I teach two types of classes:  students from varying international backgrounds, mostly children of immigrants, at Montclair State University; and international students who have one week to orient themselves before beginning their university studies at Stevens Institute of Technology; this year, they are mostly from China and Malaysia, with one student from Saudi Arabia, and one from Portugal.

My initial challenge was to determine what the expectations of these students were so I could give them the necessary information. Some students, for example, might be confused by a Syllabus, which maps out the entire course ahead of time.

I also wonder what they think of Americans.  From Iowa University’s Center for Learning Excellence, I reviewed the qualities others expect in Americans:

  • Outgoing, friendly
  • Informal
  • Loud, rude, immature
  • Hardworking
  • Extravagant, wasteful
  • Think they have all the answers
  • Not class-conscious
  • Disrespectful of authority
  • Racially prejudiced
  • Know little about other countries
  • Women are promiscuous
  • Wealthy
  • Generous
  • Always in a hurry
  • Disregard the elderly

That seems to fit pretty well — the qualities don’t all fit me, but they sound familiar. It doesn’t matter where students got these impressions from, the teacher has to live with them.  I can work to overcome some of the stereotypical qualities (rude, wasteful, etc.), and work to embrace others.  The most useful, in my experience, is heightening the students’ confidence that I am friendly, not conscious of class or power differences, and hard working. I like them to sense my sincere feeling that we are all in this together, we are all learning, and that I will help them as much as I can.

Exercise: Have students work in groups to construct the perfect teaching style. Is (s)he distant or friendly; does (s)he often publicly place your in a situation where you are not sure what to do; is there an emphasis on gender roles – does (s)he behave differently with males and females, or expect different behavior from same; does (s)he encourage students to work alone or in groups; does (s)he work toward future, sometimes unseen (to the students) goals, or does (s)he use information learned in the past (for tests, memorization, etc.)?  This exercise will sharpen the students’ own awareness of their expectations, and clarify for the teacher what can be done to improve the classroom atmosphere and enrich the learning process.

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