Southern Vermont is remarkable in so many ways, but having large numbers of people learning English as a second language is not one of them. It was imperative for the students in the TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) Certificate teaching practicum, which involves six hours of observed classroom teaching, to find some. Fortunately Mary Scholl, TESOL instructor at the Marlboro College Center for Graduate and Professional Studies, is also director of Centro Espiral Mana, a language school and teacher training organization in Costa Rica.
“We wanted to provide an authentic teaching experience where Marlboro students had to respond to the language-learning needs of students from a different linguistic and cultural background,” said Beverley Burkett, director of the TESOL graduate program and instructor for the TESOL Certificate. Twelve students went to Centro Espiral Mana with Beverley during spring break for eight intense days of preparation and teaching.
The Marlboro students took a project-based approach to lesson planning and design that involved using English to learn about and protect the local environment. In particular they focused on the nature and environmental issues associated with a trail along the local river that had been developed by town government to promote awareness and conservation.
“We were excited about not only teaching English but also contributing to increased environmental awareness and sustainable job opportunities for local inhabitants,” said Bev. “One local teenager said, ‘We learned English, but most of all we learned how to look after our river.’”
“When we first arrived, our students knew a few phrases, but they mostly knew isolated vocabulary,” said sophomore Louisa Jenness. “We worked a lot on forming sentences. Hearing our students start to express themselves for the first time was a beautiful thing.”
Junior Ben Glatt said, “For me, the highlight of the trip were those moments standing in front of the students when they really got it. That joy of discovery was amazing both to witness and to be a part of.”
“The Marlboro TESOL students worked together in cohesive groups and never missed a beat in a very tight schedule of work. I was really proud of them,” said Bev. “One student said he had learned that ‘It’s not about me.’ That summed up the miracle that I witnessed— the group shifted from focusing on themselves and their needs to being teachers responsible for the learning of others. Remarkable!”
The trip to Costa Rica was just one of three international trips that brought Marlboro students to new horizons over spring break. Students in a course on Cuban history spent nine days immersed in their subject, joining anthropology professor Carol Hendrickson and American studies professor Kate Ratcliff on a field research trip to Havana. Five other students explored mosques, palaces, and markets in Turkey with art history professor Felicity Ratte and ceramics professor Martina Lantin, part of their course on ceramic tiles in Seljuk and Ottoman architecture.