Making the Grade: Perceptions of “The Good Foreign Language GTA”

Valerie A. Pellegrino, Ohio State University

Each year, foreign language departments accept hundreds of new graduate students who will be tomorrow’s language teachers. These young teachers often undergo some order of pre-service and/or in-service teacher training that helps to mold their ideas of what constitutes effective teaching. Yet the type of teacher they will become depends greatly upon their own perceptions of what it means to be “a good teacher.” In 1982, Ervin and Muyskens surveyed teaching assistants concerning their perceived training needs and found that graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) expressed different needs according to their experience and nationality. Furthermore, GTAs’ responses also differed from those of experienced faculty who may be conducting GTA training programs. Such differences in perception can affect the quality of teacher education and the success of young teachers in the classroom. The present study seeks to revisit the findings of that study and further expand the investigation into the characteristics and behaviors of what it means to be “a good foreign language GTA.”

Using qualitative research methods, “Making the Grade” examines the perceptions GTAs in Slavic languages hold of what it means to be a “good teacher,” including aspects of requisite knowledge and skills, teaching philosophy, demographics, teacher-student relationships, classroom behaviors, and appropriate GTA preparation and experience. Moreover, this study seeks to compare and contrast the perceptions of multiple populations, including pre-service, novice GTAs, experienced GTAs, GTA education faculty, other language faculty, and the undergraduate students that GTAs teach. The study participants are drawn from the Slavic department of a major state university in the United States. Data are collected through the use of interviews, diaries, and questionnaire instruments and are analyzed according to Grounded Theory Methodology, a rigorous form of narrative data analysis employed primarily in the social sciences fields. The findings of this study will inform GTA training and education programs as well as further GTA needs analyses. Furthermore, this study will provide insight into the impact of GTA education and training on perceptions of successful teaching. This study serves as a pilot for a larger study to be performed at multiple universities and across language departments.