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Foreign Student Series #19: Teaching Assistants

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Education Report.

We continue our reports about foreign students at American colleges and universities. Today, we discuss one way students may earn money after they successfully complete an entry-level study program. Those wishing to continue their education could work as a teaching assistant, or T.A.

A teaching assistant usually works about twenty hours each week. Teaching assistants are paid to help professors teach students in entry-level study programs.

Generally, the professor gives a talk, or lecture, to a large group of students one or two times a week. The teaching assistant meets with smaller groups of students during the week. The T.A. gives tests and reads any homework or reports the students may be required to write.

Teaching assistants also meet with students who seek help. They attend teaching meetings. And some working with science professors help to organize laboratory equipment.

Most American colleges and universities must honor legal requirements when employing foreign students as teaching assistants. One of these is that the T.A. must speak English well. Many universities require one or two tests for all teaching assistants for whom English is not a native language.

One of these is the Test of Spoken English, or T.S.E. The Educational Testing Service offers this test. Foreign students can take the T.S.E. before they arrive in the United States.

The other test is the Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit, also known as the SPEAK test. The college or university usually gives this test to make sure that students will be able to understand the teaching assistant.

West Virginia University in Morgantown employs men and women from all around the world as teaching assistants. It requires good marks on either test before a foreign student is permitted to teach. The university suggests that such students give a short talk to a group of people to make sure they will be understood.

Teaching assistants whose English is not good enough are given duties that do not require communication with students. They are expected to get help to improve their spoken English. They will lose the job as a T.A. if their English has not improved after one year.

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