Georgia Institute of Technology Language Institute

Round Table for International Teachers

Friday, July 17, 2015

I was invited to participate as a moderator for a roundtable discussion as a part of GA Tech’s Language institute summer program. I was informed in advance that I would have four EFL teachers from Korea and 4 EFL teachers from Panama at my table and I should prepare an icebreaker and share my reasons for wanting to participate in the discussion. I was told in advance that I should be prepared to discuss whatever the teachers wanted to discuss, and this was only part of their professional development program that was put together by the GA Tech Language Institute. There were other students from my Approaches class there -- but I was the only American at the table. When I got there, the tables had not been assembled, so we GSU students were doing that. The teachers came in and had no idea where to sit. I helped direct some of them, and it appeared that they came in groups and wanted to sit together, but I was instructed to make sure I had an equal number from each country at a table. When all filed in, I ended up having more than 12 teachers huddled around my table that comfortably fit 8. We introduced ourselves and attempted a name game icebreaker that didn’t go over that well. I had prepared some questions but they didn’t seem appropriate for the situation.

Instead, I just asked “What brings you here?” and wanted to keep it very open and start conversation. I learned about Panama Bilingue, which was the government’s program to make the country bilingual in English and Spanish by 2017. I had never heard about it before, so I just kept listening. Many of the Panamanian teachers at my table were complaining about the legislation, not because they didn’t agree with its purpose but because they were frustrated with its implementation. One second grade teacher said she had 40 children in her class and she was expected to teach in English 50% of her day -- and she wasn’t confident in her English (though her English was intelligible to me.) Many of the other teachers chimed in that they had similar problems -- too many students and students weren’t “buying into” their need to learn English. They were frustrated and venting, and wanted solutions to their problem, though not from me. The South Korean teachers at the table had problems, but entirely different problems and wanted a change to share. They too had students with difficulty “buying into” their lessons, but also said that they were fully supported by their administration and explained that teaching in South Korea was an honored, respected, well-paid profession. It seemed at times though that while my table was talking to each other, they weren’t really listening. Someone explained later we were debriefing that this was a true English as a Lingua Franca moment, and the first one I had experienced that really made me understand what English as a Lingua Franca meant.

The experience as a discussion leader made me acutely aware of my weaknesses in discussion leading and made me want to get better at this. When is it impolite to interrupt the person talking too much? When should I let the quieter folks interject? These are still things I struggle with in the classroom but I suspect they will come with experience. I felt like there was a lot of chaos at the table and in the room, and I learned a lot but I wonder what the participants gained from it all. I hope they gained an awareness of the world around them, even if it was small, and that struggle while teaching is universal. I hope they gained some contacts and places to go when they get back to their classroom. I know I will always remember my true English as a Lingua Franca experience. I know when I started this program that I was told that first I would be a participant before I would become a presenter, and I was glad to be given the opportunity to participate in this way. I look forward to future discussions of this nature.