At York, we are fortunate to have students from around the world participating in our graduate programs and enriching the social and academic life of the university. In addition to the difficulties that can be part of the life of any TA, the particular situation of international TAs can bring with it extra considerations. There are many differences within the educational systems of countries around the world, and you can expect to have to make some adjustments as you teach here at York. You may also be interested in our comprehensive International TA (ITA) Handbook.
The Context of the Canadian Classroom at York University
York University is considered one of the most diverse, multicultural universities in Ontario. Founded in 1959, York is Canada’s third largest university with a student population of 55,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff. The university prides itself on its “unwavering commitment to excellence” while also reflecting a rich diversity of perspectives and a strong sense of social responsibility.
It is important to understand the context at York and the students you will be teaching. York University, for example, is considered a commuter campus, which means a large majority of its student population live off campus. In addition, many undergraduates at York are also new to Canada and may be the first generation to attend university. As such, many of the undergraduate students you will be teaching may be experiencing varying degrees of culture shock while transitioning from their pre-university learning context into York University. While the diversity of cultures present in the classroom can enrich the teaching and learning space, it can also create challenges for you and your students if you are not entirely aware of the context of the Canadian university classroom at York. For example, while the majority of cultures tend to recognize the teacher as an authority figure, in-classroom behaviours and expectations can vary widely across cultures. Canadian higher educators typically encourage high levels of participation and welcome students to challenge the ideas of their teachers and peers. This may be a practice contrary to your previous educative experience. Addressing your role and responsibility as a TA at York is the first step in understanding the context of the Canadian higher education classroom. Below are some brief tips to help get you started.
Common among new international TAs are anxieties and uncertainties. After all, these feelings of uncertainty are commonly felt even by local TAs who experience less general culture shock. One may feel uneasy, for instance, about going into a class where the students speak another language and have a different culture. Attending teaching workshops and seminars, talking to other TAs or your course director can be helpful. Remember, you are very knowledgeable in your subject or you would not have been chosen to teach. The great thing about York University is now you are part of large community of international graduate students and international TAs, many of whom have faced similar challenges. Rely on them to share the wisdom of their experience. The key is not to be afraid to ask questions of your course director, other professors, and other TAs and most especially the Teaching Commons about how the system here works. This is especially important if the Canadian educational system is unfamiliar to you. You might even consider asking another ITA if you can sit in on one of her tutorials to get a feel for how things work.
Minimizing Language Difficulties
If you have trouble expressing your ideas clearly in English, make your explanations as visual as possible; use the blackboard, a handout, or audio/visual aids to assist in making your points and make specific references to the relevant parts of the course text. It is also helpful to present the same idea in different ways (e.g., “Let me present this in another way…” or “Another example of this is…”).
Using your Global Advantage
Your knowledge and background bring interesting and diverse global perspectives to our York University learning community and more specifically into your classrooms. Be yourself, and let your nationality and cultural distinctiveness work for you rather than against you.