Monday, November 03, 2008

What’s it like to be an….ELS Instructor/Academic Counselor?

What does a normal day look like? Is it consistent throughout the year? If youíve had this position for a while, how have things changed? 
Iíve only been in this job for two months Ė and Iím loving it!  I teach an English class that is specifically designed for international students so we talk about American academic culture, culture shock, and how to juxtapose home cultures with school cultures.  This class meets three times a week for one hour.  The rest of my time is spent meeting with students who are on academic probation, advising my English students, and designing my next lesson.  Each day is different.  This job is only a Ĺ time job, but I spend most of my day at work creating and developing ideas.

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job? How did you get to where you are now?
All throughout high school I worked as a janitor, stock girl, and pipe-cutter.  Doing those jobs helped me realize that I wanted to do something different than manual labor.  During college I was a student manager at the college cafeteria and a sales manager for a greenhouse during the summer.  I also continued to work as a pipe-cutter and got to learn how to weld at the same time.  These jobs were better because I trained and managed people and designed new ways of completing tasks.  Having more responsibility was enjoyable and really stretched my mind as I learned how to deal with people, meet deadlines, and accomplish goals. 

After college I ended up teaching English writing in China, which really stretched me.  I learned that I love verbal bantering and that living in a foreign country was fun and educational, but I needed a workplace which engaged me verbally.  I taught high school English in Canada for three years after that and learned real quick that teachers donít have their summers free (not good teachers, anyways) and the job is exhausting and rewarding.  I got to design how the students were to learn and then experiment, throwing out the bad and working on the good.  Since Iím an introvert, meaning I can do the people-thing all day, but I definitely need down time at night, I decided to take a year off from high school teaching and go back to school to get my masters.

And now Iím here.  I am teaching at the same college where I got my masters of education.  I get to work with international students and learn about their cultures.  Iím designing new ways of teaching American academic culture and Iím helping students succeed in a new environment.

What kind of training/education did you have? What would you suggest? What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?
I had a Bachelor of Arts degree when I left to teach in China and since then have acquired a Master of Education degree with a focus in Curriculum Design and Instructional Theory.  My travels (15 countries in the past 13 years Ė and Iím only 27!) have added greatly to what I do with international students because I understand what it means to live and interact in another culture, to learn another language, to encounter culture shock. 

The biggest asset I have is that I love to learn.  Iím forever taking courses or classes in other languages, the arts, technology, or Iím reading about science and business news.  Every time I encounter something new I have to readjust my thinking and redefine myself to adapt to this new knowledge.  This love for learning helps me to remain flexible, open, and ready for new adventures. 

What are the rewards in your position? Challenges? What makes a good day for you?

Rewards?  Just this morning one of my students told me that he just completed his first ever American culture-type thesis and his professor liked it.  The smile on his face was huge.  And the fact that he told me this news tells me that he feels comfortable around me.  The challenge to get him to this point was helping him see that cultures have different ways of writing.  Neither his nor American culture is better than the other, but each type of writing has its place.  Helping someone see outside their own culture is difficult because weíve all been taught that our culture is the best (and sometimes only) way to see the world.

What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5-10 years? 

Thereís a lot more immigration going on, so I see my job growing.  This class I teach is in its first year so Iím developing it.  Also, because of the world being more global, I see an increase in the number of international students at the college level.  These students have great opportunities to learn about another culture, to enrich American culture with their diversity, and then go home and make an impact in their environments.  Perhaps Iím biased, but I think the students I teach will have far more potential to make a difference simply because they understand culture and have the ability to see outside of themselves.

How could a person find out more about your field?
Just ask.  My specific situation is new, but thereís lots of research and opportunity in this field.  There is also a great need for ESL instructors/bilingual teachers in elementary and high schools. 

When you were growing up, did you have any interests that you have built into your work?
Iíve always had an interest in other cultures since I traveled to Mexico when I was fourteen.  Whenever I travel I make it a point to experience the culture through eating the food, learning the language (if I can), using the local transportation, etc.  This wanderlust wonít subside in me so Iíve got a list of places to see that Iíve been slowly crossing off.  These experiences allow me to connect with students in ways Iíve not been able to forsee.

How do your beliefs and values or worldview perspectives impact what you do at work?
This answer is for a different question, but has to do with faith and values.  Until I lived in China, I didnít really realize how much I had intertwined my church beliefs with my cultural beliefs.  One church belief that came out of my upbringing is that Sunday is a day of rest.  No shopping.  No going to coffee.  Just hanging out at home with friends and family.  When I went to China, the only day were allowed to go grocery shopping was Sunday.  According to my tradition, I could either choose to have my day of rest on Sunday and starve, or I could sin and have a full stomach.  I chose both.  I made Saturday my day of rest and went grocery shopping on Sunday. 

This example is really small and not that big of a deal, but there were other examples that taught me how to examine my faith and flesh out what was a result of my faith and what was a result of my culture.  Although Iím still growing and changing every day in my beliefs, I now have a clearer idea of what my faith means to me and how it plays out in my work.  I am no longer bound to cultural traditions that are supposedly ďholyĒ and therefore more able to interact with my students and commune with other beliefs from different cultures. 


Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 11/03 at 11:10 AM

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