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Master's Program Teaches to Teach English as Second Language

The visiting South Korean teachers currently studying at the University of Kentucky are part of a long line of successful educational partnerships for the university’s Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) program. The experience for these teachers, however, is a bit different: they are the first to receive graduate credit by participating in UK’s newly formed master’s program in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).

“This is a brand new program. We got approval over the summer, and our first class arrived this fall,” said Francis Bailey, director of the TESL master’s program.

According to Bailey, the program is organized around the principle that you learn to teach by teaching: building experience in the classroom and reaching out to English language learners. “We’re recruiting teachers that have a real interest in language, but I think more importantly, are interested in making a difference in people’s lives,” he explained.

The curriculum for the master’s program is centered on three themes: reflective practice, inquiry, and experiential learning. These principles help build teachers who continually reflect on the practice of teaching, inform their work with research and use experiences to integrate theory in the classroom.

>>Listen to a podcast with Francis Bailey talking more about TESL

“For me a skilled teacher is someone who is compassionate, empathetic to people’s situations and skilled at creating classroom opportunities to learn language and culture. Language and culture are fused together, and meeting the needs of the learner is what really animates teaching,” Bailey said.

The group of South Korean teachers is participating in a hybrid program: first working in CESL to work on their language skills, then moving into the TESL program for their own professional development.

Bailey believes the program has been invaluable for improving both the skill level of participants and the academic environment of TESL at UK.

“It’s been amazing to work with the Korean teachers. They’re all certified, they’re all very well-prepared, and they’re often at a different place than our other students just coming into the field,” he explained. “They are professionals, and really came here to upgrade their English and teaching skills.”

Jiyoung Kong, a visiting elementary school teacher, describes her participation in the program as both educational and eye opening.

“I wanted to refresh myself, to build professional knowledge and communication competence,” she said. “It is a great chance for me to improve and to refresh myself with the energy I need to continue my career.”

Kong – who says she had never learned from specialists in English education or teacher education training – particularly appreciates the theories and practical applications she has learned in her TESL training. But the most surprising element of her education was an increased familiarity with new cultures.

“I had never been in contact with Arabic culture, and I found that it shares a lot with Asian culture. I learned a lot culturally. Topics in the second session came from social issues, and this was interesting and motivating,” she explained.

Participants in the program also engage in work in the Lexington community, working as volunteers in the Operation Read program at the Carnegie Center. “They’ve studied the English language and now they’re really giving something back,” Bailey said.

The program is an excellent example of the growing academic community in the College of Arts and Sciences and the outreach – both local and abroad – that characterizes the work of many departments. Visiting Korean teachers have benefited from the opportunity to study CESL at UK, and Kong in particular hopes others will follow in their footsteps.

“It is well-organized and we are improving in the program. I would definitely encourage others to participate. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t recommend this,” she said.