A thirst for international travel brought Sara Howard to the Selkirk College Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program (TESOL) and a continued passion for education has taken her to the other side of the globe.
Raised in Rossland, Howard enrolled in the Selkirk College TESOL Program after finishing her Psychology Degree at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO). Howard now teaches at a government high school in Thailand’s Ayutthaya Province where her educational journey continues in the classroom and beyond.
“The best part about teaching overseas is the ability you have to immerse yourself totally in a culture,” says Howard. “You begin to understand the lifestyle of the local people, as you become one yourself. It’s usually the small things that start to become a big deal and really memorable. I don’t think anyone at home will quite understand the intricacies of my relationship with the man at the market who sells me my fruit.”
Howard graduated from Rossland Secondary School in 2008 and once she completed her degree, was looking for the next step and found it with teaching. Instead of taking the 12-month West Kootenay Teacher Education Program (WKTEP), she decided to spend four months testing the teaching waters with the TESOL Program.
“I have always loved travel and wanted to experience living in another country to really understand the culture and lifestyle on a level that was beyond being a tourist,” says the 25-year-old. “I attended Selkirk College in the first year of my undergraduate degree, so I was familiar with the campus, the environment and the programs offered.”
The Selkirk College TESOL Program offers both Canadian and international students the opportunity to gain a diploma and certification to teach English. Students complete 252 hours of class and course work, but also take part in a minimum of 42 hours practicum teaching, observation and seminar work.
The program includes the areas of second language acquisition theory and linguistics, curriculum design, materials development, intercultural communication, classroom management, multi-media resources and assessment. Practice teaching within the Selkirk College English Language Program (ESL) is also a key component and provides students with a concrete experience.
“Having a class size of only 14 made it easy to have plenty of involvement and opportunity to share opinions and participate,” says Howard. “Working closely with the TESOL instructors was so interesting and we all learned a lot from them. I also loved having such a diverse set of classmates: older, younger, Korean, Japanese and Canadian. It was so important and helpful to have so many different perspectives to hear from and to learn from. I learned so much more than I ever expected to from my fellow teacher trainees about English and learning.”
After graduating from the program, Howard did some traveling and completed an international practicum in China which is offered to Selkirk College graduates. Applying for jobs in 10 different countries late last summer, Howard landed a position in Thailand in October.
Howard is at a high school that has more than 5,000 students in six grades. She teaches 20 classes a week to students between the ages of 14 and 18. Throwing herself fully into the experience, Howard is also helping students prepare for an English drama performance and several short speeches in English for competitions.
Though the hours are long and the challenges of living so far from home are sometimes difficult, Howard says there is plenty of support.
“There is a strong community within foreign teachers,” she says. “We live at a guesthouse that has about 15 foreign teachers who all work at various schools and come from Canada, the United States, England, Wales, South Africa and Australia. The home away from home and the international family you build are absolutely incredible. Everyone is united by his or her love for teaching and for travel. It’s a wonderful way to bring people together with common interests.”
Howard says it’s likely she will return to Canada in a couple of years to complete her post-degree in education where she hopes to teach in British Columbia. Until then, she is grateful for the international pathway Selkirk College put her on.
“It’s an amazing course, well worth the money and the time for what you can get out of it,” says Howard. “It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. The ESL/TESOL community is amazing and taught me so much about second language acquisition, language barriers, living in a foreign country and making new international friends.”
Selkirk College is now accepting students for the Fall, 2015 program. Find out more about the TESOL Program at selkirk.ca/program/tesol.