Why I Teach at SIT

Pat MoranPat Moran reflects on 30 years helping teachers of language become more effective at what they do.

I came to SIT fresh from two years in Cote d’Ivoire where I had taught English as a Foreign Language in a public high school. While there, I communicated constantly with colleagues and others in French, the official language. I learned so much French on my own without teachers, learning by doing, figuring things out for myself. This experience stood in stark contrast to the formal study of French I had done in courses at the university, most of it about literature and history. There it was mainly about restating what my professors said, showing them that I knew what they knew. I learned a lot of French in both situations, but they seemed disconnected. At the time, I assumed that the classroom and my experiences in the real world were supposed to be separated.

At SIT, to my amazement, I found people who were teaching with students’ experience as the starting point in the classroom. They knew how to design courses that were based on structured learning experiences in class and immediately outside class. Not only did they know how to design such activities, they also knew how to facilitate the discussions afterwards. They knew how to ask the right questions, how to listen carefully, how to probe, how to offer insight and commentary based on their own knowledge and experiences, and how to manage the inevitable emotions that arise from engaging in experience.

Equally surprising, most of these teachers were not people with academic laurels, publications, or other traditional scholarly credentials-like my French professors at the university. Instead, they were people who knew first-hand about language and intercultural learning, knew themselves as learners, and they knew how to help others learn the same. In today’s educational terms, they were reflective practitioners who possessed the wisdom of practice.

This initial encounter with these inspirational teachers transformed my ideas about education. I decided to become a language teacher and to follow in their footsteps-to teach in the same way. Later, I joined the MAT faculty and with my colleagues’ help, I set about designing courses with experience at the core, and learning how to work with students as they engaged in these experiences-before, during, and afterwards.

Early on, I learned that designing the experiences was the easy part in this kind of education. The challenging part, the part that is most fulfilling, is working with students as they move through the experiential learning process. I learned not to predict how students will respond, nor to expect them to reach a pre-ordained standard. The key, I found, is entering the students’ worlds, meeting them where they are, encouraging them to describe and interpret, and helping them go as far as they are able. Not where I want them to go, not where I think they should go, but where they want to go.

Nowadays, you can find rich, rewarding cultural and linguistic experiences almost anywhere, as I did in Côte d’Ivoire years ago. You can learn much on your own, without question. But, however rich, experience is not always enough.

At some point in our lives, we need teachers. We need people who know how to help us learn more from our experiences, to help us go as far as we are able, to help us do it all ourselves, and ultimately, to help us see that we can do the same for others.

That’s what I found at SIT, and that’s why I teach here.

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2 Responses to “Why I Teach at SIT”

  1. rogerio silvestre da Silva Says:

    I have been reading and rereading Pat Moran’s article. I thought I could write something about it, but I haven’t felt that confident to do so. However, I have reconsidered my thoughts, and decided to write my reflections.

    In fact, I loved what Moran wrote regarding his 30 years of teaching experience, helping teachers. That is why I felt so touched by his words. I myself reflected on my own role as a teacher when he was sharing his experiences with SIT students’s. When I think of me as a teacher I cannot separate my role as a teacher from a student. I am always willing to learn something new.

    Moran mentions SIT students’s experience, illustrating their abilities on how they knew to design courses basing it on structured learning experiences in class and immediately outside class. He also mentioned, how they knew to facilitate the discussions afterwards. Well, what made me pay special attention was Moran’s remark, saying “Equally surprising, most of these teachers were not people with academic laurels, publications, or other traditional scholarly credentials-like my French professors at the university. Instead, they were people who knew first-hand about language and intercultural learning, knew themselves as learners, and they knew how to help others learn the same. In today’s educational terms, they were reflective practitioners who possessed the wisdom of practice.”

    Regarding yesterday night, I was talking to my former Portuguese teacher. He said he did not expect me to become a teacher, especially a teacher of English. I have no idea exactly why I fell in love with teaching, especially English language teaching. I think English language ran into me and changed me so deeply. It was just like a seed which has grown stronger every day in my life. But he, my former Portuguese teacher was asking me how I can teach Portuguese to an English native speaker. Yes, I am teaching Portuguese, using and explaining subjects in English. It has been tough because the English native speaker that I am teaching, likes to use translation as his learning strategy. It has been a different twist to me, but I accepted it as a responsalitity to enrich my own learning. But my former teacher’s question was: How do you teach Portuguese to an English speaker if you do not have the same vocabulary level that he has? It was an interesting question, because I do know that I need constant linguistic development. After all, my speaking skills are not like native speaker’s ability.

    It was nice to read how Moran works, and not predict SIT teachers’/students’ response to their experiental learning process. Also, he pinpoints that whatever cultural and linguistic experience you have are not enough to be efficient. Sometimes, when I speak about having learned English on my own, without a teacher’s instruction, some people feel so proud of me, but I need to say that I miss the experience of learning from teachers, that is, borrowing Moran’s words, ” people who know how to help [me] learn more from [my]experiences, to help [me] go as far as [everyone is] able, to help [me] do it all [myself], and ultimately, to help [me] see that [I] can do the same for others.”

    Nowadays, I do not consider myself a demanding teacher. I feel I am not teaching, I am sharing my knowledge and my learning experience with my students. I attempt to let them feel free to ask me what I did not have chance to do myself. Once I heard someone say, “There are two primary choices in life. To accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” I chose the responsility for changing conditions, I mean my own condition as a teacher/student, by holding this responsility to enrich my career as a teacher. After all, I am teacher because I also like to learn.

    Warm regards for all the folks at SIT.

    Rogerio

  2. Taheerah: Reflecting on Riyadh « MAT Admissions Says:

    […] Pat Moran (Read Pat’s blog post.) […]

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