Attitudes and beliefs of international teaching assistants regarding teaching practice: A case study

Date of Completion

January 2005


Education, Teacher Training|Education, Curriculum and Instruction|Education, Higher




There have been significant increases in the numbers of graduate teaching assistants who come from non-Western cultural and educational traditions and who are speakers of languages other than English. These international teaching assistants (ITAs) are employed by research universities to teach undergraduate courses. These instructors speak English as a second or additional language and may have little experience with U.S. culture or U.S. educational practices. Thus, the teaching practices used by ITAs in the classroom, as well as their attitudes and beliefs regarding teaching are important components of effective undergraduate instruction. ^ This study was designed to examine what specific teaching practices ITAs believed contribute to their effectiveness as teachers. Also, the study sought to determine what were ITAs' expectations of and attitudes towards teaching and towards their students and how did these contribute to their effectiveness as teachers. In short, did ITAs believe that using an interactive teaching style and having a positive attitude and motivation contributed to their effectiveness as teachers? ^ The methodology utilized was a naturalistic case study approach employing the constant comparative method to develop grounded theory. Ten ITAs from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds participated in the study. The ten ITAs had a range of teaching experience in the U.S. and were from different academic departments. Nine ITA mentors also participated in the study. Data were collected from ITAs using qualitative classroom observations, interviews and teaching related documents. Data were collected from ITA mentors using interviews. ^ Results indicated that ITAs used certain strategies to increase their comfort level in teaching. First, ITAs believed careful preparation for their classes to be critical to their success as instructors. Second, ITAs adjusted their expectations of their students and developed an understanding of their students' expectations of them as teachers. Third, ITAs adjusted their teaching styles to make them more interactive for U.S. students. Finally, ITAs sought out feedback about their teaching from their students and colleagues. ITA mentors believed that having a caring attitude was the single most important behavior for ITAs' effective teaching. The implications of these findings on future research and policy changes were presented. ^