Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn: The Lived Experience of International Teaching Assistants at a Midwestern University

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Michael Coomes

Second Advisor

Lynda Dixon (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Leigh Chiarelott (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Patricia Kubow (Committee Member)


This study was undertaken to develop a deeper understanding of the lived experience of a select group of international teaching assistants and was specifically designed to explore the processes that these individuals engaged in while learning to teach at a Mid-western, regional, comprehensive university. Naturalistic inquiry governed the overall methodological philosophy for the inquiry and a qualitative multi-case study approach was used to collect, analyze, and interpret data. Data collection included document analysis, classroom observations of teaching sessions, and individualized interviews.

Analysis of data involved thematic coding and meta-analysis. Research findings indicated that international teaching assistants preconceived expectations about their role as a teacher were incongruent with the reality of their actual experience. Learning to teach occurred by participating in acts of teaching and what international teaching assistants believed about teaching and learning influenced classroom behaviors. These beliefs were frequently in conflict with what was valued in the classroom setting. Knowledge construction occurred through a process of integrating new information with what was already known. Furthermore, the process of learning to teach was complicated by the necessity of integrating multiple intersecting roles.

By deploying protocols of qualitative research for analyses of the international teaching assistant experience at the site institution, there were two sets of recommendations. The first set called for practical measures that would reduce the stresses associated with acclimatization to institutions of higher learning.

The second set of recommendations called for further research that would: situate the complexity of the international teaching assistant problem in the context of the constraints and challenges of the larger system of higher education within the United States, encouraged revisiting the theoretical framework for international teaching assistant research, encouraged critically exploring the pedagogical principles that undergird United States higher education, and recommended examining the sometimes unstated hilosophical/epistemological worldviews that are at the root of it all in light of the experiences of international teaching assistants.