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Faculty Profile: Sherry Steeley, Ph.D.

Dr. Sherry Steeley is a faculty member in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate program and has been very active in coaching faculty across the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies in best practices in virtual learning. We are lucky she is a member of the English Language Center (ELC) community.

Educational Background: Dr. Steeley holds a Ph.D. in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University, an M.A. in International Relations and Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from Mount St. Mary’s University, with several certificates and other training and in TEFL, instructional technology, special education, and other areas.

Why did you enter teaching?: I started my professional career working in the area of international economic and social development, moving into economic policy; after a number of years, I felt that the most effective work that I  personally could do was at the micro rather than macro level, in the classroom, effecting positive change at the individual level. After training for a career switch, my first teaching job was in a program for Adult English as an Additional Language for refugees and new arrivals.  I built on this experience by teaching English at levels ranging from high school, family literacy, community college academic programs, graduate English, and then teacher education. Much earlier high school and college jobs ranging from tutoring, clerking, lifeguarding, to even a summer of factory work. Each provided important socio-cultural experiences that continue to impact her views on economic and social realities.

What is your favorite course(s) to teach and why?: Working with current and future teachers in the TEFL online and practicum courses, as well as working with teachers from around the world in our international programs is incredibly important and satisfying. Idealism drew me to this profession, and I sincerely believe we make a difference in the lives of our students; the future teachers I work with will impact their own learners for years to come. In that sense, my courses have a ripple effect, each semester generating more teachers who will empower their own students and contribute to local, national, and international cross-cultural, cross-linguistic, transnational understandings. It is particularly rewarding to do this work at Georgetown, where Jesuit principles further enliven the principles of work in this field.

Do you have any research interests in the field of English Language Teaching?: Early in my career, including in my doctoral research, I focused a great deal on teacher identity, as individual perspectives shape a teacher’s view of students, and students in turn respond to expectations, whether positive or negative. In our commitment to social justice in education – with English language teaching on the front lines, shaping equity and outcomes – understanding teacher beliefs is critical. Subsequently, I also explored how, in the process of ELT teacher education, a paradigm shift can occur, as teachers develop new perspectives on their role in TESOL. This is of great interest with teachers in the U.S. and internationally. For numerous years, I also researched the experiences of twice marginalized students and families in U.S. schools, culminating in a book, Voices from Around the IEP Table. I have always attempted to frame my research in ways that generate insights into our field that can inform individual and practical perspectives.

How would you describe your approach to teaching and learning?: A constructivist, student-centered approach and developing open communication in an inclusive and diverse professional learning community is an absolutely essential aspect of professional learning.   Affording students the opportunity to exchange ideas openly and respectfully facilitates a high level of learning, for all of us in the professional community, so cultivating a spirit of openness and interactive learning among course materials, students, students and professors, and applied assignments reflects best practices.  Incorporating student perspectives on coursework and life experiences, and empowering them to make decisions about their approach to the professional field is also crucial for authentic learning that will be useful to them as they progress in their professional trajectory.  Student exchanges in a professional learning community also allows students to consider experiences and perspectives that are different from their own, that can further enrich professional approaches and opportunities.

Author Regan Carver is a program manager with the English Language Center.