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Arghh Lab TA's!

  1. Jan 27, 2006 #1
    Arghhh I'm sorry guys but I just have to go off on a rant!!! Why on earth do universities assign TA's who cannot speak english to teach laboratory sections!!! I mean how are we supposed to learn anything when the TA has to struggle through sounding out the words on the lab sheet while trying to explain the lab!? Only one of my lab TA's this semester speaks english, the other two don't, and as a result you can't ask them anything because they don't know what you are asking and couldn't answer you even if they did assuming they even know anything about the subject anyway. Last semester I had a TA whose english was slightly better than some of the others but was so stupid it wasn't funny.....she wouldn't let us dispose of our copper samples because she didn't know whether copper was inorganic or not!!!! And I'm not just saying they couldn't speak english because they have a thick accent...no they just can't speak it.....I had one TA last semester that I loved even though his accent was a bit hard to understand sometimes, but he was friendly and very knowledgable and that's all that matters. Now I have a TA that is docking me marks for following his instructions even though I had previously told him I thought the alternate method would be better.

    Oh, and what's with english essays? How the heck are you supposed to write an essay about the 'otherness' or 'yes and no' of the asian nod? I mean really!

    Sorry about that guys, but I really needed to vent some frustration. :redface:
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2006 #2
    lol. I would make a formal complaint with the department and the professor. That really is quite horrible. I don't like the whole idea of TA's in general.
  4. Jan 27, 2006 #3


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    Typically, universities require international students to take a standardized Spoken English test (like the Speak Test), before they can TA.

    In my department, if you don't score high enough on the Speak Test, you get assigned a grading job. And if your score just barely passes the cutoff, you are likely to get assigned lab duty over recitation. For the most part (unless a special request is made) recitations are given to native English speakers and foreign students with high Speak scores.

    But wait...you just hate your TA for docking marks off your score. :biggrin: Whiner !!
  5. Jan 27, 2006 #4
    I had an Italian Ta. His english was good, and he graded fairly. But then again, he was going for his PHD, so I think in those cases they make better TA's. Masters, and im a little more cautious.
  6. Jan 28, 2006 #5


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    While I was in grad school, they changed the rules in the biology department that students in a Master's program weren't eligible for a TA position (except for a small handful who were "grandfathered" in for a second year based on good teaching evaluations from the year before the rule came into effect). They had the same view as you did, apparently. Unfortunately, there's no uniform standard across universities or even departments about selecting TAs.

    I also agree that there's a BIG difference between a TA with an accent, which students just need to learn to cope with, and a TA whose English skills are so bad that they cannot communicate or understand questions. When someone's English is that bad, I question whether they even should be accepted into graduate school in the US without first improving their English. I don't know how they can keep up with the pace required for a PhD student if they can't understand the content of the lectures or write, or read journal articles, or understand instructions given to them in the lab. If all their other credentials are excellent, then I'd prefer that they were given a deferred admission, pending successful completion of a year of intensive English language courses in reading and oral comprehension, and written and spoken communication to ensure fluency. I have my doubts about whether the TOEFL adequately tests this since people with very little understanding of English seem to get acceptable scores on that.
  7. Jan 28, 2006 #6
    Lol I'm not just complaining because he docked me marks....I only just handed the lab report in so I'm not sure how much I lost yet. The first thing the guy trys to say when we get into the lab is "Englesh Not first languange I from Chinerr' It was awful, I spoke with someone who had him as a TA for the organic course last semester and she said not to bother asking him anything becuase he won't understand what you are asking and will probably tell you to do the wrong thing. This guy is a PhD candidate not a masters. TOEFl must have really low standards if this guy passed. I miss my TA from last semester he had an accent but this guy knew what he was doing, he was awesome! And to add insult to injury I found out he is TAing a lab section at the exact same time on the exact same day as mine....but they don't tell you what TA's are doing what sections when you register, you don't find out who your TA is until you walk into the room and go 'Oh Crap!' I have two TA's like this....and I need to have a 3.7 GPA to get into the program I want....which lab portions are a heavy factor...I'm not in a good mood right now ...haha.
  8. Jan 28, 2006 #7


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    I've often wondered about this too. I've put it down to this : the test is a multiple choice test with 4 options on every question. It's not inconceivable that every so often, someone just flukes their way through the test purely with the help of Eenie, Meenie, Minie and Mo.
  9. Jan 28, 2006 #8


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    I think, and this is purely speculation, that in countries like China, it's hard to get help if you want to improve your English.

    There was this one Chinese Grad student, who during his first year here, would walk into every test (well, the lectures too) carrying two dictionaries : English to Chinese and Chinese to English. You'd see him furiously turning pages translating the question into Chinese to understand it. Then he would work out the stuff in rough and use the other dictionary to translate his answer to English. But he'd finish most tests before the rest of the class and score among the top 2 or 3 in the class. He was brilliant, but just knew no English.

    Now (some 4 years later, and having taken a year of remedial English classes), he carries on conversations in slow and broken, but very understandable English.
  10. Jan 28, 2006 #9
    I don't care if they are accepted to grad school, if they think they can handle living in a country and going to school when they cannot understand anything of the languaget I guess that's their own choice. But I do not think it is right for them to be awarded TA positions, I am not happy right now about having to pay $5000 a year to be taught by people that cannot teach because they cannot speak the language, for the most part my professors have been amazing it's just the TA's that are so awful.

    I'm beginning to question whether the TA's even need to be pursuing their graduate degree in the field they are TAing. It seems like some of my TA's have no better idea of what is going on the labs than I do. Last semester for my inorganic lab my TA wasn't sure whether copper was an inorganic metal or not. This semester my organic TA that doesn't speak english was trying to tell me to do a single solvent crystallization when I knew the double method would be better. I argued this fact and in the end he insisted I do the single solvent....which suprise didn't work very well. Then at the end he tells me it would be better next time to use the double solvent method but this time I would be losing marks because I used single. At least that's what he was attempting to tell me...lol. My TA for inorganic this semester couldn't understand that I needed a note from her to go to the chemistry stores to get a new beaker as mine was missing during check in. I am so unbelievably frustrated right now.
  11. Jan 28, 2006 #10
    My inorganic TA isn't from china, she's from somewhere else I don't know where. Her english is slightly better but not a lot. I am starting think that all they care about is knowing enough to 'get by' so they can get their degree and go home.
  12. Jan 28, 2006 #11
    I wonder if they are allowed to take that test as many times as they want until they get a high enough score, that might explain it. Maybe in the end they pretty much know the questions and can rehearse their answers or something. I just can't see how they can possibly be passing.
  13. Jan 29, 2006 #12
    TA's can be important!
    I have been a TA during my Masters in Aerospace and I took it seriously and I believe I was a great help for the students. I am from Holland and I do believe that we speak good English. And those who I accidentally spit in the face whilst trying to say the "th"....Bite me!
    I agree that some TA's but even some professors from China do not have sufficient English skills and I wonder how they passed there TOEFL
    or Verbal GRE exam.
  14. Jan 29, 2006 #13


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    Here, lab TAs are the ones that have flunked the English exam. The recitation TA is also present in labs, though. He's required to speak competant English, so at least there's someone present who can be asked questions.

    In most universities, a TA job is an excuse for the department to pay graduate students before they get formal advisors (or if their advisor is broke). All Ph.D. students are expected to be paid (at least in the sciences), so the department has to give these people jobs if they want to keep a reasonable number of intelligent grad students around. Whether they are qualified to teach or not is considered relatively unimportant.
  15. Jan 29, 2006 #14
    What is a recitation TA? You guys have all been mentioning them but I have no idea what they are. Here we have Lab TA's, Demo TA's, Marking TA's and Workshop TA's. Maybe we have the recitation ones to and i just don't know what they are.
  16. Feb 1, 2006 #15
    Man, I just met my TA today for thermo. This guys name is something like sheng lang, shang lang, shong long, who knows who cares. The prof gives us a challenging problem to work on in discussion, but he had to go downtown and had to leave early. I asked the TA a question, ............what was I thinking!? The guys English stinks, and he covers up the answers like they are top secret. He seems like the kind of looser that would grade harsh just because he can. I need to find another TA, ughhhhh. Where do they find these people? Hes a nice guy, but he cant communicate well. He should stick to grading papers.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2006
  17. Feb 1, 2006 #16


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    There are other forms of funding. If the department needs people to teach, they should only accept those who can communicate, regardless of the type of class. If they are just doing it as an excuse to pay people, then they should make them GAs and let them spend some time doing a technician's job rather than teaching.

    I was a TA myself all through grad school, so I certainly understand the responsibilities associated it, as well as the learning experience it was for me. Neither the student nor TA gets anything out of it if you can't communicate at all. I started out grading, and worked my way up (in my department, grading was assigned to new TAs, not TAs who couldn't speak English...how can you grade an exam if you can't read it?) Along the way, I honed my teaching skills based on student feedback, and always did my best to really help the students as much as I could. I saw it as part of my professional development...teaching is an important component of being a professor, so it was good for me to get that experience. Anyone who doesn't view it that way, and yes, I had fellow TAs who saw it as just a distraction or burden or something they'd do anything to avoid, and have met faculty who actively discourage their students from TAing if they can afford not to do so, and I think it's unfortunate...it's a disservice to themselves as well as their students.
  18. Feb 1, 2006 #17

    That is exactly my problem, it's not that they aren't nice they just can't communicate well enough to get the material across.
  19. Feb 1, 2006 #18
    lets deport them back to china with a stack of english dictionaries.
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