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'TA' language barrier frustration

Teaching assistans undergo rigorous testing for language comprehension

By Fatir Qureshi
On March 11, 2014

  • Despite extensive language testing many students are still frustrated with the language barrier between them and their teaching assistants. Teaching assistants must pass a mandatory Test of English as well as the Versant phone test before they are allowed in the classroom. Kaitlin Storo/The Daily Campus

Each semester, the University of Connecticut employs several teaching assistants to help professors in various courses. Most times, teaching assistants are graduate students who are assigned to provide aid in undergraduate education.
Despite teaching assistants being seen by some students as often unhelpful due to language barriers, prospective teaching assistants have to meet several stringent requirements to demonstrate their mastery over the English language. A "TA" must meet at least one of four different categories to show proficiency and their capability to teach.
Among these include scoring a 28 or above on the Test of English as a foreign language. Additionally, TA hopefuls may also be certified in English proficiency if they pass the Versant phone test with an overall score of 65. However, if their score on the Versant Test is above a 57, a prospective TA needs only to pass an additional Microteaching Test. Native English speakers however, are exempt from being tested on English proficiency.
The UConn International Teaching Assistance Program (ITAP) is the department responsible for aiding graduate students who are seeking to become teaching assistants. ITAP provides many resources and courses to prospective TAs. In particular, courses are offered which neutralize accent and enhance public speaking abilities. All international graduate students can receive one free English course, with each additional course costing $120.
The department is additionally seeking to undergo some changes in hopes to increase the efficiency of the departments.
UConn is also part of the New England International Teaching Assistance Network, which is an organization that helps teaching assistants be more efficient in the classroom.
Students who find their TAs difficult to understand can also make note of this in their Student Evaluation of Teaching survey.

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