Melissa Krut is currently enrolled in the MA TESOL program, to which she transferred after completing her TESOL certificate requirements this summer.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I'm Melissa! I'm currently a full-time writer and project manager, a part-time student, and a part-time teacher! This summer, I wrapped up the certificate program and switched to the MA TESOL. I started last summer, and I'm about halfway through.
When did you first become interested in TESOL?
I was drawn into the world of TESOL while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine from 2009 to 2012. I worked at a national university and a teacher training institute, in summer camps and in community clubs, and I was able to launch a few nationwide projects, too, like A Day in the Life of Ukraine and the Ukrainian branch of the International Writing Olympics. Peace Corps might not be the right choice for everyone, but it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
Did you have any teaching experience before you enrolled in the TESOL program?
Prior to ramping up on the TESOL side of things, I started out with a bachelor's in English Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a somewhat unintended minor in Spanish. I'd had this crazy idea of triple majoring in English and music and art -- in which case I'd probably still be finishing the degree! I taught high school English for seven years in Frederick County Public Schools, working in curriculum development over the summer and rising to the role of department chair. I've always loved creative writing, and it was great to earn an MA in Writing with a focus in Poetry from Johns Hopkins while teaching my own creative writing classes. I also really enjoyed running student writing workshops and professional development sessions with the Maryland Writing Project, and it's partly this passion for expanding learning communities that inspired me to join the Peace Corps.
In your opinion, what are some qualities which make a good teacher?
I'm grateful for the many wonderful teachers I've had in my life, and their diversity has led me to understand the wide range of ingredients in each of the millions of unique recipes for Good Teacher. Engagement is a huge one -- teachers who are interested and excited about their subject and are invested in their learners' success make the biggest difference. This starts with respect for both the learners and the subject -- but not the kind of stale reverence that "respect" is sometimes used to suggest. Instead, teachers must actively pursue the meaningful connections between themselves, their students, and their content -- hopefully inspiring students to build on this energy and these connections and become invested lifelong learners. Simple enough, right? Also, good teachers should smile. And have a good sense of humor. And communicate clearly. And listen. And know when to stop talking. Ahem.
Are you currently teaching English? If yes, where and what is your learner population?
When I came back to the US, it was July, so not necessarily the ideal time to find a teaching position. I volunteered at the local Literacy Council for a while, then moved to this area to take on a job in an educational research company -- imagining that my office schedule would allow me ample extra time to pursue my own writing. Ha! I also did some online tutoring for ELLs and started volunteering with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia to keep one foot in the classroom. I really enjoy working with adult English language learners in this community setting, and the desire to serve them better led me to the AU TESOL Certificate. Now, my day job has shifted to more writing and project management and less travel, and I'm stepping up to complete the MA.
In your opinion, what makes a successful language learner and teacher?
Successful language learning and teaching require many of the same elements. First, be willing to do the work. It's hard, and the a-ha moments are few and far between. Language rarely behaves scientifically, and it seems to prefer not being mastered. Next, set clear goals. Teachers and students often have goals, but the whole scheme is most successful when there's a shared understanding. Whether it's deftly navigating academic discourse or succeeding in corner shop purchases, each learner has some kind of hope in mind, and it's the job of a teacher to connect the learning to the hoping. Finally, as if this list could possibly have an end, language teachers must learn not to take themselves or their subject too seriously. Otherwise, their learners will take themselves and their subject too seriously, and the joy of language will be lost.
What do you plan to do after you complete the TESOL program?
Following this program... the world is my oyster! I'd like to return to the classroom, but I'm not sure which one. I love teaching English, both to native and non-native speakers, and I really enjoy work that connects to public service. I'm interested in ESL community education in the US, and past cooperation with the Regional English Language Office in Ukraine encourages me to consider government-connected EFL programs like RELO, EL Fellows, and even a return to Peace Corps. It's a big world!
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
Beyond the classroom, I work, teach, write, and pursue balance. I enjoy yoga, British mystery shows, creating zines, and spending time with the good people I'm lucky to have in my life.