I attended the Teaching as an International Student workshop last week hoping that it will alleviate my concerns about teaching as an international student. Teaching in a foreign language in particular is a concern of mine. Will the students be able to understand me? Will they be annoyed by my accent? These are some of the questions going through my mind now that my first teaching experience is fast-approaching.
The room in which the workshop was held featured four large round tables to foster group discussions. Anka, a TLC Fellow and international student, moderated the event. The primary topics covered were pedagogy, classroom culture, and language. The four groups were given 30 minutes to discuss each topic. Discussions were guided by a document, which contained five to six debatable statements (e.g. students get offended when a non-native speaker corrects their writing). Prior to the discussions, students introduced themselves and shared their previous teaching experience. I was surprised by the broad range. While most students have yet to teach, some have been teaching for over five years. The latter were a great resource during the discussions.
Our first discussion topic was language. Many students voiced concerns about students not being able to understand them. We all agreed that this is likely going to happen occasionally, but there are ways to compensate. It is important to focus on clarity and speed of talking rather than trying to mask one’s accent. Additionally, visuals and props can be used as aids to offset language barriers. Furthermore, CUNY might be more welcoming to non-natives compared to other institutions. Over 186 languages are being spoken on campus.
Classroom culture was another topic of high concern for most international students. Many were unfamiliar with the U.S. education system, and there is a stark difference in formality compared to other countries. The typical U.S. classroom appears to be a lot more informal, and some students expressed discomfort about this. The experienced teachers were a great asset during this discussion. They recommended establishing classroom formality in the beginning, but they also admitted that there will be some trial and error.
Unfortunately, our discussion about pedagogy was a bit rushed due to time constraints. We discussed how to handle plagiarism and failing students. The main takeaway was that it is important to provide students with feedback throughout the semester. This can prepare them for a potentially unsatisfactory final grade.
Overall, I found the workshop very beneficial. The topics covered were of primary concern to me, and I learned about ways to navigate difficult situations. Learning from experienced teachers was especially beneficial. It was relieving to hear that they found ways to navigate problems many novice international teachers are worried about.