Thursday 26 November 2020

Masters in Teaching English as an Additional Language

    Today I graduate with immense satisfaction. After a 23-year hiatus from post-secondary education, I returned for a master’s degree. When I last graduated, with a B.A. and a teaching program, the internet was barely a thing. I no longer remember the specifics, but I logged onto a particular university database and a statistical software program with mysterious codes and instructions. Then in 2018, I began a two-year online program.

    Fortunately, from 1995-2018, I hadn’t been living in a cave without access to technology. Therefore, I had some knowledge of how online learning worked. My steepest learning curve was online research. Manoeuvring the online library and databases might be easier now but without any instructions it wasn’t exactly obvious either. Ironically, the last couple of courses I took came with some great tips, tricks, and advice from the experts.

    I had been wanting to do my master’s degree for a long time, but I was lacking the necessary resources. Then a door opened. I squeezed through and took a leap! Any number of crises could have happened that I would have been unprepared for, and then I quite possibly would have regretted my decision. Despite a global pandemic, my life remained crisis free and the results of my decision to leap have been all positive.

    I mention this struggle because I think that it is important for us educators who are privileged enough to get the schooling that we need and/or want, to remember that circumstances can be drastically different for others. During my 25 years as a teacher, I have seen many instances of how privilege can create systemic biases in our teaching institutions. The vast majority of times, these biases aren’t questioned. In a recent news story, a B.C. mom went to the media about a homework assignment her daughter had been given. Her child was asked to list 5+ positive stories or effects of the BC residential school system. It is a horrendously offensive error that I can imagine being made by someone who is privileged enough to not realize that using ‘focus on the positives’ mindset that is common and useful for privileged people, is not always appropriate or beneficial. Had this mother not gone to the media, I could see that this would be one of those unquestioned examples.

    My frustration with the negative effects that come from a lack of awareness for privileged bias, likely played a role in my choice of research for my capstone project that addresses a topic that could be extremely beneficial for both those that lack opportunities and resources and those who do not. Promoting metacognition among language learners can only be beneficial. Twenty-five years ago, I began teaching with a desire to deliver a fairer and less biased education than what I had experienced. I believe that along the way, I have stayed true to this passion despite the long hours if often required. Now, I am even better equipped to help my students help themselves long after their time of learning with me is over. I also have hope that I can influence other educators to be more responsive to the needs of those who do not come from circumstances that make the pursuit of post-secondary learning easy or realistic.

    When I applied for this masters program, I had to list what I hoped to gain from the experience. I remember that there were three main topics that I hoped to gain knowledge and understanding with. First, I wanted to better understand the unique needs of learners for whom English was not a first language and yet were being educated in English. Secondly, I had no idea how to teach grammar as it was not an area that I had specifically received instruction in as a K-12 learner. Additionally, I had not been taught anything about teaching grammar in my undergraduate pursuits. Yet, my experiences with English language learners had helped me understand that grammar needed to be addressed. Both of these topics were specifically and explicitly addressed in the University of Calgary’s M. Ed. program that specialized in English as an Additional Language. As a result, I certainly feel that I have a better understanding in these areas.

    The final inquiry that I listed was not specifically addressed, yet I have absorbed some ideas to answer it. I do realize this inquiry was a very tall order and not likely on the minds of too many other people. It was to understand how I might use technology to help disadvantaged learners around the world have better and more equal access to learning English as a foreign language. Although there clearly are not any obvious and specific answers to this question, I do feel that I have some very good ideas on how I can pursue some possible solutions that might address this query.

    Although I would have loved to have flown out to the University of Calgary and attended my well-earned convocation, a virus decided otherwise. I guess it is fitting that after completing an online degree, I attended an online convocation. Either way, I benefit. I have learned, evolved and grown as a person. Today I am proud of myself.

    I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge all the help and support that I have had on my journey. I thank my professors for teaching what they knew. I am immensely grateful for those professors that went beyond the basics and gave feedback, encouragement, and advise. Thank you to my cohort of peers who were such amazing people. Not only was I able to learn form these wonderful and brilliant individuals, I was also able to share and bounce ideas around with them. Thank you to my daughter, family, and friends who were patient and supportive with me when I had a lot on my plate. Thank you to my references. One of my biggest hurdles was asking two fabulous individuals to be my references. It is incredibly hard for me to ask other to do things for me. It was my first hurdle in this achievement, and I am grateful for their graciousness. Thank you to my students who gave me purpose, practice, and passion!