Former Community College Professor Jane Theifels describes several initiatives she has led as an EL Specialist for the US State Department…
May of 2011 was approaching, a magic date for me, the time of my retirement from 32 years of ESL Teaching at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
However, instead of staring ahead at a blank screen, I held two future prospects on my horizon. First, I was now a registered nurse, having studied in my college’s two-year evening nursing program, while teaching during the day. I was following my dream of going on medical missions to other countries. Secondly, I enrolled in the English Language Specialist Program sponsored by the US State Department and Georgetown University.
I discovered the EL Specialist Program at a TESOL information session. I knew it would be a perfect fit for me on retirement. I would become part of a database where I could be notified of English opportunities abroad, ranging from two weeks to several months. These opportunities would arise when a Ministry of Education in a particular country approached the US Embassy there asking for an English Language Specialist to fill a special need.
In 2014 I answered a request to go to Togo to do teacher training in interactive methodology in the capital, Lomé, and in three villages outside the capital. Fifty chosen teachers came to each village training from afar and were lodged for the 4 days in retreat houses. Four Togolese teacher trainers also each had a session on one of the conference days. My focus was on Active Grammar, the Interactive Classroom, Writing, Learning Styles, and Gender Equality. The response was overwhelmingly positive for all of us.
In 2016 there was a request to go to Benin for six weeks and travel throughout the country conducting a survey of English language teaching with the Assistant to the Minister of Higher Education and a retired English Language Inspector. This survey was to pave the way for the introduction of English in the public primary schools. Five weeks later the three of us handed in our extensive report, and now there is a pilot program with 72 trained teachers of English in the first and second grades of the public primary schools.
The request to travel to Djibouti came in 2017, this time requiring curriculum development over a two-month period. After meeting with English coordinators, it was determined that the 9th grade book be rewritten, and our team of two Djiboutian curriculum developers and I did just that. The book is now hot-off-the-press for use this school term.
My Djiboutian contract also stipulated a return for two weeks to do teacher training in interactive methodology and teacher observations. In fact, I am writing this on the airplane on my trip back to the U.S. after those amazing two weeks in Djibouti.
I say to you that if you want to see the world and deeply immerse yourself in a new culture while working alongside new colleagues on a creative and meaningful task, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with the EL Specialist Program. Each assignment opens a new world where you and your new colleagues share your expertise and bond together. You emerge from these experiences with new friends, new vistas, new cultural awareness and a mutual contribution that enhances English teaching in the country. Try it! You’ll love it!