Joe McVeigh traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam through a month-long English Language Specialist project in early 2019 to facilitate professional development workshops with in-service teachers. Through this project, McVeigh worked with professionals of diverse backgrounds, including educators in capital cities and primary school teachers from rural areas. In Cambodia, McVeigh gave the plenary talk and facilitated several workshops at the 15th Annual CamTESOL Conference. He also led workshops at the Royal Institute of Foreign Languages and the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh. In Vietnam, McVeigh worked with university-level teachers at Hanoi University and with primary and secondary school instructors at the Experimental school. 

“Teachers are like tailors because they need to make sure that the lesson fits each student appropriately” – CamTESOL attendee 

During his plenary talk at CamTESOL, which focused on what teachers can learn from other professions, McVeigh invited audience participants to share their ideas on the subject and was met with fascinating observations. One participant stated, “Teachers are like tailors because they need to make sure that the lesson fits each student appropriately.” Other participants identified lessons from chefs who combine various flavors and ingredients to create meals and from music conductors who adjust their tempos to different audiences and occasions. McVeigh’s favorite idea was that teachers could learn from the Phnom Penh police officers who spot vehicles with fake license plates. Participants suggested that just like these officers, teachers should always be prepared to detect fakes or plagiarism in their classrooms.  

“There were about 700 people in the audience ranging from PhDs to brand new teachers with limited English. I felt that my talk was able to hit the sweet spot so that everyone was able to get something useful out of it.” – Joe McVeigh

In preparing for this Specialist project and for CamTESOL specifically, McVeigh noted that, “Even with a lot of advance preparation, you really never know the level of the teachers you will be working with until you are face to face with them.” McVeigh shared that he developed materials that could be scaled up or down depending on the language level and teaching expertise of his audiences reporting that this process can be “both fun and challenging.” McVeigh described finding the perfect fit in terms of content at his plenary talk as one of the most rewarding aspects of this project. “There were about 700 people in the audience ranging from PhDs to brand new teachers with limited English,” he noted. “I felt that my talk was able to hit the sweet spot so that everyone was able to get something useful out of it.”  

“When surrounded by teachers asking you to pose for photos after your talks and workshops, charge them a ‘fee’ by asking them to tell you one useful thing that they remember from your talk or workshop!” – Joe McVeigh

Through this Specialist project, McVeigh realized the extent to which teachers carry knowledge with them about their students, their subject matter, and how to teach. He noted that often the most useful tool in teacher training is to give teachers the time and space to acknowledge and share what they already know. McVeigh also offered a quick and tangible teacher training takeaway to prospective Fellows and Specialists: “When surrounded by teachers asking you to pose for photos  after your talks and workshops, charge them a ‘fee’ by asking them to tell you one useful thing that they remember from your talk or workshop!” In both Cambodia and Vietnam, McVeigh trained and empowered teachers to be successful in their local contexts and to build upon their existing knowledge and strengths.   

Joe McVeigh is a consultant, teacher trainer, and author in the field of English language teaching. Based in Middlebury, Vermont, Joe has designed curricula, trained trainers, taught courses, and administered intensive English language programs at the University of Southern California, California State University at Los Angeles, the California Institute of Technology, Saint Michael’s College, and Middlebury College. McVeigh conducts program reviews and consults for intensive English programs in the U.S. and internationally. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the TESOL International Association and works part-time as a site visit representative for CEA (the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation), for whom he coordinates  the work of volunteer peer reviewers in the analysis of self-study reports and verification of on-site visits.

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