The dateline here is Siem Reap, Cambodia, a provincial center about 5 miles from Angkor Wat. I’m just completing a week-long training program for Peace Corps Project Managers and Training Managers from 20 countries across Peace Corps’ EMA (Europe, Middle East, Asia) region.
I’m here to explain how Peace Corps’ TEFL Core Curriculum (which I’m working hard to move through various draft stages) can be adapted as painlessly as possible at Peace Corps posts that have well established TEFL programs, as well providing a foundation to posts with relatively new TEFL programs.
I’m sharing the facilitation duties with one of my former graduate students (Christina Cavella (American University TESOL Program, 2004). I’m talking about the TEFL Core Curriculum, she’s helping Peace Corps staff design and evaluate their training more effectively.
One of the conference participants here, Abdoulghani Lamnaouar of Morocco, has worked for Peace Corps for 26 years. Another participant, Sangkhim Sen, of here in Cambodia, has been on the job for about 3 months. Similarly, Peace Corps has been teaching English in Thailand and the Philippines for 48 and 49 years, respectively, while the programs in Cambodia and Indonesia are relatively young: in existence for 5 years and 10 months, respectively.
What all these diverse posts and training staff have in common is the fact that there is more and more demand for English instruction across the globe, and as the world gets flatter, Peace Corps host countries are requesting more and more competent volunteer English teachers.
This is a challenge, for while the global economy seeks more and more people who can operate in English, the number of experienced, degreed TESOL instructors who are willing to consider a 27-month Peace Corps assignment seems to have remained relatively constant. It is no surprise Fulbright grants, English Language Fellowships (sponsored by the State Department), university exchange programs, and, simply, paying English teaching positions with attractive compensation lured degreed English language teachers away from Peace Corps assignments.
So Peace Corps is working hard to find ways to make the training for “generalist” Peace Corps TEFL volunteers more effective and rigorous ( “generalist” being an informal term for a volunteer with a bachelor’s degree in any field, good service experience, and cross cultural awareness—but without specific assignment related skills).
Part of my work for Peace Corps is to design that training. It isn’t easy. On one hand the training needs to be innovative so that training can be effective as possible. One the other hand, it can’t be too theoretically demanding—how much can you push into anyone’s head in a couple of months at the same time that they are learning a new language and trying to understand how to be something of a community organizer in a new culture?
What strikes me most about this training conference is how passionately all my colleagues (all of them citizens of the countries where they work) care about making sure that their Peace Corps volunteers are safe and successful as they do their jobs—about how they want their trainee volunteers to be as thoroughly trained as possible, while taking care to not wear them out entirely during the training process.
One thing that makes Peace Corps TEFL volunteers different from many other English teachers is that they are often out in small villages working with primary and secondary school students in public schools—teaching students with little money and limited opportunities—those for whom having competence in English could be a career changing talent—genuinely a 21st century workplace skill. So while Peace Corps TEFL teachers may not be have the linguistic knowledge or teaching competence of their credentialed counterparts, they share the English teaching skills they have to reach those who normally never have an opportunity to practice English from someone outside their country.
Peace Corps volunteers give up their time and many comforts of home to help those struggling to get an education where resources are limited. Those volunteers are in turn supported by host country training and administrative staff who work long hours across the cultures of the United States and their own countries with incredible dedication to make sure that volunteers can carry out this work in environments that are safe, secure, and rewarding.
Would that there would be as much generosity and commitment to others everywhere!
My best for the holiday season!