A Learning Lab for Language Teachers: A Look at the Community English Program at Teachers College ☆

“It’s not as much an academic institution as it is a learning lab,” says CEP teacher and TESOL program MA student, Ryan DeRentz.

Located in the basement of Horace Mann, the Community English Program (CEP) at TC is hard for anyone to find who’s not looking for it. But for the adults who come from the community to receive English language classes and work with the TESOL and Applied Linguistics majors who teach there, it’s a place they are happy to know.

Ryan DeRentz of the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages MA program describes the CEP, where he teaches, as a space for language teachers to put what they’re learning in their classes into practice, while simultaneously providing a valuable service to their students. “It’s not as much an academic institution as it is a learning lab. More or less, we are experimenting with different types of teaching. It’s twofold for us: to learn new activities and methods of teaching by ourselves, and also a safe place as new teachers to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them.”

Drew Fagan has been affiliated with the CEP since 2007, where he currently works as an instructor in the Practicum and Classroom Practices classes. He sees one benefit to learning to teach in the CEP as the fact that since it’s a community program, there is no pressure to pass the standardized tests that other ESL teachers may experience (as in the K-12 school system, for example). Fagan explains, “There’s definitely a lot of ease which is what makes the CEP great for being a lab school, in the sense that teachers can relax and focus on their methodology, while at the same time the students can come here and truly learn what they need to learn in this setting. It’s really a win-win situation.”

International student Payman Vafaee has learned English as a second language just like the students he teaches in the CEP. “I can truly feel all the frustrations and stress of ESL learners in their learning efforts as I am still an ESL learner myself. Because I am familiar with issues of Second Language Acquisition, ESL pedagogy, and ESL assessment, I can be a more competent and understating learning mate for my international students.”

Chikako Takahashi can relate to Vafaee’s perspective on teaching English in the CEP and being an English Language Learner. Having fellow Japanese students in her CEP classes has shed light on some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a non-native speaking English teacher. While Takahashi never uses Japanese in class, she can identify with what their struggles are and therefore be a valuable asset in their endeavor to learn English.

In the CEP, students are lucky to have dedicated and creative teachers who earnestly try to improve their practice with every lesson, while these novice teachers are able to & flex their teaching muscles and find a style that works for them and their students. With all of this learning going on in the CEP, it’s tough to say who are the the students.