How the Global Teaching Fellowship elevates training for graduate students

By Kofi Stiles | Oct. 31, 2019

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Travel played a significant role in Mike Lehman’s growth as a person and in his overall career trajectory.

Lehman grew up in the small beach community of Destin, Florida. He never realized the limitations of his worldview until he began traveling throughout the US as a percussionist for competitive drumlines after high school. His time as a percussionist peeked his interest in experiencing more of the world.

Lehman’s first international travel experience occurred in 2009 as an undergrad at the University of West Florida where he participated in a study abroad program in Hong Kong. The experience left a tremendous impression that peeked his interest in continued work in the area. 

“The largest lessons I learned from traveling was the importance of talking to people from different communities, cultures, and backgrounds and to also experience living in different communities for an extended period of time,” says Lehman.

After graduation, he began teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in South Korea. He returned to West Florida to complete his master’s degree in English and, upon completion, returned to South Korea where he taught until 2015.

Lehman later returned to the US and enrolled as a PhD student in English at the Laney Graduate School. As a part of a required pedagogy course in his graduate studies, he observed a teaching session offered by Levin Arnsperger, Associate Director for the English Language Learning at Emory’s Writing Center.

Lehman also had the opportunity to help redesign the tutor training program for the English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Learning Programs with Arnsperger and ESL director Jane O’Conner.

After a semester with Arnsperger, Lehman received more international teaching experience as a teaching assistant for the ESL program, wherein, alongside the ESL Assistant Director, Shan Mukhtar, Lehman assisted with an on-line summer course for students in mainland China. 

His time spent as a teaching assistant allowed him to work with Director of Writing Curriculum and Initiatives, David Fisher and Director of the Writing Program at Oxford College Gwendolynne Reid. He assisted with curriculum design in courses for multilingual students.

Lehman’s prior training abroad helped him manage the unpredictability of travel and make adjustments to his communication style in order to help his students. Additionally, teaching international students who are unfamiliar with English made him an ideal candidate for Emory’s Global Teaching Fellowship (GTF), which provides professional teaching experience for Laney Graduate students in partnership with Nanjing University that delivers an engineering-focused English curriculum in China.

Adding to the numerous partnerships existing between Emory and Nanjing University, Nanjing’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Laney’s English Language Support Program (ELSP) created the GTF as a beneficial collaboration with a mission fitting for both institutions.

“The Laney Graduate School and its ELSP aim to equip graduate students to facilitate diverse classrooms,” explain Mackenzie Bristow, director of the English Language Support Program and Global Engagement. “What better way to do this than to have hands-on practical experience?” 

Thus, Bristow emphasized that potential fellowship candidates above all should be flexible and adaptable, a quality strengthened by teaching abroad. According to Lehman, studying literature informed his mindset toward interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds, making him more equipped to teach in diverse environments.

“Literature is an important tool for better understanding different humans and their experiences. This helps you think more deeply about your own standpoint and how you can connect better to different cultures [and] different populations,” Lehman said.  

Lehman continues to explore better ways to connect with different populations by maximizing opportunities gained from the GTF.  He experienced a semester-long course in ESL pedagogy and teaching practicums which allowed him to engage in new readings and start with some hands-on training by facilitating a course for visiting scholars at Emory. Following this, for three weeks, Lehman departed to Nanjing with Bristow to work with the graduate and undergraduate students. 

For Lehman, the curriculum and the curriculum development opportunities also provided valuable insights. Although the GTF’s curriculum is established, there is ample room for the fellow to learn how to modify and adapt the curriculum. At its base, Bristow built the ever-evolving curriculum that focused on advancing the students’ skills in communicating their research or contributing to conferences based in the learner’s practical needs. For instance, the curriculum aimed to support Nanjing  graduate students who are asked to write and publish a research article as part of graduation requirements.

“It makes the most sense to build some of the curriculum around curriculum development because you create buy-in, you create a meaningful reason why you have to take this language class,” Bristow said. 

Mike was able to learn about the difference between a task-based vs. communicative based syllabus deepening his understanding of language learning approaches. The development of the syllabus took a more task-based approach instead of a linguistic approach.  

“It is important to consider what approach might be best since fellows are only there for three weeks,” Bristow said. “For this experience, we attempt to ask students to engage in problem-solving activities where they apply the language they learn and find motivation through hands-on experiences.”

As Lehman notes, gaining teaching experience is crucial for students in the English program.

While the English program well-equips students in teaching and research, additional programs that provide more practical teaching opportunities prove highly beneficial as well.

“Programs such as the Global Teaching Fellowship are important because it gives students more opportunities to teach. Perhaps most importantly, it also provides the diversity of designing and implementing a curriculum at a different university and in a different country,” explained Lehman. 

Bristow, however, wants future applicants to know that while Lehman is in the English department, the fellowship is a great opportunity for graduates pursuing STEM fields as well. She encourages all meeting this criteria to explore this invaluable opportunity. Applications for the GTF are open from Oct 28th until Nov 20th

Click here to apply to the Global Teaching Fellowship program.