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TEFL Certificate Graduates Making a Difference as ESL Teachers

The English Language Center (ELC)’s philosophy of education, advancement, and community is embodied by the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate program. First launched in 2008 as part of Georgetown University’s Center for Language Education and Development, and then in 2017 as part of the ELC, the TEFL Certificate program has given its students the opportunity to make their mark in classrooms across the world as ESL/EFL teachers.

The TEFL Certificate is an entry-level teaching credential that integrates online and in-person courses with hands-on learning. TEFL students undertake student teaching as part of their curriculum, after classroom observation and lesson planning, and thus need no prior teaching experience to apply. They graduate with a teaching portfolio in hand, showcasing the skills they have acquired, as well as the teaching philosophy and instructional materials they have personally developed over the course of the 15-week program.

“I am confident that future students will continue to bring their diverse life experiences and perspectives to bear on the course and in the international TEFL/TESL profession,” says Dr. Sherry Steeley, an associate professor at the ELC who helped launch Georgetown’s TEFL program. Prior to her work at Georgetown, Steeley worked extensively in international teacher education as a designer, instructor, and researcher, and has extensive ESL/EFL teaching experience herself.

“Over the 12 years of successfully preparing teachers to move into teaching language learners, there have been so many satisfying moments, usually related to student ‘Aha!’ moments when linkages between theory and real life applications occur,” Steeley says. “Students in the GU TEFL program bring a broad array of experience and professional and education backgrounds … I continue to learn with and from my students every semester, and their passion and enthusiasm for working with learners in the U.S. and abroad continue to inspire me.”

For Jean Aden, a former student of Steeley’s who graduated from the TEFL program in 2013, the journey to the TEFL program has been a lifelong one. Aden had her first brush with teaching after college; moving to Indonesia for two years, where Aden taught English in Indonesian universities, sparking her interest in TEFL. She went on to attain her master’s degree, worked in Southeast Asia for six more years, and started her career in international development. After retiring in 2011, Aden taught several courses on international development and environment in Asia at Georgetown University and the Foreign Service Institute, but knew something was missing from her teaching.  

“I was becoming aware of the steep rise in numbers of immigrants with limited English proficiency in the Washington, DC area and their difficulty accessing education and living wages,” Aden says. “I decided I wanted to go back to my roots and help immigrants with English, this time in my own country and with knowledge of ESL teaching theory and best practices. While researching TEFL programs in the Washington area, I had the good fortune to meet Sherry Steeley at an information session at Georgetown, and made up my mind that the TEFL program was the way to go.”

Although it was her first experience with an online learning environment, Aden felt she was able to connect with her fellow students and professor and maintain a sense of classroom community.

“I was really pleased that, rather than dissociating students from the instructor and from each other, Sherry’s course brought us together,” Aden says. “The course included periodic optional in-person sessions at Georgetown which allowed students to come on campus and get to know her and fellow students.  We shared a blog that also helped us get to know each other and learn from fellow students’ questions and answers.” 

Aden’s first teaching role after graduating from the TEFL Cert. program was in Myanmar (formerly Burma), then in its early stage of independence from military rule. She joined a John Hopkins University team working towards restoring academic freedom at Yangon University, in Kamayut, Yangon, by re-introducing English language courses and bringing in teachers from abroad.

“I particularly recall a class session in which our students (university instructors, military officers and civil society leaders), were assigned to sit in a circle, communicate alternative solutions to environmental damage near Yangon and reach a consensus that would accommodate alternative perspectives,” Aden says. “The atmosphere was tense because it involved problem solving by social elements that had never tried to solve problems together.  Students later told me it was a unique and exciting experience for them, because it involved free exchange directed at problem solving.

Since then, Aden has applied her TEFL skills to volunteer work as an English teacher’s assistant at Washington English Center and Montgomery College’s Refugee Training Center, as well as coaching work with immigrants at REEP/Arlington Education & Employment Program.

Wynter Oshiberu, who graduated from the TEFL program in 2015, also says her interest in English language teaching was sparked at a young age. 

“My passion for languages started when I was a child and eventually developed into an undergraduate degree in International Affairs with a Concentration on Cultures and Societies,” she says. “As I navigated my career journey I realized I wanted to further my education and focus on languages, in particular second language acquisition in English. I really appreciated the [TEFL] hybrid program which allowed me to collaborate with my peers in an online and a classroom setting.”

Oshiberu, although at first nervous about the student teaching practicum, was ultimately excited to apply the teaching methods and structures she had learned in her online classes in-person. 

“It was the most rewarding experience because it helped me feel confident in a teaching setting,” she says. “We started off by presenting lessons and ideas to our peers and receiving constructive feedback then we moved into the classroom setting … Although this portion of the program was challenging, it helped me feel at ease.”

Oshiberu currently teaches ESOL at the International Center for Language Studies as well as Paper Airplanes Inc., and says she enjoys learning and growing with each new set of students.

“I absolutely love being in the classroom and learning about the small things that make each student different from the next learner,” she says. “I enjoy the challenges and the feedback that I receive from my students because it helps me grow as an educator… When the students recognize that I see them as a whole person and not just a language learner, then the dynamics in the classroom shift drastically and the learning process truly begins.”

In addition to working as a teacher, Oshiberu has led curriculum and program development focusing on organizations that serve individuals impacted by conflict and trauma.

Both Aden’s and Oshiberu’s journeys with the TEFL program and beyond reflect a commitment to education, service, and Georgetown’s Jesuit values of being men and women for others. As they and hundreds of their fellow graduates continue their work as teachers, curriculum developers, and volunteers, their positive impact will expand exponentially.   

“A great ESL/EFL teacher is a lifelong learner with a passion for language, culture, and making a difference in the world,” Steeley concludes. “Whether students are native or non-native speakers, we have a lot to learn from each other, particularly as the global community becomes increasingly interdependent.”

Author Meena Raman (’20) is a graduating senior in Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.