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Alumni Ambassador Amy Burden Embraces New Challenges for Growth

As one of the first English Language Programs participants to embark on a virtual fellowship (Philippines, 2020-2021), Amy Burden was poised for this new challenge. “I had my eye on applying to English Language Programs for about five years while I was working on my Ph.D.,” Burden said. “It was very exciting for me to finally be able to apply to the program, and then receive the project offer to work with educators in the Philippines from my home office in Tennessee.”

Dr. Burden working from her home office

While Burden had some prior experience working online, her virtual fellowship offered a new level and intensity of online teaching. The call for creativity beckoned during a time of global isolation. “I liked the challenge of taking communicative tasks that I normally used for in-person classes and finding or making tech tools that created a modicum of interactivity in the virtual environment,” Burden said. This is a story that Burden has now told a number of times as a 2022-2023 Alumni Ambassador, at conferences and events around the country, recruiting for English Language Programs and connecting with other alumni.

Because online learning was relatively new for the educators at Aklan State University, one of the two host institutions Burden worked with, Burden built a Learning Management System (LMS) to facilitate integrating multiple modes of synchronous and asynchronous learning strategies. “This was both a lot of fun and a lot of hard work,” Burden said. “I loved seeing the teachers learn how to navigate the new learning platforms, as we all grew more comfortable teaching strictly with technology.”

Her secondary duties included advising students on their master’s theses, providing feedback on their resumes and cover letters, and practicing for job interviews. At Angeles University Foundation (AUF), Burden’s second host institution, she collaborated with colleagues to give workshops to faculty of the region’s Departments of Education and Higher Education, as part of AUF’s commitment to community service. Through Aklan State University, she also developed specialized meet-ups with several groups in the region who were working through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in media literacy. For the Philippines National Teachers Conference, Burden was invited to be a plenary speaker, a career first for her.

Dr. Burden spoke at a meet-up of 155 Philippine Trainers from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Women in STEM Scholars of the International Labor Organization

Burden learned much from her many course and workshop participants. Their resilience, drive, and commitment to improving their skills continue to inspire her. “My students showed up to class a day after a typhoon!” Burden said, recalling how they took a boat to an area with better internet reception in order to attend her lesson. She also valued how her students and colleagues would gladly take on hours of classes on the weekends and in the evening after work. “I was truly blessed to work with such gifted educators and administrators, and learn from their resourcefulness and expertise,” Burden said.

Burden and her Filipino colleagues found creative ways for cultural exchange. They approached their virtual learning sessions as special occasions. “I loved that when I presented workshops and webinars my hosts played their national anthem, and then we said a prayer together,” Burden said. For her part, Burden sent them a copy of a menu from a Filipino restaurant in Memphis so that they could discuss the cuisine together. “They made recommendations on what I should order and then followed up with me to see what I thought of the food,” Burden said. The group’s camaraderie continues to this day, sharing photographs, resources, and life updates through social media. “We’re always rooting for each other professionally and personally, and reaching out with new ideas and feedback,” Burden said.

Dr. Burden gave a workshop on writing assessment development with Canva to 250 K-12 educators from the Central Luzon region of the Philippines

As soon as Burden wrapped up her fellowship, new opportunities came calling. “Within a month, I worked with the Teacher’s Corner Facebook Group as an invited expert on teaching the four skills online,” Burden said. “This was such a rewarding experience turning social media into a learning platform for 7,000 or so educators worldwide.” Shortly thereafter, she was hired as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Memphis, where she taught in the BA and MA ESL programs, and served as an advisor on applied linguistics for graduate students.

When Burden applied for her current position as an ESL Assessment Specialist with the University of Michigan, she leveraged the skills she gained from her fellowship to describe how she’d be a great fit for the role. “I firmly believe the work I did as a Fellow teaching assessment courses at AUF gave me the experience I needed to earn this job,” she stated.

I firmly believe the work I did as a Fellow teaching assessment courses at AUF gave me the experience I needed to earn this job.

In addition to working as a consultant on curriculum writing and presenting at both the TESOL International Convention and the AAAL Conference in Pittsburgh in 2022, Burden is pursuing publication opportunities: she has contributed a chapter on online assessment to a forthcoming book and sent her publisher a draft of a book on gender and ethnicity in children’s ESL textbooks.

Dr. Burden meeting prospective applicants and alumni at the English Language Programs booth at fall conferences

Through all of her recent professional experiences, Burden has discovered the joys of helping other educators find and pursue new challenges. As an Alumni Ambassador, she’s found the perfect platform for doing just that. “I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting like-minded people, having thoughtful conversations, and making connections at conferences this fall,” Burden said. “Working remotely, I didn’t realize how refreshing these in-person conversations would be, reminding me I’m not alone in my heart for English Language Learners.”

Amy Burden was a virtual English Language Fellow in the Philippines, 2020-2021. She has 15 years of experience in the TESOL and Applied Linguistics fields, including teaching and teacher training at universities in Mississippi and Tennessee. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Memphis. She currently works as an ESL Assessment Specialist at Michigan Language Assessment, University of Michigan. Her research focuses on analyzing and developing equity-minded curricula and assessments in ESL/EFL classrooms.

Stay tuned for our next featured Alumni Ambassador story with Avram Tepfer.

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