Learning to teach English to speakers of other languages

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Students prepare for their service-learning class within the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate program.
Students prepare for their service-learning class within the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate program.

Linguist Emily Feuerherm finished the fall semester buoyed and heartened by the students in her service-learning class.

The course, a seminar and practicum within the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate program, is designed to help UM-Flint students fine-tune their teaching skills by contributing within the community. It required nearly 30 hours of teaching and another six hours a week in the classroom.

Emily Feuerherm, PhD | Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Emily Feuerherm, PhD | Assistant Professor of Linguistics

“The motivation of these students is really striking,” said Feuerherm, assistant professor in the Linguistics Program and director of the Bridge Program in the English department at the university. “They all want to teach abroad; they want to teach English and travel and learn other languages. They each want to explore the world and contribute to others in ways that are meaningful and adventurous.”

The class’s ten students divided into groups and taught English to non-native speakers at three separate sites—the Genesee Intermediate School District, the Richfield Public School Academy, and within the English Language Program (ELP) at UM-Flint.

At the school district, the students worked with adult immigrants who are working toward U.S. citizenship. There, the UM-Flint students developed the course, combining English language instruction with civics education to prepare their students for the citizenship test. At Richfield Public School Academy, the UM-Flint students supported the school’s teachers, working in small groups of second- to fifth-graders. At the ELP, UM-Flint students provided tutoring and workshops to international students enrolled at the university but still needing help with their English language skills.

Katie DeGennaro, who graduated this semester and developed a passion for teaching English to non-native speakers during her time at UM-Flint, recently landed a job teaching English in South Korea. She learned how to manage students in a group and factor their personal lives into her teaching in Feuerherm’s class.

“The class was like an internship,” said DeGennaro, who worked with second-graders at the academy. “It was about making an impact on people, and changing their view on language and the world; it was a great way to learn.”

Feuerherm added, “The class is intense, and there is a lot of co-learning that goes on—a lot of social interaction. The students are able to learn from each other at the end of the class and to share what they learned at the different sites.”

In October, the entire class presented at the Michigan TESOL Conference in Ypsilanti, which drew professionals in the field from throughout the state.

Courtney Lee, a student, called the conference “amazing.” She implemented what she learned at the conference into her classroom teaching, such as having different and additional materials for students at different levels of the learning process.

“I learned a lot from the sessions and the teachers,” she said.

DeGennaro said building the conference into the class structure was beneficial to the students, particularly to those who will teach.

“I think it was really important that we went as a class to present. When you are a teacher, you have to be comfortable in front of people and comfortable giving speeches,” she said.

Feuerherm said the conference not only builds students’ confidence but also highlights that they are already contributing to the field.

“I want them to recognize themselves as part of the field,” Feuerherm added. “Several people attending the conference were teaching service-learning courses and were very interested in learning from our students’ perspectives and how they viewed the service-learning practicum.”

The course is the final class in the TESOL Certificate Program at UM-Flint.

“I couldn’t be more proud of each of these students,” said Feuerherm. “They are all dedicated to being the best teachers they can be.”

Robert is a staff writer in University Communications & Marketing. Contact him with comments, questions, and story ideas.