“Those who can’t do, teach” couldn’t be further from the truth in Cal Poly’s Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program, where students learn all there is to know about the English language and how to teach others.
TESL was initiated at Cal Poly by program director and English professor John Battenburg almost 25 years ago in 1991. Battenburg refers to the 30-unit program as the “best secret on campus” because many students outside of the English department don’t know the program even exists.
Students who complete the program receive a TESL certificate, which gives them an advantage in the job industry because teaching English as a second language has arguably never been more relevant or important than it is today. Job security is a major concern for many in the College of Liberal Arts, but English as a second language (ESL) teachers are a hot commodity these days and with the TESL certificate, students have plenty of career options.
“The type of student we have when they graduate can do a number of things,” Battenburg said. “They can go abroad and teach in private ESL programs or public ones, they can join the Peace Corps, they can work in K-12 in California or elsewhere in the U.S. and get a teaching credential.”
English senior Maddy Gorrell is joining the Peace Corps after her completion of the program this June. She will use her certificate to be an English language teacher in a Tanzanian secondary school.
“I’m going to try out this two-year time frame and see if I’m actually really into teaching and if it’s really my focus, and I’ll go from there,” Gorrell said.
Battenburg said the program’s goal is to prepare students for jobs in teaching English by providing a combination of theory and practice. First, they learn about how to teach effectively and then practice in a real classroom to perfect their skills. It’s the epitome of Cal Poly’s Learn By Doing philosophy.
“With the TESL program you’re able to actually get out into the community,” English senior Ian Fetters said. “You’re able to go and get some experience while you’re earning that certificate. It’s the ability to put that Learn By Doing axiom to work.”
Fetters is currently using the skills he’s been learning in the TESL program as an ESL specialist and teacher’s assistant at Cuesta College. He spends his Tuesday and Thursday nights tutoring and helping a classroom full of mostly migrant workers get a better grasp on the English language.
“It’s awesome because it’s being able to apply a lot of the skills that you’re learning in your lectures and in some of the training that you get as a teacher of language and being able to apply that in the real world,” Fetters said.
The most rewarding part: improving lives.
“For a lot of my students particularly, learning English is something that’s going to help them because they’ve migrated here to the United States to find a job, to find a better life,” Fetters said.
Cuesta College ESL instructor Regina Vogue received her TESL certificate from Cal Poly in 1994 and has been teaching English for over 14 years. For her, there’s never a dull moment.
“It’s never boring,” she said. “It enriches your life.”
Vogue considers herself privileged to be able to share her expertise in the English language with others. For many immigrants, mastering the English language is a major way to move up the socio-economic ladder, so knowing she’s making a difference in her student’ lives is the best aspect of teaching, she said.
“It’s an honor and pleasure to have a job that helps people improve their quality of life,” Vogue said.
But it’s not just the student who benefits. According to Battenburg, there’s a mutual exchange of knowledge and growth.
“It’s life-changing because you have the ability to change their lives and they have the ability to change your life,” he said.
That power to change lives in ESL all boils down to language. With a world filled with diverse populations, communication is key.
As Gorrell said, “Language permeates everything.”