As I enter my second year in the PhD program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Vermont, I find myself standing in front of my own university classroom. My role is to engage my students in content that directly relates to my research interests and work experience. To do this, I welcome my responsibility to instruct this required English Language Learner (ELL) education course but also to invite these students into meaningful community involvement through service learning. Yet, the next day I am back to being the student again. In all of this, I am not alone, neither in my experience nor in my support from the faculty at UVM. This is the story of how I have been encouraged and supported into this position.
It is an interesting transition to join the world of educational academia without ever being a traditional teacher. I am surrounded by incredible and heroic teacher leaders who are now my classmates and peers. My teaching experience has been outside traditional school walls. I have taught adults who seek to become citizens, and I have used the outdoors to teach character development, but I don’t have a career of teaching in the K-12 arena. Yet three semesters into my experience at UVM, I have my own classroom and I have days where I am confident and days where I am less confident. Fortunately for this experience of becoming a professor, I have not been alone. Last semester, I was invited to join another professor to develop and teach this new course. I was prepared for the role of developing a class by my department by teaming up with a mentor for the process of development and instruction. I was able to meet weekly with my advisor to develop each class as well as having a hand in developing the trajectory of the class by working on the syllabus together and developing it into a service learning course.
The course is titled Citizenship and Education in the United States, and it is a core course for the Vermont ELL endorsement as well as the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate at the university. It is a service learning course which partners with a local non-profit organization that offers citizenship preparation courses for local New-Americans. The course covers current theories of language acquisition and literacy development, the acculturation impacts on learning, and the history of immigration and refugee resettlement in the United States. The service learning component requires students to work one on one with adult learners in an ELL context. Their tutoring role involves them in supporting a specific individual each week in a local citizenship preparation class covering all of the content required by the US citizenship interview. The goal of this experience is to put the material covered in class into real world context and enable them to practice skills and instructional strategies to support learning. For many of these students it is their first time in a classroom setting.
After a successful semester in which we even got a small amount of press, we concluded our course with ten students who raved about the content and experience of working with New Americans within the service learning portion of the class. The next step was to teach the course on my own, which I am in the midst of currently. And so I have days when I am confident and days when I am less so, but whenever I am feeling less confident, I have the encouragement and the wisdom of those around to me to instruct me on how to continue succeeding. I am not alone. There are days when I don’t always feel like I fit, but the program continues to support my development into that role of professor.