International TAs

International graduate students are an important part of the UCSB community, and International TAs bring unique experiences and perspectives with them that can greatly benefit their students and the university’s mission. But International TAs can sometimes find it difficult to understand and adapt to American university classes and culture. This webpage provides some basic guidance for those TAs.

Graduate student building a small machine

Common Issues Faced by International TAs

1. Language Exhaustion 

International TAs (and students) often find that, if English is not their first language, their first year or two as a TA can be exhausting because there is an almost constant need for verbal and written translation. As a TA, it is not your responsibility to lecture on course content unless directed by the instructor to do a mini-lecture on a topic. Your job is to facilitate practice, answer questions, pose questions, and help students complete and prepare for assessments. Here is a document with some useful phrases for classroom communication. Below are a few tips to reduce the amount of speaking you need to do when teaching. 

Plan your lesson so that a lot of time is allocated for students to work together in pairs or triads on homework problems, discussion questions, analyses of content, case studies, group projects, or peer review. Prepare a variety of problems, cases, or questions that the students can work together on. For example, prepare easy, medium, and challenging problem sets or discussion questions and let each pair choose which level of problems they want to tackle together.

View Information on Facilitating Discussions

Write all of your announcements, instructions for group work, questions, important terminology or phrases, and quotes on a slide or handout where all of the students can see it. Ask students to read it to themselves or ask a student volunteer to read it out to the class for you. Then invite students to ask questions about the instructions or announcements.

  • Find good videos on the internet that can explain the content.

  • Record your mini-lectures as a video so you can speak slowly and clearly while reading your notes. Tell students you are doing this to make sure your explanations are clear. Have students watch it on their own or play it during the section, pausing in key places to ask and answer questions.

  • Allocate time in your own weekly schedule to prepare and practice your explanations.

  • If you have a written set of notes, consider giving those to students.

2. Grading and Homework


Many courses in the US determine a students’ final grade based on a combination of points from exams/papers, homework or small assignments (including labs), and participation. Unlike grade calculations in many other countries, homework, attendance, and participation often count toward a students’ final course grade. 

Students are often given frequent homework assignments that TAs must grade and return to them in a timely manner. Students expect to receive feedback on their homework, exams, and papers. Talk to the  course instructor about the amount and type of feedback you should be giving, and if there are any grading guides, rubrics, or criteria to help you grade and provide feedback quickly and fairly. Remember that student grades are protected by FERPA laws, and should be kept confidential.  

TA teaching in UCSB classroom

3. General Characteristics of the UCSB Classroom

In general, UCSB strives to create a learning environment of collaborative research-based experiences, interactive learning activities, and academic community building. Instructors try to make their courses relevant to their students’ interests and encourage students to approach learning as an exciting and rewarding challenge. The teacher-student relationships tend to be relatively informal, including in dress, posture, and speech. Instructors and TAs often see themselves as mentors and expect students to participate frequently in class by asking questions, discussing different opinions, and exploring new ideas. 

UCSB classes are places where mutual respect is paramount and a hallmark of academic training. UCSB instructors follow American ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion by striving to make their classes welcoming and inclusive of all students regardless of differences in students’ backgrounds, status, demographics, commitments, and interests. We encourage international instructors and TAs to share their perspectives, culture, and experiences with their students and colleagues in ways that open intercultural dialogues, build community, and strengthen UCSB’s inclusive environment.

Glossary of UCSB Terms


UCSB uses many acronyms, abbreviations, and administrative phrases that are unfamiliar to many students but can be especially confusing to international students. We have put together a glossary of UCSB terms that you can use as a reference. 

View Glossary

Background of UCSB Students

U.S. Secondary School (High School) Preparation


Students in secondary (high) school in the U.S. take a broad variety of mandatory and elective classes without special emphasis in any particular subject. Mandatory subjects typically include: science, math, history, and English. U.S. students do not take standardized comprehensive secondary school exams at the end of their high school coursework to qualify for graduation or admittance into a university. Instead they must complete a certain number of mandatory and elective courses using the passing criteria set by their individual schools. Students who apply to university directly from high school often take the SAT and/or ACT exams as part of the university application process, and they can take them multiple times. Many students attend a community college for their first two years of post-secondary studies, and then transfer to a four-year university for their final two years.

U.S. high schools value extracurricular activities, and often have school-based sports teams, theater and arts productions, dances, and social clubs. Many high schools also require students to volunteer in their local community. High school students often participate in these extra curricular activities and/or work part-time in their local communities. University students bring these values and habits to their university lifestyle, and continue to participate in extracurricular activities and part-time work at their university while studying full-time.


The U.S. University System


The U.S. university system commonly consists of four years of study at a post-secondary institution to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Students in the first two years of university take “General Education” and “elective” courses across many disciplines, along with a few introductory courses for their major. At UCSB the General Education courses are often large lecture courses that cover introductory content about that discipline, such as Communications 1 or Biology 1, which have TA-led sections or labs. Elective courses are supplementary courses that are of interest to the student, but not necessarily directly applicable to their major.


Students in U.S. universities are not put into cohorts of students who take a particular set of courses together. Instead, each student chooses which courses they will take every term (quarter or semester) to fulfill the required and elective courses needed for their major, minor, and liberal arts graduation requirements. Students are responsible for registering for classes and keeping track of which courses they need to take. Academic advisors are available to all students to help them sort out their program of study.


Since U.S. students don’t follow a particular strand of study during high school, and because U.S. universities value a liberal arts education, students come with a wide range of skills and interests that they are encouraged to explore. This provides opportunities for students to change their major during the first two or three years of university. In addition, some majors require particular grades in prerequisite courses before a student is accepted into the major, which can prompt students to change their major part way through their university studies. In their last two years, students take more advanced courses specializing in their major and/or minor in preparation for their career and/or graduate school. Students can also transfer to other universities (including transferring their course units and grades) or defer their studies for a short time, and then return to university.


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TA Development Program
1130 Kerr Hall