Every new teacher faces a great challenge. For international instructors the task of teaching may also include reaching across different cultural values and assumptions, different educational systems, different native languages, and non-verbal communication systems. Thus, the challenge is greater, but so is the opportunity.
Tips for International Instructors
A good starting point is to talk with colleagues who have had experience teaching on campus and can give you insight into how best to support the diversity of student needs at the U of S.
You might also consider sitting in on a colleague’s class; sitting in on a class given by another instructor may provide helpful insight on how students and teachers act and interact.
Your colleagues can also help you learn the expectations of your department.
Student expectations at Canadian universities
- Students expect teachers to explain the details of what they are required to know and do in the course.
- Students expect teachers to explicitly outline how grades are assigned.
- Students value teachers who are friendly and open.
- Many students want the opportunity to discuss the points of the lesson with the instructor and their classmates during the class.
- Students hope that when they give incorrect responses their instructors will address it with compassion.
- Students prefer teachers who make their classes interesting by using relevant, and thought provoking examples.
- Students respect teachers who are knowledgeable, but who are also willing to admit they do not know something when that is the case.
You may be surprised at the informal behaviour of some students in class and in other interactions with you. For instance, students may wear casual clothes to class. During class, they may eat or drink, read the newspaper, or talk with their friends. They may arrive late or leave early. They may call you by your first name and ask questions which seem to challenge you. Such behaviour may shock or offend you if you are accustomed to a culture in which students are overtly deferential toward their teachers.
Indeed, many students may behave informally with teachers they like and respect. However, this does not mean you must tolerate any and all behaviour in your classroom. On the contrary, teachers commonly discourage behaviour that is disruptive to the learning process.
Regardless of cultural differences we are all guided by the same fundamental principle in the classroom: student learning. As long as you explain to students why your classroom expectations are important to their learning, while at the same time giving students an opportunity to explain how they learn best, you should be able to find the balance that will promote student learning to its greatest degree.
You may believe your biggest problem as an international instructor is the English language. If you have trouble expressing yourself in English, if students have trouble understanding you, or if you have trouble understanding them, make every effort you can to improve your English. Specifically, make sure you speak English as much as possible, every day. Seek out English-speaking roommates, office mates, lab partners, co-workers, and friends.
How to ensure that your students understand you:
- Speak slowly.
- Repeat and paraphrase to emphasize important ideas.
- Use the board or PowerPoint to communicate main ideas.
- Tell your students to raise their hands when they don’t understand what you are saying.
- Check the dictionary for pronunciation of key words, and practice them.
- Practice your presentations aloud.