muke wrote:spectral_flow wrote:What was your TOEFL score?
24, but I guess this kind of interview is quite common for international applicants. I know an Indian guy with 110 TOEFL received the same requirement.
googy wrote:Is cheating in the standardized tests a widespread phenomenon? So much that universities have to doubt the applicants' scores? I have no idea how those tests are conducted elsewhere, but in my country they checked my pockets and used a metal detector on me prior to the exam, so beyond bribe I do not know how you'd manage to cheat successfully on those.
Dishsoap wrote:I highly doubt that they are concerned about your teaching skills... those come with time. They probably just want to make sure that you are understandable in English - to make sure that any accent you have doesn't prevent someone from understanding you, mostly. I'm from the US but this is what I've heard about interviews for international students.
TakeruK wrote:Dishsoap wrote:I highly doubt that they are concerned about your teaching skills... those come with time. They probably just want to make sure that you are understandable in English - to make sure that any accent you have doesn't prevent someone from understanding you, mostly. I'm from the US but this is what I've heard about interviews for international students.
I would contend that ruling someone "unable to teach" because of their accent is discrimination. Requiring knowledge/mastery of the English language is one thing, but if you are unhappy with the way someone speaks due to a speech impediment, accent, lisp, a disability that prevents them from speaking etc. then it's not right. I say this because there are many ways for a TA or professor to still communicate clearly even with an accent. For example, the instructor may find that practice beforehand can make the speech come more smoothly. Or, the instructor may choose to write everything they say on the board. Or they might provide copies of class notes in addition to their oral lecture. (And again, targeting international students only for this extra screening is unfair!)
The way I see it, when I have a hard time understanding someone with an accent, it's my responsibility to listen more carefully, not their responsibility to change someone they cannot help. I think attitudes like "I can't understand the way X talks" or "you must be able to speak clearly to do Physics" is harmful to our field. It hurts non-native speakers but also Americans with disabilities. In terms of language, to me, the only important part is that the physicist is able to communicate clearly in some manner (e.g. Stephen Hawking cannot speak but still is able to communicate).
This is why many places just ignore teaching evaluations that say stuff like "I can't understand the professor's accent" (the administration at my school have confirmed that they just throw out these comments).
TakeruK wrote:There is a difference between a necessary ability for the job and an ability that we often associate with a job but incorrectly attribute it to being necessary. I think this is the difference between the exterminator example and the speaking example. The accent example is harder because we might be thinking of different "levels" (so to speak) of accents when we use this example. So let's use an example that is a little more concrete:
Although English is my only truly fluent language, I have a bit of an accent where my "th" sounds like a "d" sometimes (e.g. "that" might sound like "dat" and "this" sounds like "dis" to someone who just met me). In a presentation class, the instructor (not a faculty member or an academic) suggested to me that I should go to speech therapy because my accent makes me sound childish to American ears. No one in academia has ever said this to me before, because I think if a decision was made on whether or not I "sounded" childish, then it would be discrimination. Sure, it takes a little bit more work for a listener to distinguish some of the words I'm trying to say (e.g. "bar" vs "ball"), it doesn't actually impede the ability of a student in my class to learn. I also agree that there are things I can (and should) do to help the students understand me, such as writing the word / drawing a diagram on the board or using it in context where it's clear that it's "bar" instead of "ball". But when I said there's nothing I can do, I meant about my speech itself. Sorry, but "speaking slower" and "enunciate" doesn't help---believe me, I've tried doing this for over 20 years now. I do agree that the other stuff suggested (check for understanding, repeating things) is what should be done, and that's what I do. So, I think as long as someone with an accent, lisp or other speech impediment is still able to convey the subject matter, they should not be disadvantaged for any job offer. Otherwise, you're just preferring one accent (or the lack thereof) over another.
My first point is not that schools shouldn't use ability to communicate as a criteria for hiring a TA, instructor, professor etc. My point is that schools should be more careful to distinguish between actual ability to perform a job (this is fine, as in the exterminator example) vs. a preference in the way a person speaks, whether it's with a certain accent or not (this is discrimination). As long as an instructor with an accent can still do their job effectively, it shouldn't matter that they don't sound the same as other people.
My second point is that schools sometimes are not acting fairly in the way they screen for people who are unable to perform the communication requirements of the job. Unconscious bias exists, and I think we all have an easier time hearing accents that are closer to our own. My opinion is that, except for cases where there is no communication ability at all, there are other ways for someone to still develop oral communication ability while working as a TA. After all, this is a school, it's a place of training! At my school, if you don't pass the language screening when you first arrive, then you take remedial evening English conversation classes and until you finish that, your TA work is grading-only and responsibilities for teaching in front of the class is slowly added.
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