Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2019



This study presents a qualitative, multiple case, instrumental case study which explores experiences and positionality of International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) in the US academia. Drawing from, first, the earlier research which focuses on ITAs’ language, culture, and pedagogy with, mostly, a “deficit” perspective and, second, from recent publications which concentrate on exploring ITAs’ identities and perceptions, this study investigates how ITAs approach differences and similarities (rich points) during everyday discourses in their various communities of practice. The conceptual framework is represented by Agar’s (1996, 2006) vision on rich points (differences and similarities); Lave and Wenger’s (1991) concept of community of practice (CoP), and the notion of narratives (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994; Simons, 2009). The theoretical framework is informed by Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, specifically, by the concept of perezhivanie (lived through emotional experience).

Two cases of ITA communities which are bound to certain university settings (in the Northwest and Southwest of the US) were analyzed. Purposive (snowball) sampling was used to find focal participants. Eight ITAs took part in a semester-long data collection. The study utilized an electronic survey; one informal conversational interview; one semi-structured interview; one to two observations with debriefings; and collection of artifacts and visual data. The findings revealed that there are five major ways for ITAs to mediate rich points, namely, via ITAs’ multiple identities, ITAs’ self-analysis, ITAs’ internalization of politics and policies, ITAs’ internalization of others’ actions in the US academia and, ITAs’ teaching evolution. Rich points are observed as a vital aspect of ITAs’ development. At the same time, mediation of rich points is always unique and dynamic and presupposes a combination of several navigational techniques.

The significance of the study is predetermined by the necessary contribution into the recent research on ITAs’ identities as the opposition to the previously projected “deficit theory” in respect to ITAs. Also, the study explored ITAs’ various communities of practice while the recent research tends to focus on ITAs’ classroom as their only major environment. It is suggested that ITAs’ experiences should be researched further, especially, for providing more meaningful practices for ITAs’ socialization in the US academia.


International Teaching Assistants, sociocultural theory, perezhivanie, community of practice, rich points, teacher's identity

Document Type




Degree Name

Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Carlos LopezLeiva

Second Committee Member

Pisarn Bee Chamcharatsri

Third Committee Member

Holbrook Mahn

Fourth Committee Member

Sylvia Celedon-Pattichis

Fifth Committee Member

Charlotte Gunawardena