, make sure you understand the question, and try to answer the question.
  • Confidentiality is essential in U.S. educational system. You should preserve student’s privacy about their academic performance and personal lives. So, you must not ask them to pick up graded assignments/ exams in a way that allows students to see each other’s grades.
  • To increase the understanding of the students and reduce the complaints about your pronunciation; writing down words, using diagrams, use different examples, and explaining the same concept in a few different ways would be very helpful.
  • There are many resources (e.g., books, websites, handbooks, etc.) that are available for you as an international scholar to be prepared to teachS. students from the first session of the class.

It must be noted that although the international faculties and teaching assistant must adjust themselves and their teaching styles with the U.S. educational culture, the students must be taught to be open to learning from teachers that seems different in race and accent.



Sarkisian, E. (1997). Teaching American students. A guide for international faculty and teaching assistants in colleges and universities. Intercultural Press, PO Box 700, Yarmouth, ME 04096.


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