International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) account for a large percentage of graduate assistants at the University of Southern California. The University is pleased to have such a large number of ITAs. Opportunities to interact with teaching assistants from other cultures can be a great benefit to students. At the same time, the University must ensure the quality of education at the undergraduate level. In order to do this, USC requires a high level of English proficiency for all those involved in teaching.
The American Language Institute is responsible for evaluating English proficiency, and for providing the necessary training to help ITAs obtain the language skills necessary to fulfill their responsibilities. This training may include participation in the ITA Institute and enrollment in courses which focus on the communication skills needed for teaching. If you are interested in learning more about the training available to ITAs at the University of Southern California, please contact the ITA Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
English Language Requirements for Teaching Assistants
If you are planning to accept a position as an international teaching assistant (ITA), you must demonstrate English-language proficiency by completing the ITA Exam. The examination consists of a 10 to 15 minute interview. Your score (mark) will determine whether or not you will be cleared to teach and/or required to take ALI courses.
If you meet one of the following requirements, you might not be required to take the ITA Exam:
- Your native language is English.
- You scored 29 or better on the speaking portion of the TOEFL iBT and 25 or better on the listening portion of the TOEFL iBT.
- You scored 8.5 or better on the speaking portion of the IELTS and 7 or better on the listening portion of the IELTS.
Even though an ITA meets one of the above criteria, the department may still require the ITA to take the ITA Exam. If you have questions about the ITA Exam that are not answered on the ITA website, please e-mail the ITA Testing Coordinator at email@example.com.
Testing and Placement
The ITA Exam is graded on a scale of 1 to 7, and placement is as follows:
6.0 – 7.0: Cleared to teach. No ALI requirements.
5.0 – 5.5: Cleared to teach. Must take a required ALI class.
3.5 – 4.5: Not cleared to teach. Must take a required ALI class.
3.0 – 1.0: Not cleared to teach. See ALI Advisor.
Common Questions about the ITA Exam
- What is the ITA Exam?
The ITA Exam is a ten to fifteen minute interview with two examiners. It has two parts: A brief interview in which the candidate talks about his or her educational experience and interest in graduate studies at USC. An explanation of a term or concept in examinee’s field. Two terms or concepts will be given to students 24 hours prior to the exam so that they can prepare a simulated classroom presentation on one of those terms or concepts. The two terms are taken from a list of terms determined by the student’s department. The examiners will act as students and will ask questions about the term.
- How do I register for the exam?
Request an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- How do I get my test results?
Instructions for getting your results will be given at the end of the ITA Exam.
- May I retake my ITA exam? Students may only take the ITA Entrance Exam once a year.
- What is a PT restriction?
All new ITAs receive a PT (pending test) restriction. This restriction will prevent you from receiving your tuition assistance until you have demonstrated adequate English proficiency or enrolled in your required ALI class. Those ITAs who have scored a 6 or higher on the ITA Exam, or have received a waiver, will have their PT restriction removed immediately. Those who are required to take an ALI class will have their restriction removed after the deadline to add or drop classes provided they have enrolled in their required ALI class. All late charges resulting from the PT restriction will also be removed.
If you have any other questions, please email email@example.com.
ITAs and the International Student English (ISE) Exam
ITAs who do not meet one of the ISE Exam exemption criteria, must also take the ISE Exam.
English Classes for ITAs
There are several classes that ITAs can take in order to improve their English. ITAs who score less than 6 will have an ALI requirement as indicated above. ALI also offers elective courses for those who want to further improve their English. These include courses in pronunciation, oral skills, advanced writing for publications and dissertations, and advanced academic and professional spoken English.
All ALI classes have a mandatory attendance policy.
A TA’s tuition award may be used to pay for ALI classes provided that the student’s award is enough to cover the cost. Students are responsible for all tuition not covered by their award. Teaching assistants denied clearance for classroom duties may continue to receive their stipends and tuition remission depending on their department. When possible the department will assign them alternative duties. When alternative assignment is not possible the department may provide one semester of non-assigned support.
The Undergraduate Student Consultant (uSC) Program is an exciting program offered by ALI which pairs undergraduate native English speakers (uSCs) with international teaching assistants. uSCs offer ITAs a valuable opportunity to improve their teaching skills, practice the English language (pronunciation, conversation, slang, idioms, grammar, etc.), and gain a broader understanding of American culture.
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ITA Language Institute
The ITA Language Institute is offered in partnership with the Center for Excellence in Teaching. It is a week-long program at the beginning of August designed for international teaching assistants. The Institute includes sessions on TA roles and duties, teaching styles, developing and improving oral communication skills, understanding the language and conventions of the American classroom, presenting information, handling question-and-answer sessions and eliciting student participation in class. All attendees receive copies of the Center’s publications, A Guidebook for ITAs and Teaching Nuggets.
The ITA Language Institute is highly recommended as it provides valuable information about teaching at USC. It also prepares ITAs for the ITA Exam, required of most international teaching assistants. If you would like to participate in the Institute, please contact your TA Coordinator/Graduate Advisor. If you need housing and meals during the week of the ITA Language Institute, CET can accommodate you for free. To accept this offer, please inform your TA Coordinator or Graduate Student Advisor. Housing and meals are available for spouses and children as well, but for a small fee. Note: Children are not allowed at scheduled events.
Sample Comments from Previous Participants:
“I think the ITA institute was a great experience. More than just learning about teaching styles, we got a chance to interact and communicate with fellow ITAs and get involved in team activities.”
“The training is helpful for my teaching and living here. It’s wonderful!”
“It was very helpful to improve my language skills and learn more about teaching methods.”
“Excellent teachers, excellent courses!”