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EDUCATION REPORT - January 9, 2003: Foreign Student Series #17 >Teaching Assistants - 2003-01-08

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

We continue our series of reports about how foreign students can study at an American college or university. Today, we discuss one way foreign students earn money while attending graduate school. They can work as teaching assistants.

Teaching assistants are known as T-A’s for short. They usually work about twenty hours each week. They are paid to help college professors teach large numbers of students in lower level classes. Generally, the professor gives a talk or lecture to all the students in a large class one or two times a week. The teaching assistant leads another, smaller, class each week. The teaching assistant gives tests and reads any homework or reports the students may be required to write. T-A’s also meet with individual students seeking help. They attend teaching meetings. And they help organize laboratory equipment if they are helping to teach a science class.

Most American colleges and universities must honor legal requirements when employing international students as teaching assistants. One of these is that the T-A must speak good English. Many university departments require all T-A’s from non-native English speaking countries to take one of two English speaking tests.

One of these is the Test of Spoken English, or TSE. It is offered by the Educational Testing Service. Foreign students can take the test before they arrive in the United States. The other test is the Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit, known as the SPEAK test. The college or university usually gives this test to make sure that students will be able to understand the foreign teaching assistant.

For example, the University of West Virginia in Morgantown uses foreign teaching assistants. The university requires a good score on either test before an international student is permitted to teach. The university also suggests that foreign graduate students give a short talk to a group of people to make sure they will be understood. Foreign graduate students whose English is not good enough are given duties that do not require communication with students. They are expected to get the necessary help to improve their spoken English.

Information about becoming a teaching assistant can be found on the Internet web sites of the universities that offer such positions.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.