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AlumniChinaPakistanSpecialist

30@30 Specialist Eve Smith Reflects on Teacher Training and Resilience in K-12 Education

 

“I always go in thinking I’d rather [the teachers] not ever need me again. I want them to get to the place where they’re passing [methodology] on to future generations.”

With Fellow and Specialist engagements in 12 countries over her career, Eve Smith has built an extensive
repertoire of teacher training experience that can be applied in multiple and varied contexts. In 2019,
she traveled to Pakistan as a Specialist to work with madrasa teachers from primary and secondary
schools. When teaching children, she says, “there’s so much you can do. They’re open, and they absorb
knowledge. You can really shape their views [in a way] that will then carry into their university studies.
For example, how they perceive English language teaching and learning, which may accelerate their
intrinsic motivation towards learning English.” Transforming student perceptions of learning English is
one of Smith’s main workshop objectives because it is one of the aspects of English language learning
she sees her students struggle with the most.
In Pakistan as well as other countries where she’s worked as a teacher trainer, Eve says that modeling is
key to her approach. Her goal in teacher training is sustainability. “I always go in thinking I’d rather [the
teachers] not ever need me again,” she says. “I want them to get to the place where they’re passing
[methodology] on to future generations.” Sometimes Specialist projects include a follow-up component,
and Eve has had the privilege of getting to see her projects evolve, when returning months or even years
later.

Specialist Eve Smith in Ukraine

Once, for example, she was visiting a winter camp in Ukraine that she had worked with five years prior.
“We were doing observations. I had forgotten about some of the activities being used until I saw the
teacher doing them in the classroom, and they were successful. The teacher looked at me and said,
‘Yeah, you taught me this!’ Going back, working with the teachers, and seeing them utilize some of the
activities that we’ve taught them– how well they’re doing, and how much they connect with the
students– that to me has been very rewarding.”

“[My work] has always been about the core of the person and helping them to be the best person that they can be.”

In addition to modeling fun and engaging activities in youth-centered classrooms, empowering students
and colleagues to be aware of the emotional complexity of trauma and how this might influence the
classroom is central to Smith’s pedagogy. This approach is informed by her own experiences abroad,
from surviving natural disasters to living through politically fraught situations, and it emphasizes use of
yoga and meditation to find resilience in difficult circumstances. “[My work] has always been about the
core of the person and helping them to be the best person that they can be,” she says. This sort of selfcare is as important for teachers as it is for students, a point Smith feels is too often overlooked in life.
“As teachers, we really are the first people who would notice problems students are facing. That’s why
we have to keep ourselves healthy. If I’m stuck in myself due to being overwhelmed, I’m not going to see
that my student is suffering in a way that might need an intervention with a school counselor.”
Many of Smith’s methods are considered unconventional at first by the teachers and administrators she
encounters on Specialist engagements. While activities such as having students hit the blackboard with
a fly-swatter, as she introduced at madrasa teacher trainings in Pakistan, are often met with excitement
by students, with her colleagues she understands the need to form a lasting connection before conveying
an activity. Her approach is to humanize herself and her lessons through fun and engaging activities with
the teachers. “When you first go into wherever you’re working, your audience is excited, but they’re
excited because they often see you through their perception of an American,” she says. “They don’t see
you, the person yet; it’s up to you to create a sense of connection. Many teachers believe that what
might work for my students wouldn’t necessarily work for their students because I’m American and I
have different students. When we do activities and I ask them how they might be adapted to their own
lessons, the teachers begin to see me as a teacher like them. Then, they become more receptive to the
material in my workshop.”

Specialist Eve Smith

The skills Smith has finetuned during her Specialist engagements continue to inform her current work as
an educator in a Hong Kong university. “One of the most powerful things that I took from my experience
as a Specialist was listening,” she says. This is critical in the Hong Kong classroom because the students
feel that they have a voice that is understood. Not only does this help develop a connection between
Smith and her students, but it fosters their intrinsic motivation to learn English. Finally, she says,
“Understanding how to listen and be present with people has enabled me to connect with students and
teachers, to make that bridge between people which we have to establish very quickly as Specialists.”

Eve Smith has participated in engagements sponsored by the Office of English Language Programs (OELP) in 12 countries including China, Pakistan, Russia and Ukraine. Her assignments have included teacher trainings, delivering English Access Microscholarship Programs and establishing writing centers. Her focus is on both creative writing and developing resilience. With a total 18 years of work in English language education, she considers the OELP assignments among the most stimulating and gratifying of her career. Joining the faculty at City University of Hong Kong in 2017, Eve has been an enthusiastic adaptor of online learning. Her department nominated her for the university’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2020. Eve earned an M.A. from Georgia State’s Applied Linguistics and ESL Program (Atlanta, GA) following a B.A. in Creative Writing and Literature from Agnes Scott College (Decatur, GA).

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