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SFU educators encourage English language teachers to be ‘teachable’

May 05, 2011
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Terri Wershler (centre), an instructor
with SFU Continuing Studies' English Language
and Culture program, works with international students.

Three educators from Simon Fraser University are teaming up to help other English language instructors in BC improve their craft this weekend.

The annual English language teacher’s conference they’re a part of typically focuses on a subject like student assessment—but this year, the theme goes inward: “The Teachable Teacher.”

Shawna Williams, an instructional coordinator with SFU Continuing Studies’ English Language and Culture program, is co-chairing the 43rd annual conference for the Association of BC Teachers of English as an Additional Language. The conference meets at SFU Vancouver May 6 and 7, and Williams is looking forward to fleshing out the unique theme for attendees.

Williams said she hopes the conference will prompt instructors to ask whether their own training and experience are changing them.

“We’re asking, are you learning from it?” she said. “Are you taking from it? Are you changing from what you’re hearing?”

In cities like Vancouver and abroad, she said, the need for qualified English language teachers continues to be great—especially as international students continue to choose English universities like SFU.

“How can we change with the times to meet those needs adequately?” she asked.

“It’s important to keep learning, and learning from our students, and learning from what’s going on around us.”

SFU professors to encourage instructors to care about their students

Two professors from SFU’s Faculty of Education, Drs. Heesoon Bai and Kumari Beck, will present at the conference’s plenary session on Saturday. Their topic is caring about students.

“As educators, our first responsibility is to connect with our students as human beings,” wrote Dr. Beck in an email. “Establishing a person-to-person relationship is the essence of our work as teachers.”

Dr. Bai explained that caring for students is especially vital for English language teachers.

“The Greater Vancouver area has an extremely high English language learners population,” she wrote. “This population experiences a tremendous amount of vulnerability and stress in terms of ‘ESL anxiety,’ identity shake-up, and other acculturation changes.”

As part of the presentation, Bai and Beck will show a documentary they produced last year called Dare to Care, which explores how instructors can maintain a culture of care in their classrooms. It suggests that students might forget what teachers teach them—but they’ll never forget how teachers transform them.

In September, the documentary won the award for Best Documentary Under 30 Minutes at the Global Community Film Festival in Toronto. The National Film Board has picked up worldwide distribution rights.