Megan Calvert (MA TESOL 2009) tells us about her journey through the TESOL field before, during and after her time at AU.
What led to your decision to study TESOL/Applied Linguistics at the graduate level?
I had always loved language, but I had never thought I wanted to be a teacher. For a long time, I kept asking myself, what can I do that lets me combine my love of language with my desire to help people? How can I have a career in which I give direct service to others in a way that involves cross-cultural bridge building? At the time, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, teaching in a rural village school. I had a lot of free time on my hands and would spend hours planning my lessons, getting creative, and building materials. I had that feeling of flow every time. And eventually it clicked for me that teaching actually was the right career path for me because it was exactly what I was looking for. I think it was so hard for me to realize partly because teaching had never really felt like work for me, and kept thinking I'd figure out my "real" job eventually. I applied to grad school while I was still in Kyrgyzstan and luckily discovered the reverse Master's International program for returned Peace Corps volunteers that AU had at the time.
What work have you been doing in the field of English language education?
I had actually taught for several years before I started at AU. In addition to teaching for two years with the Peace Corps, I had spent a year as a language assistant in Nantes, France, and a year teaching financial education to refugees at the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore. After I graduated from AU, I worked at the refugee center at Montgomery College before heading off to serve for 2 years as an English Language Fellow in Turkey. Since I came back in 2013, I have been working full-time at Montgomery College doing MI-BEST (Maryland Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) classes. It's a teaching model that came out of the community colleges in Washington state and essentially combines basic skills/ESOL instruction with content teaching. In our program, we have 100% overlap, so I'm with the content teachers for every moment of their classes. I help to structure the class in a learner-friendly way and support the students and instructors. So far, I've taught nursing assistant classes and now computer repair classes. It gives me a lot of opportunity to do curriculum design work and I love that I get to learn new things from the content teachers and materials every day. I've also done a fair amount of teacher training on the side through places like Northern Virginia Community College, Washington English Center, MCAEL, English Language Training Solutions (the folks that created the Color Vowel Chart), and the State Department. I spent a couple of weeks last summer in Bahrain as an English Language Specialist and a couple of weeks doing similar training in Kuwait the year before that.
What was your time at AU like as a graduate student? What’s your favorite memory from your time here?
I had such a fun time at AU and met some of my closest friends while there. I taught an undergraduate class for international students and worked in the TESOL office a bit while I was there, so I had a lot of time to hang around and get to know my classmates. My favorite memories though have to be from the trips I took with my classmates to the TESOL conferences. The year that we went to New Orleans, 4 of us stayed in one hotel room with 2 double beds and it was like a big slumber party every night. Carolyn Graham, the inventor of jazz chants, threw on a feather boa and opened the conference by doing jazz chants to the backdrop of a New Orleans jazz band. Brock Brady, our former department head, was just stepping down as the president of TESOL, and we got to go hobnob with TESOL elites in his hotel suite on the last night. We went to networking events and got to chat about the books and articles that we read in grad school with their actual authors. I never would have had those experiences if I hadn't gone to AU.
What did you do as soon as you graduated from AU TESOL program?
I was working at Montgomery College at the time, so I continued working there. I also applied for the English Language Fellows program, which a number of my classmates did as well. I had two AU friends who served in Nicaragua and Panama at the same time as I did and I even had another classmate who ended up teaching in Turkey with me at the same time.
What is your specific field or area of study? How did you become interested in this particular topic?
One of the areas I ended up specializing in after I graduated has been pronunciation. This was 100% inspired by the Teaching Pronunciation class I took in 2009 with Karen Taylor and Robin Barr. I never thought I would be any good at teaching pronunciation because I don't have much of a musical ear and it didn't come naturally to me. But Karen and Robin are such incredible professors and their passion is truly contagious. I'm now a "master trainer" for the Color Vowel Chart, and I've been able to share a lot more with my students about their pronunciation than many ESOL teachers who haven't had the opportunity to learn these valuable skills. I've also done some work with Task-Based Language Teaching, and was fortunate enough to publish a paper with Younghee Sheen shortly after I graduated. I would say TBLT has had a pretty big impact on the way I teach and design curriculum today.
Can you tell us what you are working on currently?
I actually just spent the bulk of my extracurricular time this year planning my wedding and honeymoon, which was wonderful and quite a lot of work! I'm still teaching at Montgomery College and thinking about my next steps. I'd definitely like to continue doing teacher training when I can, which is something that truly lights me up. I also envision more curriculum development freelance work, conference presentations, and publications, all of which I've worked on in the past.
What advice would you give to current AU TESOL students and recent graduates?
AU had such a positive impact on my life and my career in ways that I could not have known at the time. I would advise students to build as many bridges as they can while they're there and definitely keep in touch with professors and classmates after you graduate. Your classmates could easily become your boss in a couple of years, which has happened to me, or you could become their boss as well! My last supervisor hired a woman who had previously been his boss, so it does really become a very small world. I'd also add that you shouldn't be afraid to try the things that scare you because they could end up becoming your true passion.
After I graduated from AU, I worked at the refugee center at Montgomery College before heading off to serve for 2 years as an English Language Fellow in Turkey.