Tyler Theyerl was an English Language Fellow in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from 2018 to 2020. Based at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, his primary duties centered around English communication skills classes and curriculum development for students and educators in the health sciences. Theyerl trained university librarians in English language teaching techniques, developed curriculum for English communication courses, and co-taught English language classes for university students studying to become medical professionals. Theyerl also piloted a blended English Communication for Healthcare Professionals course that was later converted to a MOOC and offered to students worldwide.
As a Fellow in Tanzania, Theyerl took on several secondary projects. These opportunities included collaborating with the English Access Microscholarship Program on teacher training and engaging students in classroom activities and language camps. Additionally, one of Theyerl’s favorite secondary projects was facilitating a monthly book club for young Tanzanian journalists in collaboration with a local NGO, Media Space Tanzania. The group read graphic novels and discussed important topics like the role of the free press in society, gender issues across cultures, and the environment.
Humanizing Healthcare through Effective Communication
“For me, teaching English isn’t about a love of grammar or the language itself. The language is a tool we use to build relationships, solve problems, and create better ways of being,” Theyerl explained. As a Fellow, Theyerl strove to make an impact by teaching his students that communication is the key to creating a healthier and more connected world. Going into his project, Theyerl was aware that healthcare professionals sometimes focus solely on treating the disease while losing sight of the person behind the chart. However, the students and staff at Theyerl’s host institution expressed a deep desire to serve others through personalized care; their commitment to human-centered healthcare aligned seamlessly with Theyerl’s philosophy of teaching English. Theyerl’s teaching fostered rich discussions on the role of effective communication in building healthy communities, destigmatizing mental health issues, and other human-centered topics aimed at positively impacting students and the communities they would one day serve as healthcare professionals.
Using Graphic Novels to Teach Beyond the Curriculum
While working with the NGO “Media Space Tanzania,” Theyerl was tasked with selecting graphic novels for their book club. At first, Theyerl was skeptical about using March, a graphic novel series about Congressman John Lewis. “I thought I already knew the story of this civil rights leader and that the members of the book club wouldn’t really be interested in reading it,” he explained. “I couldn’t have been more wrong about the series or the members’ reactions to it,” Tyler reflected. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read and it served as a tremendous tool for generating meaningful discussion.” While practicing and learning English, students dove deep into discussions on the courage of conscience, activism, political engagement, and civil rights. Teaching March became a living example of Tyler’s philosophy of using the English language to “build relationships, solve problems, and create better ways of being.” Today, Theyerl is still in touch with the book club members. “It’s amazing how often this series still comes up in our conversations,” he stated.
Career Growth through Connections
Being a Fellow helped Theyerl grow tremendously in the areas of curriculum development, teacher training, and building a professional network. Theyerl stated, “My fellowship opened doors to doing projects that I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to do, such as the graphic novel book club and camps with Access students. It helped me see that there are so many things that I can do professionally in addition to teaching. I have no doubt that the connections I made during this fellowship will follow me through my career.”
Tyler Theyerl is originally from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and has ten years of combined ESL/EFL teaching experience. He holds a master’s degree in TESOL and a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin system. He started his career working with adults with developmental disabilities and helping people navigate complex healthcare systems in the United States. He first became interested in languages while learning Swahili as a Health Education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, where he later returned as an English Language Fellow. Between tours of Tanzania, Tyler taught in South Korea, Taiwan, and Wisconsin. He has also volunteered as a tutor and cultural guide for refugees that have relocated to his home state. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Tyler taught English courses online with IT professionals in India, reconnected with colleagues in Tanzania for a Virtual English Language Fellow project, and worked as a consultant with FHI 360 on a virtual teacher exchange and on MOOC projects. He is currently working as an EFL instructor in the United Arab Emirates.