Started from a passion for modern languages and an evolving job market, SRU’s teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) master’s program was launched in Fall 2016. SRU modern languages and cultures professor, Marnie Petray-Covey came up with the idea for the program in 2015 and it was approved by the board of governors and implemented in Fall 2016.
Petray-Covey had experience running a similar program at Cal Poly State University from 2005-13 and said that starting the TESOL program at Slippery Rock is something she was excited to do.
“Long before I ever finished grad school I knew it would be a good fit for the university,” Petray-Covey said. “We have colleges in the College of Education that do diversity training with teachers for [kindergarten] through [twelfth grade] and we’re focused on adult learning instruction, so we kind of have the bookend of that.”
TESOL is a worldwide industry that focuses on English learning on every level. The program at SRU will help students prepare to teach English in other countries, write academic texts, work as language assessment specialists, among other things. Students who wish to join the program are nor required to know a second language other than English, but it is highly recommended. Non-native English speakers are also welcome in the program, and are very active in the TESOL field, professionally. Students in the program also have the opportunity to travel abroad as a kind of work-study program where they would be able to work as and observe English teachers in non-English speaking countries.
In conjunction with the Japanese language program at SRU, Petray-Covey, along with the director of Japanese language and culture, Yukako Ishimaru, and the director for global exchanges and partnerships, Jenny Kawata, traveled to Japan last summer looking to recruit Japanese students to come to SRU for a communicative language teaching certificate. The goal is for Japanese native speakers, who teach English, to come to Slippery Rock to achieve the certificate.
Ishimaru is in charge of the Saga Japanese immersion program at Slippery Rock, where ten Japanese exchange student come to SRU for ten days. Ishimaru said it is important for both learners of English and people who want to teach English to travel abroad immerse themselves in different cultures in order to effectively learn the language in context.
“Language learning is not about learning a language or a culture from books,” Ishimaru said. “You have to connect with the culture directly, otherwise you don’t learn the actual nature of the language or communication and everything about it.”
Ishimaru said her main goal is to continue to grow the professional relationship between SRU and other foreign institutions, like Saga University in Japan, and that will, in turn, facilitate personal relationships between people at both places.
Petray-Covey said that is is important to hear a new language, English included, as it is used in its natural setting and that bringing foreign students here and sending TESOL students abroad will accomplish this. She said she currently has students in Russia, China and Nepal.
The program is set to be 16 months long, with two different tracks, experimental and general. The experimental track is 30 credits with one elective and the choice of an internship, thesis paper or capstone project. The general track is 33 credits, has three electives and no end project. Both tracks require the completion of a practicum.
SRU is the third university in the Pennsylvania state system to have a TESOL program and Petray-Covey wants to make it one of the premier programs at SRU.
“We’ve got to struggle a little bit to educate people about what TESOL is and how it’s different from what Slippery Rock has offered historically,” Petray-Covey said. “We hope to internationalize the program and bring in international students.”
The first TESOL student is set to graduate this winter, with more to follow in the Spring, but the goal right now is still just getting the program up off the ground.