Linguistics students get taste of teaching TESL in new context

A cohort of future teachers of English as a second language (ESL) will soon leave Brock with a few unexpected tools in their teaching toolboxes.

As part of both the Honours Applied Linguistics/Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program and the TESL Certificate program offered by the Department of Applied Linguistics, fourth-year students complete LING 4P80, Supervised Teaching.

In the full-year course, students typically observe 30 hours of ESL classroom teaching and, under the supervision of an experienced mentor, complete 20 hours of practice teaching.

But in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, all ESL classes and mentoring moved online — creating a highly unusual situation for intensive language instruction.

Instructor Glenn Ewing, who has been teaching in the field for more than 20 years, says that while the challenges were many, students were able to harvest a whole new skill set that will serve them in the future.

“One of the most important things they learned is that you need to be flexible,” he says. “ESL programs are very structured, but this year, everyone had to adapt to the unusual situation of teaching online and had to think on their feet quite a bit more than they might normally have had to do.”

Giuseppina Piccirillo, formerly a Brock ESL student herself, says her biggest takeaway from LING 4P80 was that there are some aspects of teaching that simply cannot be learned from books.

“Through my observation and practice teaching, I noticed how much patience is needed when teaching another language,” she says. “Teachers may need to repeat more than once or wait a long time before students are able to formulate an answer, and showing frustration only prevents students from participating in class.”

Now completing her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Linguistics/TESL, she says she is eager to support new language learners.

“Coming out of the ESL program at Brock, my goal was to help International students like me follow their dreams in a different country, with a different language,” says Piccirillo, who is originally from Italy. “By teaching English as a second language, people of all ages can overcome the language barrier and they can integrate into their new surroundings.”

Allyson Rossetto, a Brock ESL instructor and mentor for LING 4P80, says she had to adapt both her teaching and mentoring to the online context. She gives “full credit” to the ESL students and the student teachers for finding success in their online learning.

Rossetto is also a graduate of Brock’s TESL Certificate program and completed LING 4P80 as a student before becoming a mentor. She has seen the benefits of mentorship from both sides.

“I try to share some insight into how ESL students may react to things or point out possible issues they haven’t thought of in preparing a lesson,” she says. “Especially since I’ve been teaching ESL since 2002, it’s always very interesting to see new student teachers come in eager to try something new — it’s invigorating, and it allows me to rethink some of the things maybe I’ve done the same way for years.”

Ewing says the necessity of transitioning to online has opened up new possibilities in the field, and he’s happy that his students will be so well prepared to deal with it.

“It wasn’t really something I would have predicted a couple years ago, but it does seem now like hybrid models or online teaching models for ESL are going to become more common going forward,” he says. “Now there’s a market for that, so these students are very well positioned for working in those kinds of models.”

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