My experience as a teacher for international students
An extra activity that many postgraduate researchers engage in is teaching. Whether or not you’re planning to pursue a future career in academia, teaching is nevertheless a great opportunity to gain experience and skills – as well as something that gets you away from spending too much time in independent research! The University usually has Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) positions available, and these previous posts have covered tips on being a GTA as well as what the experience of being a GTA is like. My own teaching experience, however, has started at the Glasgow International College. This is an affiliated institution with the University responsible for teaching international students who are planning to enroll in postgraduate education at the University of Glasgow.
I’ve now come to the end of my first term teaching, and it’s definitely an experience I’d recommend. This is particularly for those who are thinking of taking up future teaching at universities abroad. However, even if you have no such plans, teaching international students can be a valuable experience in itself.
From my own experience, I’ve found that I’ve learnt a lot from leading classes and tutorials with international students. They’ve often provided different perspectives on how to understand important issues, based on their own cultures and contexts. Not only has this been interesting for myself as a teacher, it’s also made me re-think the concepts and assumptions that are made in my academic discipline. The different backgrounds and experiences involved also mean that I have to be more careful in my explanations, especially of terms that are UK or European specific. Being clear in my definitions and prepared to answer questions on my subject in a way that people from different backgrounds can understand is an important skill I’ve developed through my teaching experience.
There are often a significant number of international students making up university classes now, meaning that I can translate many of the things I’ve learned at GCI if I teach in the domestic context too. For instance, due to language and culture barriers that may exist with international groups, I’ve learnt the importance of paying attention to communication methods and being flexible in my teaching approach. Usually quite a fast speaker, I’ve had to learn to slow down my pace. This is probably a skill I’ll find useful when presenting to other audiences! While at the start I relied a lot on oral lectures to present the lecture material, I realized that for many international students, writing and reading is an easier communication method. For these reasons, I’ve started to incorporate more diagrams and written material into the seminars and lectures. So, being aware of, and flexible with, the communication methods used can be a good way to make sure that all learning styles are catered for, whether teaching an international or domestic class.
I’ve also been able to talk to the other teaching staff who work at GIC. Coming from academic backgrounds, they’ve spoken about what it’s like to develop an academic career in an institution that focuses on teaching instead of research. Such a career may be attractive to those who are particularly interested in student development and having an impact on the education of future generations. My experience at GIC has therefore enabled me to learn more about other academic career paths that can be pursued, outside of traditional research or lectureship positions at universities.
Have you taken part in teaching, either at this University or in other institutions? Let us know in the comments or @UofG_PGRblog what your experience has been like!