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Last 2 journalists working for Australian media leave China

The last two journalists working for Australian media in China have left the country after police demanded interviews with them and temporarily blocked their departures, the Australian government, and their employers said Tuesday.

Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s Bill Birtles and The Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith landed in Sydney after flying from Shanghai on Monday night, both news outlets reported.

Both had sheltered in Australian diplomatic compounds in recent days.


Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the closing session of China's National People's Congress in Beijing in May. (AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the closing session of China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing in May. (AP)

The journalists left after Australia revealed last week that Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a business news anchor for CGTN, China’s English-language state media channel, had been detained.

Both journalists were told they were “persons of interest” in an investigation into Cheng, The Australian Financial Review reported. Seven uniformed police visited each journalist’s home in Beijing and Shanghai at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, the newspaper said.

Australian Embassy officials in Beijing told Birtles last week that he should leave China, ABC reported.

Birtles was due to depart Beijing on Thursday and was holding a farewell party on Wednesday when police came to his apartment and told him he was banned from leaving the country, ABC said. He was told he would be contacted on Thursday to organize a time to be questioned about a “national security case,” his employer said.

Birtles went to the Australian Embassy, where he spent four days while Australian and Chinese officials negotiated. Smith had similarly holed up at the Australian Consulate in Shanghai.

Birtles and Smith both agreed to give police a brief interview in return for being allowed to leave the country.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed that her government had provided consular support to the two journalists to assist their return to Australia.

“Our embassy in Beijing and consulate-general in Shanghai engaged with Chinese government authorities to ensure their well-being and return to Australia,” she said.

Australia’s travel warning of the risk of arbitrary detention in China “remains appropriate and unchanged,” she added.

ABC news director Gaven Morris said Birtles was brought back to Australia on the Australian government’s advice.

“This bureau is a vital part of the ABC’s international news-gathering effort and we aim to get back there as soon as possible,” Morris said.


“The story of China, its relationship with Australia and its role in our region and in the world is one of great importance for all Australians and we want to continue having our people on the ground to cover it,” he added.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Michael Stutchbury, and editor, Paul Bailey, described the situation as “disturbing.”

“This incident targeting two journalists, who were going about their normal reporting duties, is both regrettable and disturbing and is not in the interests of a co-operative relationship between Australia and China,” they said in a statement.

Relations between China and Australia were already strained by Australia outlawing covert interference in politics and banning communications giant Huawei from supplying critical infrastructure. They have worsened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of and international responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia’s journalist union, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said China was no longer safe for foreign reporters.

“These outrageous attacks on press freedom place any foreign correspondents reporting from China at risk,” union president Marcus Strom said in a statement.

Birtles told reporters at Sydney’s airport that his departure was a “whirlwind and … not a particularly good experience.”


“It’s very disappointing to have to leave under those circumstances and it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law,” Birtles said.

Smith told his newspaper: “The late-night visit by police at my home was intimidating and unnecessary and highlights the pressure all foreign journalists are under in China right now.”

Smith said at the airport that he had felt “a little bit” threatened in China.

“It’s so good to be home, so happy, I can’t say any more at the moment, it’s such a relief to be home, so really happy,” Smith said.


“It was a complicated experience but it’s great to be here,” he added.

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Remote working offers employers and employees lots of opportunities – and just as many headaches

The Office Is Over (and what that means) is
a collection of Post stories looking at how
the pandemic has changed the view of the workplace

Big Tech was the first to execute sweeping changes to the way its employees worked. Just days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, almost all the employees at Google LLC, Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Shopify Inc. were sent home, with no word on when they would be allowed to return to their perk-filled offices. 

Two months later, Google and Facebook extended their work-from-home policies until 2021. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey then dramatically shifted the yardstick, tweeting in mid-May that employees who can work remotely will be allowed to do so forever.

Canadian tech darling Shopify immediately jumped on the bandwagon, announcing a “digital by default” model that would continue post-pandemic, prompting a flurry of online commentary ranging from the death of office real estate to the tantalizing prospect of working from a beach in Jamaica. 

It seems the future of work is shaping up to be a remote one for a staggering number of white-collar workers. Anyone armed with sufficient internet speed and a working laptop could potentially set up in, say, balmy Barcelona for a month, and cool off in the Cotswolds for the next two months. Even small companies would suddenly have access to a global talent pool, no longer needing to demarcate their hiring boundaries by geography. 

A win for all, in theory. 

But the reality would be riddled with myriad legal, technical and security complications, ranging from data breaches and sorting out payroll taxes across global borders, to overhauling existing compensation structures and establishing a consistent corporate culture, say experts helping companies reshape their workforces.

Such a shift in the workplace would be complex, and one that could swing in favour of employers as easily as employees. 

“We’re seeing a different thought process taking shape around the world of work. Employers started this journey saying, ‘Let’s do this temporarily and get cubicle workers back first in a few months,’” said Jean McClellan, a partner at PWC Canada’s consulting practice. “Now they are saying, ‘What are the factors at play and what will it cost us to completely change the way we work?’” 

McClellan said one of her clients, a large financial institution, sought PWC’s services to figure out if it could procure asset management talent from around the world, instead of just locally.

“Their own asset management staff work on quite a global basis as it is, so they also wanted to know does that make them a target for another organization seeking global labour?” she said. “There are implications from an employment-law perspective and from a tax perspective in terms of where the worker resides. All of those things have to be considered before thinking about how to access a different labor pool.” 

If you’re an American company hiring a data scientist in Estonia, then Estonian employment laws apply

Donald Dowling, partner, Littler Mendelson

Processing payroll taxes in a foreign jurisdiction is the biggest issue companies will encounter when hiring abroad, said Donald Dowling, a partner at U.S.-based law firm Littler Mendelson PC, who has extensive experience advising companies on international labor and employment law.

“If you’re an American company hiring a data scientist in Estonia, then Estonian employment laws apply,” he said. “You have to report their income to Estonian tax authorities; you can’t just put them on the U.S. payroll.”

Dowling said many companies won’t go through the logistical hassle of paying taxes in a foreign jurisdiction just for one recruit, even though they could use the services of payroll processing companies such as Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) and Ceridian HCM Inc. as intermediaries. 

“I’ve seen U.S. companies that pay their foreign recruits offshore, because they know that the local tax authorities would probably not come after an American company that has no roots in, say, Estonia, beyond that one worker,” he said. “But just to be clear, that’s a crime.”

Guatemala, the United Kingdom, Thailand and Ecuador are exceptions to this rule: a foreign company is exempted from local payroll taxes if it doesn’t have any assets or branches in any of those four countries. 

One added complication, according to Dowling, is that a company would also have to give foreign employees all the benefits that come with living in their jurisdiction since it would be subject to local employment laws. 

It is not simple to just let an employee work abroad if they wanted to, or hire a foreign recruit

“I’ve seen a number of cases of employees for American companies in France asking for maternity leave, paid sick days, vacation time and hours according to French employment law, which they are entitled to, but those companies would not have wanted to (give them that),” he said. 

“For all these reasons, it is not simple to just let an employee work abroad if they wanted to, or hire a foreign recruit unless the cost and logistical aspect made sense.” 

Data security is another issue since remote workers are easier targets for hackers because they are less likely to have the same kind of encryption protocols as employees back at the office.

In one example that has already reared its head, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre and the U.S. Department of Home Security in early May warned that sophisticated hacking groups were looking to obtain information related to “national COVID-19 responses, health care research, and targeting organizations in sectors like health care, pharmaceuticals and academia” by exploiting remote workers.

McClellan said large employers would have to consider security implications when expanding their labour pool outside Canada. In particular, heightened security protocols exist when data travels between foreign and domestic servers, assuming a worker abroad is communicating with a domestic team on a daily basis.

It’s potentially expensive. You have to hire the right tech people to support these security protocols

Jean McClellan, PWC Canada

“It’s potentially expensive,” she said. “You have to hire the right tech people to support these security protocols.” 

Despite these complexities, Sara Sutton, the founder and chief executive of FlexJobs Corp., a job search company dedicated to remote work, said she’s seen an uptick in the number of companies offering increased flexibility in location when hiring. 

“The interest in remote work had already been on the rise over the last 15 years or so,” she said. “This pandemic has just exacerbated the openness that both job seekers and employers have towards this way of working.”

The majority of companies increasing their share of remote workers still tend to be from the tech sector, but Sutton said she’s seeing many roles within health care and education that are morphing into remote jobs. 

In a survey of the 54,000 companies listed on FlexJobs site, two e-learning companies, China-based VIPKid and Toronto-based EF Education First, were among the top 10 companies globally that went on a hiring spree for remote workers in 2019. 

Shared office space, such as this at WeWork in Toronto, could help maintain remote worker morale by allowing distanced work spaces among other people.

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

The data also show that Inc., American Express Co. and Anthem Inc., an insurance company, were the top three Fortune 500 companies hiring remote workers last year. 

Sutton said companies tend to become more flexible when hiring during a downturn, but revert to more full-time, on-site employees when things are good.

“A full-time employee comes with more costs, so what we’re seeing now is an increase in freelance, remote and part-time hiring,” she said. 

But as companies begin crafting a new way of working, they’ll also look at the elaborate perks they often use to attract employees.

For example, Google employees have access to free custom-made meals, nap rooms, a pantry filled with healthy snacks, kombucha and cold brew, game stations and bathroom shower stalls, not to mention rooms designed for “healthy working” (read: yoga balls). Similar perks exist at many other Big Tech firms, including Facebook, Twitter and Shopify. 

McClellan believes that such perks might attract individuals to a certain company, but her data show that office perks are ranked as “one of the lower incentive items” when compared to better working hours and a meaningful work environment.

“What we are hearing from employers, based on feedback from their employees, is that (employees) want a connection to purpose and meaningful work and that’s what drives retention,” she said. “If you can provide a job with meaning, is that maybe better than all of the bells and whistles?” 

But some perks can also help develop a particular corporate culture, which is more difficult to do if people are in far-flung locales and don’t often meet in person. Sutton’s company, FlexJobs, has adjusted to the work-from-home situation by offering employees online perks.

“We organize online trivia game nights. For Halloween, we are going to send out different packages of treats to our employees’ homes,” she said. “You can do a big variety of things to cultivate a strong remote work culture, and, to be honest, most organizations don’t offer the perks that Google and other big tech companies do.”

Companies are creating positions to assist remote workers with tech and workflow issues, as well as to maintain a corporate cohesiveness.

GitLab, a Silicon Valley-based startup with more than 1,200 employees distributed across 65 countries, created a “Head of Remote” position months prior to the pandemic.

The company said its first Head of Remote, Darren Murph, is in charge of guiding and managing GitLab’s clients and partners through any kind of remote workflow issues, as well as building an “all-remote culture.”

Almost four in 10 Canadians, according to Statistics Canada, have the technical ability to work remotely if their workforces implemented it permanently, which could end up being both good and bad for employees, said Eddy Ng, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. 

“Many employers have not yet touched the compensation structure, because they are not sure how long this pandemic is going to last,” he said. “But one of the key things to know is that jobs that are advertised as ‘telecommute’ do pay less.”

One of the key things to know is that jobs that are advertised as ‘telecommute’ do pay less

Eddy Ng, Bucknell University

Facebook noted that its salary structure could change based on geography when it announced earlier this month that it was moving towards a model where up to 50 per cent of employees could work from home permanently if they chose to. 

“If you’re out in the Prairies, and you’re no longer paying for commuting and living in downtown Toronto, of course, your employer is going to start arguing that your own costs have gone down, and, therefore, your compensation could come down,” Ng said. 

Geoffrey Leonardelli, a professor of organizational behavior at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, said there’s some evidence suggesting that people higher up in an organization have an easier time transitioning to remote work, because they are more likely to have a home office.

“They may not be aware of the challenges that come with getting work done in a small space,” he said. “How do you address that problem?”

Leonardelli’s research, however, indicates that employees mostly benefit from a remote work scenario, although his research didn’t factor in working remotely during a pandemic.

“Employers may also benefit, but perhaps employees more so,” he said.

There is also the question of how much employers save when employees work from home, given that workers pay their own electricity and internet bills.

“The argument is, should employers be paying for Wi-Fi? If they reduce salaries, what are the costs that employees have to still bear given that they need access to good technology, encryption and strong internet?” Leonardelli said. 

Last week, the German-language paper Tages-Anzeiger reported that Switzerland’s top court ruled that employers were required to pay employees’ rent if they are expected to work from home. The court decision, which has yet to be made public, resulted from a dispute between an accounting firm and an employee who was working from home. The employee said he had to rent a bigger apartment in order to comfortably work remotely.

When it comes to paying income taxes for 2020, it will be necessary to know whether it’s possible to deduct the costs of working from home.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many big Canadian companies, including the big banks, insurance firms and accountants, already provide a small stipend for employees to set up work-from-home offices. Canadians working from home can also claim a portion of some of their home expenses when filing their taxes. 

Ng said companies, for the most part, are not going to want to run two sets of costs when it comes to making a cost-benefit analysis of remote working.

“You’re not going to see many companies wanting to maintain their downtown Toronto offices spaces at high rents, and yet providing technology, upgrades and stipends to their workers at home,” he said. 

The billion-dollar question, of course, is: Will remote work stay at current levels in a post-pandemic world?

Ng is not particularly convinced that the majority of companies will go down the remote work path forever.

“I don’t see a mass migration to telework after we find a vaccine unless employers can reach a critical mass with the number of workers who want to work remotely, in order to realize savings,”  she said.

Sutton, however, who has been involved in the remote work sector for 13 years, is confident the trend will continue, because remote working offers an “emergency preparedness insurance” for employers. 

“It helps employers to have an option for their employees to work from remote locations in case of snowstorms, shootings, massive events that we might not be able to predict,” she said. “I don’t think we are ever going to go back to the naive time where organizations were putting their head in the sand about remote work.”

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Is the alcohol ban working?

Police have arrested people caught drinking in public
Police have arrested people caught drinking in public

The ban on the sale and transportation of alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown in South Africa has emptied hospital beds, ruined businesses, provoked violence and political disputes, and has led to a surge of interest in pineapples, writes the BBC’s Andrew Harding from Johannesburg.

The idea was simple.

Ban all booze, and you’ll prevent drunken fights, reduce domestic violence, stop drunk driving, and eliminate the weekend binge-drinking so prevalent across South Africa. Police, medics and analysts estimate – conservatively – that alcohol is involved in, or responsible for, at least 40% of all emergency hospital admissions.

In normal times some 34,000 trauma cases arrive at emergency departments in South Africa every week.

But since the nationwide lockdown came into force last month to prevent the spread of coronavirus, that figure has plummeted, dramatically, by roughly two thirds, to about 12,000 admissions.

“It’s a significant impact,” said Professor Charles Parry, with some understatement.

Soldiers force a homeless man to empty his beer can in Johannesburg
Soldiers force a homeless man to empty his beer can in Johannesburg

He has been modelling the extent to which the alcohol ban has been responsible for the decline in those numbers for South Africa’s Medical Research Council.

“If we end the prohibition on alcohol sales, we’re going to see about 5,000 alcohol admissions in trauma units coming back into the system [each week],” he predicted.

Police minister ‘gone rogue’

The fact that those 5,000 extra hospital beds now stand empty could soon prove invaluable if the pandemic – which has been held, impressively, in check here for several weeks – begins to spread again exponentially, as government advisors predict it may.

But medical experts, while urging the government to keep the alcohol ban in place, also point out that heavy drinking weakens the immune system and may have a particular effect on respiratory conditions.

“Covid-19 is going to have a more severe impact on heavy drinkers… and in South Africa many people live in crowded conditions.

“So, alcohol sales… may increase community transmission [as people often drink socially]… and we’re likely to see an increase in gender-based violence and harm towards children,” warned Professor Parry.

Alcohol and Covid-19:. World Health Organization's advice [ Avoid alcohol altogether ],[ If you drink keep it to a minimum ],[ Immune system weakened by alcohol, especially if you drink heavily ],[ Reduces ability to cope with infectious diseases ],[ Can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome ],[ Drinking also increases risk of domestic violence ], Source: Source: WHO, Image: Glasses of alcohol
Alcohol and Covid-19:. World Health Organization’s advice [ Avoid alcohol altogether ],[ If you drink keep it to a minimum ],[ Immune system weakened by alcohol, especially if you drink heavily ],[ Reduces ability to cope with infectious diseases ],[ Can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome ],[ Drinking also increases risk of domestic violence ], Source: Source: WHO, Image: Glasses of alcohol

But how to enforce such a draconian and unprecedented clampdown for five weeks, or possibly more if South Africa’s lockdown, due to end on 30 April, is extended once again?

The man responsible for policing the new prohibition has provoked anger in some quarters by appearing to encourage the security forces to take heavy-handed, and potentially illegal, action against those caught breaking the rules.

There have already been numerous worrying examples, including the alleged beating to death of a man caught drinking in his own yard.

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Police Minister Bheki Cele, well-known for his abrasive language and his swaggering enthusiasm for the alcohol ban, recently warned that his forces would “destroy the infrastructure where the liquor is sold”.

“It’s deeply concerning when you have senior political leaders encouraging police officers to use violence or force, or to break the law. It seems as if the police minister has gone rogue,” said Gareth Newham, a crime expert at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

Traditionally brewed beer in popular, especially in rural areas
Traditionally brewed beer in popular, especially in rural areas

South Africa’s alcohol industry initially sought to challenge the ban in court, arguing that it was unconstitutional and introduced without consultation. It has since backed down.

But while many in the industry acknowledge the importance of supporting national efforts to fight the virus, there is frustration about a “one-size-fits-all” approach that is causing significant damage to many businesses.

‘It could be game over’

“It’s not looking good at all,” said Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, the country’s first black female brewery owner and chair of South Africa’s Beer Association, who fears her small business may go under if the ban continues for much longer.

“The arguments against lifting the ban do make sense. A lot of people are unemployed and use alcohol as a get-away drug,” she acknowledged, but she said a more sophisticated approach – perhaps allowing limited alcohol sales – could save her industry from collapse.

Cards and beer bottles lie on the floor following a security force raid in a Johannesburg suburb
Cards and beer bottles lie on the floor following a security force raid in a Johannesburg suburb

“It could be game over for us,” agreed Nick Smith, an American who owns a craft brewery outside Cape Town.

“This one-size-fits-all rule is having a major impact on smaller businesses like ours,” added Mr Smith.

Rise in home brewing

That argument is echoed by South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is in favour of a “smart lockdown model” that would allow people to buy alcohol for a few hours each day.

But another party, the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has called the DA’s proposal “murderous” and “racist” since the current ban appears to be having the most positive impact on health in poorer, largely black, communities.

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Many people have compared South Africa’s prohibition to the US’s famous, decade-long crackdown which began in 1920 in response to campaigning by religious and moral groups, and was immortalised by Hollywood in films like Some Like It Hot and The Untouchables.

As with Chicago’s notorious gangster, Al Capone, there are concerns that the alcohol ban could push the sector here into the hands of criminals who already control a lucrative chunk of South Africa’s cigarette industry.

“The longer the lockdown goes on, the more criminal networks will be able to entrench their ability to sell and distribute alcohol,” confirmed Gareth Newham, warning that the government was already losing a fortune in taxation because of the ban.

Alcohol consumption in South Africa:. [ 31% of people aged 15 and above drink ],[ 59% of them are heavy or binge drinkers ],[ 26% of alcohol is homemade or illegally produced ],[ Up to 60,000 of sale and distribution outlets are licensed ],[ About 120,000 are not ], Source: Source: 2018 WHO report and 2016 South African government report, Image:
Alcohol consumption in South Africa:. [ 31% of people aged 15 and above drink ],[ 59% of them are heavy or binge drinkers ],[ 26% of alcohol is homemade or illegally produced ],[ Up to 60,000 of sale and distribution outlets are licensed ],[ About 120,000 are not ], Source: Source: 2018 WHO report and 2016 South African government report, Image:

The ban has certainly tapped into deep undercurrents here in South Africa – a country with a history of apartheid where black citizens were once banned from drinking in public, and some workers were even paid in alcohol, causing huge social problems.

“We, South Africans, don’t have a good relationship with alcohol. Over the years, it’s something that has to a certain extent got out of control,” said Ms Nxusani-Mawela.

But as things stand, one aspect of the ban does appear to be uniting people from different walks of life. It has created a new enthusiasm for home brewing, which has always been a firm fixture in rural communities.

Videos and recipes for pineapple beer and the more traditional corn and sorghum known as “umqombothi”, are now being widely touted on social media, alongside warnings that such drinks, if wrongly prepared, could prove dangerous.

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus
Banner image reading ‘more about coronavirus’

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Is the Maximum Pressure Campaign Working with Iran?

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Working with and Supporting Teaching Assistants

Throughout the course of my Masters’ and PhD, I was Teaching Assistant across five undergraduate modules. Now in my capacity as a Module Leader I recognise and try to act on my responsibility to support and develop the Teaching Assistants (TA) on my modules in the following ways. Often, initial contact occurs the week immediately before teaching begins and can be focused on the practical details of module structure and administration. But as important as these are, I suggest it’s also worthwhile to find out what teaching experience your TA(s) have (both in general and of your particular module or topic) and to understand why they are teaching.

My point here is that the support needs of someone teaching for the first time will be different from someone with extensive experience, but conversely, a more experienced TA is more likely to be in the final stages of their PhD with all the pressures that this entails. In terms of why they are teaching, gaining experience and/or supplementing their income may impact on how much support they are interested in, or additional work they are willing to undertake – such as an Higher Education Academy Fellowship. Having gained some context, your TA probably needs, wants or would appreciate the following:

Remember that whilst you may be the face of your module, you TA will probably be your students’ main point of contact through their seminars, office hours and assessment feedback. As such, make sure they know what key messages you want them to get across in Week 1 regarding module format, content and assessment. Beyond the specifics of the first seminar, depending on their experience they may also appreciate practical classroom tips for overcoming silences or exercise ideas such as icebreakers. The British International Studies Association Post Grad Network teaching blog is a good resource here as is Teaching Politics & International Relations by Gorman et al (2012). Other top TA tips include: suggesting they apply for an inspection copy of the core textbook; ensuring they have access to any online learning environments and other dept. resources; advising them on handling student emails and how to use their office hours.

See if you can get a copy of the TA role descriptor and check whether your dept. pays TAs prep time.  If not, then you as the module leader are expected to provide lesson plans regardless of whether you are taking seminars yourself. Even if they are paid, chances are (as we all know from experience) teaching prep will take up more time than TAs are paid for. So, if you can, support them by providing in advance and explaining your lesson plan and any reading notes or class room activities. But don’t just hit send. Ensure they know how much latitude they have to develop or depart from your plans, or whether you expect them delivered as written. What you consider to be a comprehensive plan may be incomprehensible to them, so check their understanding where possible.

Let TAs know what expectations they should have of students in an ideal world, but also what are they are likely to encounter on the day in the room. In addition, what expectations do you have of your TA and what sort of support and contact can they expect from you as the module leader going forwards? Make sure that your intention of giving them autonomy, does not come across as benign neglect! How hands on or light touch do you plan to manage them, what sorts of student queries, emails or admin are they responsible and which will you handle? Generally, my position is that TAs are the main point of contact for our students in terms of seminar admin, content, the readings and assessment feedback, but questions regarding the lectures, module administration and structure should come to me.

Ensure TAs understand how assessment will be run i.e.: what advice and support they could/should be giving to students; what advice you as the module leader will be giving students; how marking, and moderation/second marking will be conducted; what the turnaround time is; and what your expectations are of their feedback in terms of length and format (summative and/or formative). Generally, I try to meet face to face with my TAs at least twice. First, immediately before teaching starts and the second time is during marking, especially if there is a team of TAs teaching and marking.

Last but by no means least, remind them their role as TA is to facilitate student learning through reflection and discussion – they are not expected to know everything about the topic. Providing reassurance can also mean (subject to your other commitments) offering to do peer observations and talking TAs through any mid semester informal feedback.

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Ed Harris as Atticus Finch: Actor talks making “To Kill a Mockingbird” role his own, working with new cast

Four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris is taking on the cherished and challenging role of Atticus Finch in the Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The actor, known from “Apollo 13” and HBO’s “Westworld,” spoke with CBS News contributor Jamie Wax at the Schubert Theater about making the role his own.

When Harries got a phone message from producer Scott Rudin asking if he wanted to play Atticus, his heart started going “boom, boom, boom,” he said.  

“You read the play and (Aaron) Sorkin’s take on it, and it’s so different in the terms of who this man is and what he’s dealing with and how he is trying to maintain his sense of goodness and tolerance … in this world of hate and prejudice,” Harris said.

“It’s a little more flawed and tortured than we’re used to with Atticus,” Wax said.

“Definitely,” Harris said. “Which I was glad of because you don’t feel obligated to play this kind of perfect man.”

The story “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one many know well: Finch, a small-town lawyer, puts his family and reputation on the line to defend a black man in 1930s Alabama. The character has long been recognized for his strong morals and courage.

The role as adapted by Sorkin was formerly played by actor Jeff Daniels, earning him a Tony nomination. Harris chose not to see the production before stepping into the part.

“I didn’t want to be influenced by it,” he said. “It’s such an individual kind of experience to portray any given character.”

Director Bartlett Sher has full confidence in Harris. “Ed will be able to take a completely different take on it. … It’s just as rich, just as moving,” he said the night of Daniels’ final curtain call.

Beyond Daniels, there’s another Atticus performance that looms large for Harris: Gregory Peck in the 1962 film.

“It was in my head for a little while, but it really has disappeared,” Harris said. “When I read the script, I said, my main job is to be as much myself as Atticus as I can be.” 

He isn’t alone stepping into big shoes as this production approaches its second year. He’s part of a slew of new cast members joining the show this month, including the actors playing Tom Robinson, Jem and Scout Finch, and Dill Harris.

“We understand the responsibility of coming into the building and the responsibility of the show that we’ve been handed,” said Kyle Scatliffe, who plays Tom Robinson.

That responsibility has been made easier with Harris’ leadership. “Ed has been phenomenal just to watch and to be a collaborator with,” said Nick Robinson, who plays Jem Finch. He said it’s been “a treat” to see the way Harris works. 

“He’s such a generous scene partner and just so giving and really hard on himself, too,” said Nina Grollman, who plays Scout Finch.

The admiration is mutual. “I really love them,” Harris said. “They’re really great. I love working with them.”

With over 40 years of experience both on the stage and in front of the camera, the actor knows those are the qualities needed when stepping into the theater.

“It’s all about your relationships with people at this very moment, right on stage, at this time,” he said. “If I’m not breathing and if I’m not inhabiting this space right now at this very moment, then I’m full of sh– and I don’t want to do that.”

For Harris, the hope is that inhabiting this character for a new generation shines a light on the themes of Harper Lee’s story that goes beyond those who are already familiar with it.

“If it can help open anybody up to the world and to life and to being more generous and more open and more loving, then we’ve achieved something,” he said. 

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