I have taught everyone from 3 years to adults, everywhere from public high schools to private elementary schools to extracurricular settings to a vocational college, on four continents. I have taught everything from private lessons to classes of fifty students, from general academic English to Content-Based Instruction musical theatre classes. I have taught in technologically advanced classrooms and at schools where I only had a chalkboard and no books. By deliberating seeking out the range of teaching experiences I’ve had, I have developed an appreciation of both my core beliefs as a language teacher and the need for flexibility and local contextualization.
As a teacher I believe that every student, regardless of place of birth, family resources or social status, deserves quality English education and that it is my job to facilitate learning in the way that will be most effective in the local context. I believe that interactive, student-centered and creative teaching approaches are effective, but that it is my responsibility as a teacher to acclimatize my students to these techniques if they are unfamiliar and to create hybrid methods when necessary. I believe that students learn in different ways and that using multilingual and multimodal approaches can maximize learning opportunities. I believe that incorporating movement and the arts into language classes can engage students and facilitate greater fluency and deeper learning. I believe that I can help my students learn more quickly and effectively by helping them notice the patterns and systems inherent in language. I believe that English is intrinsically linked to uneven power dynamics, with a colonial legacy and a current globally dominant position. I believe that it is important to support students’ multilingual identities and to examine issues of social justice and identity in the classroom.
In Ecuador I taught grades 6, 8 and 12 at a public high school in the Andes. My classes were often 45 students, and the government had recently adopted a new curriculum. I focused on creating level-appropriate assignments and adapting the textbook material to fit the needs of my students. This led to me reducing the number of failing students from 173 the semester before I started, to just 6 out of 350. (In Ecuador, students must receive at least 70% to pass.) I also integrated Multiple Intelligences-based activities into my classes, which led to an increase of 1.38 points on a ten point scale in my sixth graders’ end of unit test scores. While in Ecuador, I learned to use Spanish effectively in my classes, drawing on the principles of plurilinguistic pedagogy, and collected student data to better understand my students’ learning.
In Thailand I taught grades 1-6 at a small public elementary school on the border with Myanmar, where over 90% of the students were Burmese migrants. My classes were small, with a range of 9-25 students, depending on the grade. I focused on developing highly interactive, multimodal lessons and giving my students individualized attention. Since all of my students spoke languages with non-roman alphabets, I used the Language Experience Approach to help them develop English-language literacy and collaborated with a local to teacher to help students personalize their learning through the creation of individualized multilingual vocabulary decks.
In Tanzania I taught in two different contexts: a public secondary school and a vocational college. In both I had large classes, of fifty or more students, and limited resources at my disposal. I learned to develop my own materials and design student-centered activities that could be done in large classes. At the secondary school I worked with students who were switching to English-medium instruction for the first time in their educational careers. I blended communicative teaching approaches with the more traditional methods the students were used to, in order to help them develop a solid foundation in academic English that they could use in their other classes. At the vocational college, I incorporated material from my students’ professions into reading, writing and conversation exercises, to improve their job-related communication skills. In both places I deliberately planned my board work so that my students’ notes would serve as mini textbooks that they could refer back to in the future.
In Korea I taught musical theatre in English in a variety of contexts, mostly to elementary school students. I used drama to help students develop their comfort and expressiveness communicating in English. In a context where students are used to rote memorization, the arts provided an avenue for students to loosen up and play with the language, which decreases their anxiety and allows for increased fluency. I also taught first and second grade math in English, using a Content Based Instruction approach.