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Student Attitudes

Understanding student attitudes can be difficult at times. TAs from many diverse cultures have expressed surprise about the informality of American students. The degree of student informality varies from university to university and from one part of the country to another. On the whole, American students dress and act more casually than students in most other countries. Such informality may feel disrespectful to many international TAs, and it may take time for the TA to understand and tolerate some of the more casual behavior of Americans.

In some universities it is not uncommon to see students eating or drinking in the classroom. Attendance and promptness may also be lax in some universities. One international TA explained that he was very upset when students came to his class late or left early. At first, he thought students left class because of something he was doing or saying. Later he found out that, unlike in his country, many students have full or part-time jobs, are married and have child-rearing responsibilities or have other commitments that make it necessary for them to leave class early or arrive late.

Student attitudes toward faculty and TAs can also be very informal or casual. Students do not usually show formal signs of respect for the teacher, such as standing up when the teacher enters the classroom. At some colleges and universities, students are accustomed to calling TAs and sometimes even faculty by their first names. From one perspective, this informality can be viewed as a sign of respect in the American culture. It can imply that the individuals who are respected for their work and position can also be respected for their ability to remain humble in light of their accomplishments. In other words, they are seen as less egotistical than if they insisted on being referred to by title.

A student attitude that can be disconcerting to both American and international TAs is student apathy or lack of interest in course material. Commonly, TAs expect undergraduate students to be highly motivated in their studies but they often experience many of the undergraduate students as being apathetic in the classroom. One way of explaining this TA perception is that TAs often teach lower division, survey courses. Many students must take these courses to fulfill requirements needed for graduation. Such courses are often out of the students' area of emphasis and also out of their area of interest. As a result, these students may show little motivation for the course other than the motivation to receive a passing grade.

Another factor which may affect student motivation is the degree to which students have clear future goals. The majority of undergraduates enter into higher education directly after high school. Many of them have not yet defined an academic area of interest and many have not yet declared an academic major. In fact, for some, a liberal arts education or a technical/scientific education may not be a lasting choice. Consequently, some of these students lack motivation and appear apathetic in the classroom.

However, for many other students, the subject area of required courses may become a new-found interest. Such students can be strongly influenced by the TA's enthusiasm for an academic subject. Thus, in lower division courses, it is not uncommon to find a wide range of student interest levels.

Students will not all have the same level of interest. So I guess you have to accept the diversity and be helping the ones that really want to be getting something from the class. But the people who are completely uninterested and just taking the class because they have to, I don't want to put all my effort out for those, although I will certainly help and try to motivate them. (TA, France)

Some of the ways TAs help to increase student interest in course material include providing personal anecdotes, relating course material to the personal lives of the students, and of course, by sharing their own enthusiasm for the subject area. A TA adds another perspective in the following comment.

"You've got to earn their attention...I try very hard to make communication. For example, I try to be enthusiastic as much as I can. But I think that is in itself a satisfaction. So it's like an actor on the stage. Sometimes I feel very good after the class. I feel like an actor who...can earn a laugh from the audience. But sometimes I feel like I'm not satisfied with myself- that I'm not enthusiastic enough for some reason...Most of the time I blame myself, but sometimes I think about it and say, 'You don't have to be upset every time you didn't get a reaction, because they have their problems. Sometimes they're more passive for some reason'." (TA, Thailand)

Many experienced TAs find that it is very easy to blame themselves when students are not interested in a course or do poorly on an exam. Although it is important to continually examine one's teaching methods, it's also important to keep a balanced perspective; teaching and learning are shared responsibilities between teacher and student.

consultation contacts

George Michaelsexecutive director2130 Kerr Hall
lisa berrysenior instructional consultant1130 Kerr Hall
mindy colininstructional consultant1130 Kerr Hall
Mary Lou Ramos database and ESCI administrator1130 Kerr Hall
Aisha Wedlaw ESCI assistant1124 Kerr Hall
Breana Barakoffice manager 1130 Kerr Hall
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