Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teaching Teachers at Fulbright ETA Orientation

Mëttwoch, 23 September.

After a whirlwind trip to Brussels for Fulbright Orientation, I'm finally back in Luxembourg ... and still digesting everything I learned less than twenty-four hours ago!

The second day of Fulbright Orientation was reserved solely for the five English Teaching Assistants and focused on the challenge of teaching English abroad. Although we all have varying levels of teaching and tutoring experience, it would be a stretch to call any of us professional teachers. Of course, that's not the point of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship; if it were, they'd hire actual trained teachers instead of young people right out of college. Still, it's hard not to feel underqualified for the position -- especially when you realize that you're teaching more English Literature courses than you ever actually took.

That's why ETA Orientation was so important. It provided us with some teaching strategies and helpful advice and it reminded us that we're all are in similar -- if equally poorly-equipped -- boats!

Ready to exchange, explore, evolve and -- hopefully -- EDUCATE!

Our first presenter had been working in international schools around the world for years and currently teaches at the International School of Brussels. He taught us about Robert Gagne's "Nine Events of Instruction" -- in other words, the nine steps of teaching. We talked about the different steps and brainstormed ideas for each before dividing into teams and planning our own lessons. Our challenge was to design a course around the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" and we had a blast trying to work in all nine stages!

It was fascinating to see how our presenter incorporated the nine steps into his lesson! Although I hope to post more in the future about these and other teaching strategies, you can find all of this information and more online.

This and above photo courtesy of Fulbright Commission Belgium (Flickr).

Next, we heard from an English professor at Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege, a Catholic secondary school in Brussels where the Belgian royal family sends their kids. (It's casual.)

He spoke to us about the challenges of teaching English at a Dutch-speaking school attended mainly by French-speaking students. (Only in Belgium!) It was fascinating to learn how he engaged with his students and to hear him talk about his passion for teaching. Although the lecture -- like much of Fulbright Orientation -- was definitely geared toward teaching in Belgium, I can definitely see how the challenges of multilingualism are applicable to life in Luxembourg.

This and above photo courtesy of Fulbright Commission Belgium (Flickr).

Throughout the course of the day, we also heard from a professor at Thomas More University College, who gave a seriously impressive presentation about effective course organization, and from Nathan Hoffmann, our Program Manager and a former Fulbright ETA.

Nathan, who worked both as a Fulbright ETA and as a teaching assistant through T.A.P.I.F., had a lot to say about the challenges both of being an American abroad and of teaching English in a foreign country.

He underlined some of the things that I've heard from my faculty link at the University of Luxembourg, including that many European university students are unused to (and initially uncomfortable with) the concept of seminar-style courses and class participation. I found the mention of the "British influence" to be particularly interesting: apparently at his university, students studying to be translators and interpreters had to choose whether they would study and perfect a British or an American accent!

Presentation images courtesy of Fulbright Belgium.

I also really liked what Nathan had to say about retaining your identity while abroad. It sounds like such an obvious message -- "Be yourself!" -- but it really resonated with me. So much of my time abroad, including the majority of my semester in Montpellier, has been focused on attempting to blend in. From the way I dress (carefully packing only the most neutral of neutrals) to the way I speak (trying to tone down my accent when speaking English in public), so much of my identity while abroad represents a conscious shift from the "American" me.

Although this year will be about cultural exchange and engagement on both sides and although I do plan to take a few style notes from the crazy chic European students around me, I have to remind myself that my job here in Luxembourg ISN'T to blend in. (How you would even do that in a country where half the population are foreigners is beyond me!) Beyond assisting in the instruction of English, my job as a Fulbright ETA is to be a representative of my country to my students and colleagues. And that means being an American -- albeit a French-speaking, neutrals-wearing American -- and embracing whatever side effects, good or bad, that identification brings.

On a slightly more fun note, I can't talk about Fulbright Orientation -- or really, any day in Belgium -- without mentioning about the food! With absolutely no offense to our presenters, lunch was truly the best part of the day. We were treated to lunch at the Musical Instruments Museum, whose rooftop restaurant has the most amazing views of Brussels!

I took what I considered quite the culinary risk by ordering the quiche du jour -- which was, of all things, SALMON QUICHE -- and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be totally delicious. While I wasn't scarfing down food, I had a blast getting to know my fellow ETAs a little bit better during lunch and enjoyed chatting with the Fulbright Belgium staff. Nathan had some great stories about his own adventures as a Fulbright ETA and I loved having the opportunity to talk to Erica Lutes, the Commission's Executive Director. (Full disclosure: I pretty much want to be her when I grow up.) But the coolest part of lunch was when we all realized that Denise Bauer -- aka the UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO BELGIUM -- was eating with friends at a table approximately two feet away. So. Cool.

Between our four amazing presentations, my (surprisingly) delicious lunch, and our accidental run-in with Ambassador Bauer, calling yesterday "memorable" feels like an understatement. Although I don't know if I'm quite ready to take charge of a classroom, I feel much more confident and prepared after two days of Fulbright Orientation -- not to mention very well-fed!

PS. Want to read more about our day? Check out fellow ETA Jack's blog post on the Fulbright Belgium website.


  1. Very interesting! Can't wait to hear more!

  2. And you are such a lovely American that it makes me even prouder, if that's possible. Represent!
    Je t'aime!