Vol. 7. No. 3 A-1 December 2003
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The Educational Cultures of International Teaching Assistants and U.S. Universities

Greta J. Gorsuch
Texas Tech University


U.S. higher education has employed an increasing number of international teaching assistants (ITAs) to teach undergraduate courses. This increase has been matched by concerns about ITAs' English abilities and their acculturation to U.S. universities and classrooms. Some stakeholders, notably English as a Second Language specialists, posit that ITAs need instruction and assessment on language and teaching skills, and "culture." This paper addresses what constitutes culture in university teaching settings worldwide and how this may be operationalized as an ITA need. As a counterpoint, the paper also presents results of an empirical study investigating ITAs' educational attitudes towards teacher and student roles, modes of information presentation, and significant mores of higher education, as mediated by gender, previous home-and U.S.-based teaching experience, and previous U.S. study experience. The results suggest a need for refocusing conceptions of ITAs away from simplistic stereotypes centered on their nationality, and towards their status as new teachers who have been shaped by their experiences as individuals and learners in unique and varied educational cultures, who are poised to become acculturated to yet another educational culture. This information may be used to motivate future empirical research into educational cultures as they apply to new teachers in international contexts, and to shape curricula for ITA education programs sponsored by both ESL specialists and discipline- and department-specific specialists at U.S. universities.

Keywords: ESL, EFL, teaching assistants, ITA, culture


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