A Dialogue with International Graduate Students in New York (Part 1)

So, I’m going to begin with my general questions first because they haunt me. Maybe haunt is a strong word. But I’ll ask anyway because I feel safe in this “Uncharted” TESOL blog, which I christened. And, human motivations are very important to me.

Why do we decide to become TESOL teachers? What keeps us motivated and going, even though often it may not be as financially lucrative (at least here in NYC)) as we may have fantasized? Many of us find ourselves constantly challenged to keep abreast of cutting edge trends in our field, to keep our ideas fresh, to avoid falling into teacher fatigue. We are often chasing a fellowship, a grant, a title, a book, technology, the next gig, a class, a workshop, a professional development opportunity, or TEFL advocacy. Maybe we like hearing our own voices. Yet I believe we are heard. We may even be influencers helping to shape a more equitable educational world.

So, why did we become TESOL teachers? Perhaps, at some point in our journey, we fell in love with language, were enticed by the idea of teaching and education, accidentally discovered a passion on our sojourns abroad, found freedom from a 9-5 corporate environment, or found a pathway for the eternal learner within, to express itself, to co-construct an invisible “home,” a collaborative community. A place no one outside TESOL can see. That home where we can, perhaps, connect deeply to discover possibilities that may transcend a predictable life, to defy a static world of politics and greed (if not through education, then how?). Or simply for the noble ideal of empowering second or third language learners with tools of communication in an increasingly globalized, English-speaking world.

There are countless reasons I’m sure, just as there are countless driving forces in a world where the young and the maturing can find a confluence and camaraderie, and then we witness our home suddenly filled with meaning and purpose. Whatever our intentions to embark on this path, I felt that for me at least, having graduated from the MA TESOL program and having taught ESOL for some years, it was time to step back and reflect. I really wanted to talk to student-teachers, especially international students, to take a fresh look at our learning experiences, what got us on this career path and what keeps us going and especially what the experience is like for “Non-native English teachers” who are growing in numbers. We know the political and educational landscape is changing, that the English language is evolving, and both practitioner experience and research is growing. There is just so much out there in our field. We can cherry pick. And we don’t need statistics or researchers to tell us this. We are in the thick of it. We are in the classroom day in and day out. The learning never stops. There may be teacher “burn-out” but there is no going back. And going forward means creation of new ideas. Many of us seem to be hooked. Hooked by the dynamic exchange of ideas in teaching language.

I recall that for me, as graduate student, the New School’s MATESOL program was a huge step in charting a new career course in life. Although in unfamiliar territory, I could see an opportunity for something more than just “a job” although it was challenging. I was working full time in New York, raising teenagers with dreams of their own. Lucky me, the New School MA TESOL program offered a flexible online program –a great fit for me at the time. I met incredible colleagues doing incredible work overseas. Countries and time-zones didn’t matter. Ours was a tight community of learners and educators and I never had a more thrilling interactional experience.

However, while studying online I missed the physicality of classroom engagement. I often found myself thinking about the experience of international students who come all the way to study in this world-class program. Why New York? Why the New School when they could go anywhere? After all, it is no small feat to come to a new city, especially to the hustle-bustle of NYC, take three courses per semester, interact with faculty and colleagues in a city beset with political unpredictability, and to stay sane, excited, and inspired!

So recently, when an opportunity suddenly popped up for dialogue with two international students, one from Kosovo, and the other from Brazil, I became one eager beaver. Both Nergis and Giovanna are “Non-native English Speaking Teachers” and have taught EFL overseas. Currently they are teaching the same class of diverse adult ESL beginners in a community-based program in New York, which I helped organize, to fulfill their course requirements. It’s good that we had corresponded earlier and met at a few events, notably at “TESOL Turns 10” – the 10th anniversary of our MA TESOL program. And, recently, through pure coincidence, I discovered I was in the same curriculum development course as them, as a non-degree student. Fait accompli!

So, one recent winter afternoon, we sat down for a conversation, which soon lit up with insights, experiences, and laughter. Click here for my interview with them! 



Author’s Biography: Roshii Jolly worked in the travel industry for many years before getting involved in the TESOL field where she discovered her passion for both teaching and research. She completed the MA TESOL program entirely online, graduating in May 2012. She’s currently teaching in an I.E.P program at The New School and also serves as the program’s Outreach Coordinator. Additionally she’s looking to the future, helping pilot a program for underprivileged students in India through technology.