Teaching American Students: A Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities, Third Edition

By Lind, Sonja | International Educator, September/October 2008 | Go to article overview

Teaching American Students: A Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities, Third Edition


Lind, Sonja, International Educator


Teaching American Students: A Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities, third edition By Ellen Sarkisian, Published by Harvard University Press, 2006

IN 1981 Harvard began a pilot program for its international faculty and teaching assistants at the Derek Bok teaching center. Nine years later, Ellen Sarkisian, Derek Bok's associate director, produced the first edition of Teaching American Students. Now in its third edition, the book has been admired and adopted by educators nationwide. Sarkisian has created a thoughtful, detailed guide and in doing so has written the academic equivalent of Terri Morrison, Wayne Conaway and George Borden's bestselling Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands.

When I first saw Sarkisian's book on teaching U.S. students, I was curious to discover what she had to say about this topic. As a Norwegian-Canadian teaching assistant at a U.S. university, I was looking for insights into the world of academia in the United States. Like Sarkisian, I taught in Asia for several years, and am familiar with her feeling that "some assignments I had given were inappropriate in the culture in which I was teaching." Her motivation for writing the book stemmed from her sympathy for those educators who need to acculturate to academic life in the United States.

The book is a slim 10 ounces; inside, it is well organized; its themes clearly stated throughout the book so that an educator could easily pick it up and start reading any chapter or appendix. It is organized into six sections with additional appendices, a glossary, selected resources, readings and Web sites. Each section refers to a general topic that all teachers, international or American, would find helpful. Section Four, for instance, focuses on giving presentations. Each subsection of this section could stand independently: "Use verbal signals when you speak"; "Say the same thing in a few different ways and avoid jargon"; "Keep lines of communication open." Within each subsection are examples, anecdotes, and useful quotes by international faculty and teaching assistants. In general, the book covers topics such as classroom management, student interaction, discussion sessions, grading, evaluation, and active learning.

In what could be a summary of the book, Sarkisian writes, "If you make a habit of watching others, noticing puzzling aspects of situations, and discussing them with your U.S. colleagues, you will learn a great deal about the culture" (p. 51). A frequent suggestion is to observe yourself and others. …

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