For Yating “Sherry” Zhang ’19, a chemistry major, Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ new certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) comes at an opportune time to expand her career horizons. While looking for summer jobs in Beijing, she found “a huge demand for English teachers at both for-profit and non-profit [organizations]…At the same time, the TEFL Certification Program came out. I thought this is perfect.”
Zhang, who speaks English and Mandarin and is learning German, is a student in “Education 336: Second Language Acquisition,” one of the courses required for the certificate. Seventeen languages are represented among students in the class, and all students have either lived abroad or plan to do so.
According to Assistant Professor of Education Audrey Roberson, who is teaching the course, “Our discussions about language acquisition theories are really rich because we’ve had exposure to these processes ourselves as teachers and students, in settings across the world.”
Hobart and William Smith number among the few liberal arts institutions in the nation to offer a TEFL Certificate, an entry-level credential that is required for many jobs teaching English abroad. The increasing global demand for English language learning has driven for-profit entities to offer certificates that, according to Roberson, may not be sound, and there is no accrediting organization governing them.
Roberson explains that HWS is now “among those institutions answering the call to design rigorous certificate programs that truly prepare students to be successful in overseas teaching settings. In the Education Department we want all students who pursue the Certificate to be more than just a ‘backpacker teacher,’ or one who sets out to teach abroad with a sense of adventure, but maybe lacks training in pedagogy and intercultural communication.”
In 2016, Roberson began researching best practices and working with colleagues in applied linguistics to develop the Colleges’ TEFL Certificate Program. That work resulted in a curriculum with three areas of critical focus for students: a foundation in English linguistics, study and application of language teaching methods, and an understanding of the connections between language and culture. The program also includes a practicum in which students work alongside an experienced teacher in an international English language teaching setting.
This six-course sequence is one that Scott MacPhail, Health Professions and Fellowships Advisor, anticipates “will be of significant interest to a number of current and prospective students interested in the Peace Corps, Fulbright programs and traveling internationally, as well as teaching and working abroad.” In effect, the coursework “draws on the breadth of our liberal arts curriculum,” says Roberson, who will direct the program. “Students choose an elective that addresses the intersection of language and culture, and there are many departments that offer interesting courses. It also may appeal to the 60 percent of our students who study abroad, which is why the practicum is designed to be completed in many different types of classrooms.”
The certificate program does not count as a major or minor, nor toward New York State teacher certification, and students of any major and minor may apply.
Associate Professor of Education Mary Kelly, who chairs the Education Department, anticipates that some students may combine the certificate with the new major in Educational Studies, to “develop insight through practical, hands-on experience in international education. Furthermore, several faculty members have experience teaching and conducting research abroad, and now we can help prepare students to do the same.”
Interested students can download the TEFL certificate declaration form and schedule a meeting with Roberson.
Building on the Colleges’ natonal ranking as No. 1 in study abroad, says Roberson, and the “impressive record of students being awarded Fulbright scholarships and being accepted to the Peace Corps, the foundation in linguistics, pedagogy and intercultural communication that a TEFL Certificate provides will only enhance our globally engaged focus.”
In the above photo, Emily Surprenant ’15 teaches English to primary and secondary school students in Kosovo where she is a Peace Corps Volunteer.