If you can read this sentence, it’s likely you owe your understanding of English to one of your many language teachers. Given your fluency, how well could you teach English to another person? Now imagine English isn’t your first language – how well would you be able to teach it then?
This is the challenge faced by 42 teachers studying at the University of Kentucky as part of the Go Teacher program sponsored by the Ecuadorian government. The scholarship program recruits teachers in Ecuador and sends them to the U.S. for intensive training.
Participants in the seven-month program are public school English teachers from every corner of Ecuador.
“During this time they will do two things,” explained Tom Clayton, executive director of UK's Center for English as a Second Language (CESL). “They study English to improve their skills and they also study contemporary techniques for English language teaching.”
“The whole idea of the program is to increase their English skills so when they go back to Ecuador they will be better teachers,” added Tina Durbin, assistant director of CESL.
The first half of this newly developed curriculum puts participants in the intensive English program in CESL, taking courses focusing on the four language skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. The second half focuses on language instruction, engaging the visiting teachers in courses on contemporary techniques for English language teaching, second language acquisition and sociolinguistics.
“In the second phase they study methods, how to teach language, also applied linguistics, culture and language,” said Jill Cargile, Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) director for the Go Teacher program.
As Ecuador continues to emerge as part of the global economy, its government has placed increased priority on improving English language skills for its students and citizens.
“Ecuador is one of the big players in South America, and they’re trying to raise the level of English teaching,” Cargile explained. “They see English as an avenue to help them compete globally. This is all funded by Ecuador. It’s very unusual and special. We’re happy to be a part of it. “I think it will have a real positive effect on Ecuador and the progress of their students.”
Participants in the Go Teacher program have a lot to say about the benefits offered by their time at UK.
“I appreciate being here to improve my English and my knowledge of technologies and methodologies for being a teacher," Susana Auquilla said. "After these seven months our English will be better and we can find better jobs and teach our students in a better way.”
Carla Cadena said her entire experience has been beneficial -- even outside the classroom. “You are going to grow emotionally because you are living in a new culture. We are not just learning English, we are learning a new lifestyle and culture. We will transmit these things to our students.”
Meanwhile, teachers and administrators in CESL value having the visiting Ecuadorian teachers in the classroom, pointing out that these adult learners are model students, bringing energy and diversity to CESL courses.
“They study really hard and raise the bar in our classes. They are teachers and are more motivated than the average student because they have more at risk. They have a positive effect and other students want to participate and be part of the energy of the classroom. It’s almost like having student colleagues in your classes,” Cargile explained.
“It has truly increased our diversity, which raises the level of using English as a foreign language,” Durbin said. “They’ve been great role models for our younger students.”
The Go Teacher scholarship program is a three-year contract with the University of Kentucky and other participating American institutions, administered through Kansas State University. The group of 42 Ecuadorian teachers that arrived in Lexington in January will be followed by a second cohort coming in late May.
In addition to their in work in the classroom and community at large, participants in the Go Teacher program play a vital role in helping CESL achieve its goals of increasing international development work and expanding the role of CESL in teacher training.
“That’s an important turn because we haven’t done so much in the past with teaching ESL,” Clayton explained. “It pushes us to make that transition to improve students’ skills as English language teachers.”
This program, then, not only gives visiting teachers the chance to learn new skills and make a contribution to their native Ecuador but also expands the limits for the CESL, offering exciting learning opportunities for students.