Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members.
Patricia Speers can relate to the international students in her classes. English isn’t her native tongue either.
A French-speaking native of Belgium, Speers has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to international students from China and Vietnam since early July, when Keuka’s first ESL Summer Institute program launched. The Institute was developed to better prepare undergraduate and graduate students entering Keuka’s international business programs to adjust to differences in the language and academic culture of an American classroom.
“I’m a language teacher. I tend to bring everything back to language, because what the international students are challenged with is language. That’s what causes communication problems or challenges in the classroom,” she explained.
At the Université de Liège in Belgium, Speers majored in both English and Dutch, earning her teacher certification and embarking on a career working primarily with adults in non-traditional settings. For example, Speers would teach students as they commuted to work on the train. One individual worked in a bank and needed English to enhance his job skills.
But there’s a difference teaching English when you share a mother tongue, and when adults are choosing to study it voluntarily, she said.
Speers next taught language – but not exclusively – for 10 years as a missionary in Kosovo and Albania. She came to the United States 11 years ago, enrolling at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., to earn a master’s degree in education with specialization in learning disabilities.
“Then I got married and decided to stay in the States,” Speers said.
She first worked as an ESL tutor for a community college in Lansing, Mich., then began her second master’s, at Michigan State University, to earn Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification.
“It’s a different population,” Speers said, explaining most students in Lansing’s program were immigrants who needed the English language to live and work.
While at Michigan State, Speers served as a graduate assistant in the school’s Visiting International Professional Program (VIPP). She next taught full-time at the University of Michigan – Flint. After three-and-a-half years in Flint however, Speers was ready for a new setting, something different from the big-city feel.
“I was thinking “smaller” and I found Keuka and thought, ‘Hmm, that looks interesting,’” she recalled. “Flint is a big city, the GM (General Motors Corp.) city, and Keuka Park is a little different. But it’s an area where I feel comfortable geographically, because it reminds me some of where I grew up in Belgium. It’s different in terms of atmosphere, but different in a good way. At a bigger school, you could bury yourself in your own department. At a smaller school, where there may only be three [people] in your department, you must make more contacts with others.”
Since the conclusion of Keuka’s ESL Summer Institute, Speers has taught two sections of English 201 – American Academic Culture, which prepares students for their responsibilities in classes. She also works as an academic tutor for the international graduate classes, helping students pursuing a master’s in management with a concentration in international business to practice class presentations, review drafts of term papers, and so on.
“These are bright students, successful university students in their own countries. Ninety percent of the reason they are struggling here is language. But there is a cultural aspect to different expectations. These are university students who came here to study and they plan to go back.
“I’m glad to be here,” Speers said. “I hope to be able to make my contribution, and language is a key part. It’s my specialty. It’s the place where I know I can make a difference.”