Megan Chiusaroli is an Adjunct Instructor at the American Language Program. She has been in the ESL profession since 2007 when she received a Fulbright Grant to teach English in Italy.
Ei Ei Khaing was a student of mine in an online semi-intensive course of English in SPS’s American Language Program this semester. She runs an educational center in Mandalay, Myanmar and chose to study at the ALP to help her grow professionally. I was very happy to sit down with her over Zoom and find out more about her experience in the program and journey as an educator in her country.
Why did you decide to study at the ALP?
I wanted to have an international experience and to know what international students are like and what kinds of learning they are doing.
So you were looking to be part of an international community?
Yes. I was actually just accepted to another program at Columbia, The Language Management program at Teacher’s College. It’s a four-month program online and starts in January. So I plan to study at the ALP as well as the Language Management program at TC.
That’s great! Congratulations! How will you apply what you learn in this program to your own teaching?
I already have a local teaching certificate, but an obstacle that I am facing here is with language management. We have already used all of the resources we have right now. We need a new strategy for our students and to know what international courses are like. I want to apply what I learn with my students to help them learn internationally, and I need someone who can help us with this.
So that your students are more prepared for an international environment?
What have you taken away from your classes at the ALP that you think you can share with your students or colleagues?
I think 99% of what I learned. Everything was brand new and amazing for me. I loved learning about argument writing and cause-and-effect writing. I struggled a lot. Because of my ALP classes, I got a lot of ideas. Even though I still feel afraid of writing, I’ll keep trying.
I struggled a lot. Because of my ALP classes, I got a lot of ideas. Even though I still feel afraid of writing, I’ll keep trying."
It’s a good motivation, right?
Yes. I also like the strategies I got from ALP classes, like News Group readings, summary writing and vocabulary practice. There was always someone there to listen to what I had to say and discuss my ideas. And I had a chance to correct my mistakes. I really appreciated my classmates as well.
I know, it was such a great group. What was it like for you as an English teacher to also be a student?
To attend these classes is a dream for me and helped me to gain a lot of confidence that I can attend classes like this in the future. After this class, I believe in myself and know I can do this.
What is your school in Myanmar like?
Actually, it’s a center. It’s called Owl Education Center and we have been open for a year. We have five teachers and about 50 students. We’ve been successful so far. We offer courses and tutoring in English, Social Studies and Math for school-age children and adults.
What are your hopes for your students in Myanmar?
Most of my students attend international schools, and they are really familiar with English, so we are training and coaching them, and doing preparation sessions with them. Working with them, I’m not only teaching, I’m also learning. I want to help students in government schools who face many more challenges with learning English. I’d like to open morning session classes for them. I have a plan to donate 10% of my profits from the center to these morning classes, so that I can offer these classes free of charge. In order to do this, I need to improve my knowledge and skills. Through the ALP class, I got critical thinking and reasoning skills, and I want to apply this to my own classes. My first step was attending ALP classes. After I complete the Learning Management program, hopefully I can improve my own teaching and lesson plans at my center.
After I complete the Learning Management program, hopefully I can improve my own teaching and lesson plans at my center."
It sounds like you have a lot of plans. I think if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll definitely achieve those goals. How did you get into teaching English?
Well, if I have to be honest, there are financial incentives to becoming a teacher or study guide in my country, which initially attracted me to the job. After receiving a distance learning degree, I had an opportunity to study in a program to become an English teacher. It was amazing to learn about linguistics and the details about the English language. After that, I got a master’s of arts in education from the same university and dreamed of working in an international school, even though I had no international experience. I mean, my father was a soldier. We weren’t part of an international community. I did get the opportunity to work in an international school, but my first year was very challenging for me and I didn’t understand everything. I requested to observe English and Social Studies classes during my free time and even took the same exams as the students. I got a lot out of this and started to change the way I think. The students studied “The Crucible” and discussed religion, and I really appreciated the discussion and many points of view. It made me want more for myself and my teaching career.
I also had the opportunity to participate in the World Scholar Cup in 2017, and our group made it all the way to the final round at Yale University. I had to work extra hard without any money for that, but I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. I visited many universities on my trip, but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit Columbia University.
How did this experience affect you?
I started to get crazy about learning during this time. I wanted to tell everyone I met that there is something else beyond our world.
You’ve learned so much through your teaching career so far. You gave the answer that I always give when people ask me why I became a teacher, which is that you can learn and grow so much.
Yes. The reason I became a teacher is because I can learn and teach, but I need to be the best person I can be to do this.
Yes. A passion for learning can make you a better teacher.
After this experience, I wanted to share everything I learned and had the idea to start my own classes, which eventually led to opening the center. I started to create new kinds of classes like reading groups, storytelling and debate classes. It was actually this desire to get new ideas that led me to the ALP. At first, I had very ordinary expectation for the class. I thought, OK. I will practice speaking, but after the first few classes, I was like Oh. I need to study seriously. I heard so many new words and ideas that I was unfamiliar with and was so impressed with my classmates. My favorite lesson was learning about the 2020 election.
I heard so many new words and ideas that I was unfamiliar with and was so impressed with my classmates."
You have so much enthusiasm and curiosity for learning. It’s really inspiring.
I feel like my ideas are very flexible right now. I grew up in a very traditional family, but I can accept different ways of thinking, and in the class, I had a lot of chances to explore this. In Myanmar, a teacher is at the same level as God. The teacher is always right. But I noticed in the class that I could talk in a different way.
Sure. You can express your ideas freely.
I really appreciate the opportunity to study online. In this time, opening online classes gives hope to people and attending classes gave me a lot of energy. The ALP was my very first step to go into another world.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any other person or entity.