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Sunday, 2 February 2014

A connection through English

Teaching assistants from the United States are all set to take up their teaching stints following a day-long camp recently.

IN the name of improving their English language skills, the Forms One and Two students of SMK Kepong Baru dutifully arrived at school early on Saturday morning to take part in an all-day English Language Camp.

But this was no ordinary camp: they were met by 13 Fulbright English Language Teaching Assistants (ETAs) who had come all the way from the United States (US) to spend the day with them as part of their teaching assistant programme in Malaysia. Hailing from many different places, including New York, Portland, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, the ETAs had planned a jam-packed day of activities ahead for the students.

Students were split into teams of different colours and competed with each other for winning the first prize at the end of the camp.

“After some icebreakers, we’re going to get the kids to play soccer (football), do a relay race and then do an English wordsearch,” explained ETA Alex Lilly, who was in charge of the yellow team.

Lilly, a Spanish graduate from Ohio University, had taught English for six months in the US and had spent about the same time in Peru.

“With today’s camp, I really hope to connect with the kids and want them to leave excited about learning English. Hopefully they will be motivated to learn on their own and feel good about their own learning processes and prospects. I also have a group of all girls so I’m hoping to make them leave feeling empowered about themselves.”

Lilly added that she had never been to Asia before but was at the same time excited to learn a new culture.

Along with the 99 other ETAs in the programme this year, she will teach at a local school for 10 months.

Mark Abadi, who will be posted to a school in Penang, is one of the nine ETAS this year taking part in the programme for the second year.

“What I found last year with my students at the camp is that a lot of them are quite good in English but they lack the confidence of speaking in public,” said the North Carolina native who studied Linguistics.

“So we’re here to get them excited and help them overcome their shyness. In school they are very reserved and it’s hard for them to express themselves, but here in a more laidback environment we get to see them in their element. It’s a great opportunity for us as ETAs to get to know our students and have a better connection with them.”

Common interests

Justin Galle, who returned this year as one of the five programme coordinators, said that the best way of breaking down the language barrier with the students was to communicate with them at their level and also to find some common interests or activities that were fun-based. It was a good way to interact with them, he shared.

“For example last year at my school in Johor, I took out my guitar and played some songs for the kids,” he said, adding that his experience as an ETA in Malaysia had profoundly changed him.

SMK Kepong Baru English teacher Giong Hiiong Teck said that he was happy and honoured that the school was one of eight schools that had taken part in the one-day camp.

“We are so happy to be involved in this programme as this is an invaluable opportunity and experience for our students. They are effectively learning through playing and their ETAs, who may be young, are extremely passionate about teaching them.”

Earlier, at a reception hosted by US ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun, another Fulbright ETA returnee James Greisler shared his experience when teaching in Slim River, Perak, last year.

“I came from upstate New York which is not that much different from Slim River,” Greisler said.

However, being a mat salleh in the suburban school, he naturally stood out and drew attention from the students.

“The English proficiency of the students was alright but they were rather shy when I first went to the school.”

Spicing up show

In his quest to draw the students out of their shells, the 25-year-old theatre graduate from Hamilton College put his background to good use by getting his students to stage Macbeth à la wayang kulit (shadow puppets).

He took liberty with the play studied by Form Three students in the Literature component and added gamelan music and silat performance to spice up the show.

“There were some local elements here and there, the students even sang Negaraku at the end of the play,” said Greisler who also visited an Orang Asli village during his stint at the school.

His colourful experience was an inspiration to Fulbright ETA novices like Ayesha Harrison who cannot wait to embrace the multicultural adventure in Kerian, Perak, next month.

“I have heard so much about the beautiful culture of the multiracial groups in this country. It is what attracted me to apply to teach here in the first place,” said the 22-year-old Literature and Film graduate from Arizona State University.

Ayesha and her fellow 2014 Fulbright ETAs are currently undergoing an orientation programme in Kuala Lumpur before going to their respective schools next month.

Education Ministry secretary-general Datuk Dr Madinah Mohamad who was at the event, welcomed the new batch of Fullbright ETAs.

“Those who have been posted to Sabah and Sarawak must have hit the jackpot because the natural wonders of those two states are really breathtaking,” she said to the applause of the ETAs.

Since the inception of the ETA programme in 2006 in Terengganu, the programme has spread its wings to Sabah and Sarawak along with the increase in the number of ETAs from 75 to 100 this year.

“While we pride ourselves in Bahasa Malaysia, we realise the need to be good in English too,” said Dr Madinah.

She said the greatest barrier to achieving the nation’s Vision 2020 was the lack of English proficiency among teachers, adding that student outcomes depend heavily on the proficiency level of the teachers.

Education director-general Datuk Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof said the Fulbright ETAs play an important role to get the students to learn English beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Tags / Keywords: Education , English Language Camp , Fulbright English Teaching Assistants , SMK Kepong Baru


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