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30@30 Specialist Liz England Supports Teachers’ Associations in Africa

“There was no sensing, ‘Oh, here comes this American expert who’s going to train us to do these things’. No, instead, the feeling was, ‘here is this American expert who’s coming to partner with us in doing what we want to do.’” 

Dr. Lizabeth England arrived in Botswana in June 2015 as the first English Language Specialist in the country. She knew there would be a lot of pressure to get it right. The U.S. Embassy in Gaborone and the Regional English Language Officer in South Africa had asked England to assess how the Embassy could support English teaching in Botswana, and at the same time to help with the formation of the Botswana Association for Teachers of English (BATE).  For the latter project, England knew that success would depend on the relationships she built with the Botswanan teachers. “There are extraordinarily gifted, intellectually-driven, and academically competent people in universities in Botswana,” England explained. She was delighted when the expectations of her new colleagues aligned with her own. England has years of experience as a TESOL association leader, but she was not interested in coming in as an all-knowing expert. “There was no sensing, ‘Oh, here comes this American expert who’s going to train us to do these things. No, instead, the feeling was, ‘here is this American expert who’s coming to partner with us in doing what we want to do.’” 

While this meant the pressure was off England to have all the answers, initially she needed to encourage some of the educators to take the lead. It seemed some of the participants in the workshops weren’t fully aware of just how competent they were. For example, during meetings, England noticed that she was expected to speak first. It was hard for her to hold back, but after a few awkward silences, the teachers would collaborate on their own and then choose someone to start the meeting. “It was challenging for me, and I think that it surprised them, too,” England said. “It’s probably a little scary when someone goes against your expectations.”

As England got to know the Botswanan teachers better, she learned about some of the challenges they faced, including water shortages and the AIDS/HIV epidemic. “I met no citizen of Botswana who did not have a family member who’d died of AIDS/HIV. Not one.” These aspects of life affected the teachers’ communication style, which presented yet another difficulty. “Being a Specialist in Botswana involved in-depth communications with senior officials and others who found it difficult to address the complexities of their situations,” explained England. She was able to break through these communication barriers to bolster her colleagues and encourage them to see the opportunities available to them for personal and professional development in teaching English. “It was possible to break through their resistance a little bit, even in this very short visit, and to say, ‘Well, you could be the President of BATE.’”

Ultimately, England and her colleagues were able to lay the groundwork for the creation of their new association. England remembers the meeting where everything came together, with the participants preparing the required documents, identifying a team of leaders, and sketching out answers to all the questions required to become a TESOL International affiliate. “I’ve done this work in other countries,” said England. ”This one went especially well – they were eager, positive and engaged. I wish I had a video of that meeting: a true model in managing such important work!” 

Specialist Liz England

With an academic career anchored in the United States, Liz England has enjoyed contributing to projects on educational program design, implementation and evaluation for universities, ministries, and private and government agencies in over 30 countries. Dr. England is a frequent speaker and workshop leader for professional language teacher education programs worldwide in over 20 countries. In addition, she is author and editor of several books, and author or co-author of book chapters and journal articles. Most recently, she has published a book on a critical issue to language teachers worldwide:
TESOL Career Path Development: Creating Professional Success (Routledge, 2019). Among a variety of other leadership roles in international, U.S.-based, statewide and local projects, Dr. England is founder of TESOL International’s Career Path Development Professional Learning Network with over 600 followers worldwide.

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