English Language Fellow Renee Thessing has been busy developing teaching resources for educators in rural Uruguay. Let her stories take you for a bike ride at sunset along the South Atlantic Ocean in Montevideo and into teacher training workshops across the country.
►Daily Life in Montevideo, Uruguay
English Language Fellow Renee Thessing is based in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay and a modern city with many great restaurants, shops, and businesses. Thessing begins a typical day by walking to work at the Office of Políticas Lingüísticas (Office of Foreign Language Policy), near the Presidential Palace, just a few blocks from her apartment. For lunch, Thessing and her colleagues often visit a local bakery to enjoy a tarta or ensalada. A tarta is similar to a quiche with a combination of vegetables or ham and cheese. Thessing also enjoys eating chivitos, the national dish of Uruguay (pictured to the right). Chivitos include a thin slice of tender cooked beef steak with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, olives, and sometimes bacon, fried or hard boiled eggs, and ham.
After finishing work between 5-6pm, Thessing frequently rides her bike down to the Rambla, a walking path that runs along the South Atlantic Ocean. She describes the Rambla as a relaxing, yet joyful place where, “locals gather to play football, walk, drink maté, and spend time with family and friends while watching the sunset.”
Thessing’s exciting Fellow project has also given her the opportunity to visit schools and conduct teacher trainings across Uruguay; particularly in remote regions with a high need for her teacher training expertise.
►Developing an English Curriculum for Rural Schools
Thessing’s primary project involves developing an English curriculum for rural schools with the Office of Políticas Lingüísticas (Office of Foreign Language Policy) at the National Administration of Public Education (ANEP), the lead institution for education in Uruguay.
Uruguay has 2,800 schools and about 900 are located in Montevideo. The remaining 1,900 schools are considered rural schools, and their contexts vary greatly. Thessing’s project focuses on increasing the English language teaching capacity for schools that do not have an English teacher, nor an internet connection for English classes taught through videoconferencing. Thessing’s project, which is called Inglés sin Límites (English with No Limits), instructs teachers with basic English skills on facilitating engaging lessons through videos, an instructor’s manual, and accompanying materials. Since beginning her fellowship, Thessing has been busy developing video lessons and accompanying lesson plans for the Inglés sin Límites instructor’s manual.
During the last week of October, Thessing trained 64 rural teachers for the Inglés sin Límites pilot program. Throughout November, those 64 teachers have been piloting the program at their own schools. If the pilot is successful, Inglés sin Límites will have the potential to expand to over 1,000 rural schools during the 2019-2020 school year.
“Every time I present or interact with teachers, I’m inspired by their enthusiasm for teaching English,” Thessing explains. Reflecting back on the teacher training workshop for the Inglés sin Límites pilot, Thessing notes that many teachers were nervous because of their limited experiences with English language. “Yet, they eagerly applied themselves to learning the new vocabulary and the sequence of the lesson plans,” she appreciatively shares. Thessing describes the enthusiasm of the teachers as being “contagious.” The passion and dedication of the 64 teachers who participated in the pilot have already started to yield positive results. “We have begun to receive videos of their students introducing themselves and singing in English,” Thessing joyfully exclaims.
The photo above shows Thessing singing a song with students from a rural school in Rivera that is piloting Inglés sin Límites. Thessing visited the school during the second week of the four week pilot program. She explains that students were already using phrases, even though this was their first experience with English. “I was a bit of a celebrity with the students when we visited them. They had seen me on the video and were amazed to see me in real life,” states Thessing.
►Training English Teachers
As part of her secondary projects, Thessing works with the Department of Second Languages at ANEP Políticas Lingüísticas to help train English teachers. In September, she presented on the resources and programs available through the American English website to about forty English teachers representing various tiers of the education system, including primary, secondary, and technical schools.
For the past ten years, Thessing has taught English in elementary school settings, both abroad and in the United States. After her first teaching experience at a private school in South Korea, Thessing returned with a passion for teaching English to students from different cultures. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Thessing spent two years in Panama, co-teaching with the local public-school English teachers and collaborating with other volunteers in the region to provide professional development workshops. After Peace Corps, Thessing earned her K-12 teaching certificate and master’s in Teaching English Language Learners from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to teaching 4th grade English Language Learners at a public school in Nashville, Thessing coordinated an adult ESL family literacy program and coached ELL teachers as a specialist with the Office of English Learners at Metro Nashville Public Schools.
►The Road Ahead
After completing her fellowship, Thessing is interested in teaching adults in the United States at a university or a community college. She looks forward to connecting with the large network of English Language Fellow alumni around the world to learn more about their teaching experiences both abroad and within the United States.