“Coming to America”– British Prof

One of the forum threads I was most interested in recently was about a British professor who is coming to teach in the US. The Original Poster (OP) asked what might be different.

There were some good answers that I think I would like to post here as a way to think about them myself and possibly solicit other responses.

Topics include:
how to teach
how to grade
how to talk
how to give feedback.

students in the US are less comfortable/adept with rigorous discussion/argument.

The other difference I notice is that students in the US expect much more affirmation. Sometimes language difference can play into this. For example, if I say something is a fine piece of work, I mean it to be very high praise, but I don’t think it registers that way. The word brilliant, too, has trans-Atlantic translation problems.

in the UK telling a student that a paper is “good” is very high praise, some Americans may interpret that as a polite form of criticism, essentially saying that the paper is ok but not particularly good. Forms of direct criticism which in the UK may be considered mild and relatively innocuous might be taken in the US as devastating.

So you need to be very careful about how you phrase both praise and criticism.

My understanding is that, in the UK it is common to have the grade based primarily on a final exam or paper? This is far less common in the US; grades often are based on multiple assignments throughout the term.

Some students may have problems understanding a Brit accent, so you may want to take extra care to speak slowly at the beginning of the term. This naturally depends on the kind of school, the number of non-American faculty they have already had in classes, and so on.

Most of my students have not traveled much, and some complain about accents of our faculty from all over the world, so an English accent generally is comparatively fine. If the prof can be heard (see above) and is fairly understandable, I encourage students to work harder at expanding their horizons right here in the Yew Ess of Aye, telling them that this is another opportunity provided by their campus to prepare them for a global world.

One thing I definitely found was that American students are used to a lot more feedback on their progress than I’ve seen in the UK, and while I initially dismissed weekly class quizzes as juvenile, I discovered they were pretty essential to keeping students focussed and doing the reading. The other thing is that, since students here generally have to take a wide range of subjects, and often enter a degree not knowing what they want to study/major in in the end, you may need to work harder to engage them than say if you were a biochemistry lecturer at a UK university teaching primarily students who applied for and entered a Biochemistry degree.

1) Make room for several types of evaluation throughout the term (as noted elsewhere, don’t have one final paper or final exam as the only grade– very bad idea).

2) You may draw students from various disciplines who are unfamiliar with the social sciences in general and your discipline in particular. Take some time at the beginning of the term to do some groundwork in terms of important questions the discipline poses, methodology, and important figures and works.

3) You will need to do some lecturing, at the least to set up discussion, given this is a 300 and not 400 level class and the probability that you will have non-social science majors in the class.

Students earn grades, not marks, and the only people who write dissertations are those who are at the last stage of their Ph.D. programs. Others write essays or theses, or just plain papers.

In a meeting in the US, to “table” something means to defer discussion to a later time. I recall it means the opposite in the UK

if you tell students they are going to write an exam, they’ll think you mean create the exam itself, rather than (as we say) take the exam.

don’t tell them to ‘revise’ (which seems only to be used here in the sense of ‘rework’); tell them to study.

I had a conversation last term with a couple of British exchange students who were in my classes, and they noted that, at home, they were unaccustomed to participating in group discussions, having choices about things like paper topics, and getting a lot of personal contact and feedback. In general, they found much more professor-student interaction in the Canadian classroom, and they thought Canadian students got a lot more attention and hand-holding. They painted a picture of their British professors as authority figures who were somewhat remote.

Yes, I think all of these are very relevant. Wise readers of TCE, do you have any other suggestions?

Culture shock will be difficult, I am sure. Hopefully having a job will help dissipate some of that.

Should we warn the OP (if male) that the girls may swoon over his accent? Or vice versa? Or should we let him find that out on his own?

I wonder what odd pronunciations will crop up in his students. My husband has a Brit EMT instructor and has learned to say ka-pill-uh-ree instead of cap-a-larry. Freaks me out. Apparently I spell words in my head when I hear them and I keep trying to “see” kapilluhree, which is not a thing like capillary.

One thought on ““Coming to America”– British Prof”

  1. [Revised version left. Earlier expunged.] Sorry, I left html tags in and words were left out of the post; and I think I improved on my meaning:

    Given the previous comments about British students and teachers not interacting as much, and about British professors being remote, “should we warn the OP?” Yes, in this sense: He may not understand why students, including young women, approach him in a casual and direct way. He will need to learn to that just because a female student regularly wants to engage in conversation, it’s not necessarily the start of a “personal relationship”. Maintaining a “professional distance” – which in this country does NOT mean being aloof or remote – will serve him well.

    No, I’m not protecting “the weak, harmless female”. But it’s very easy to have misunderstandings in the area of student-faculty relationships and promising teaching careers have been cut short because of it.

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