January 27, 2015 at 10:49 am

Linguistics Grad Students Have Role Teaching Assistants in OPIE

The tandem between the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) and the Department of Linguistics has an old tradition and a solid foundation. It would not be a mistake to say that the two entities complement each other’s mission through creating various opportunities for OPIE and Linguistics faculty and students to collaborate, thus enhancing their learning and teaching experiences. Teaching assistantship opportunities in OPIE are one of the examples of such cooperation.

From left to right – OPIE TAs and their mentors: Dana Simoniescu, Michelle Varnye, Richard West, Eric Letronaux, and Becky Challenger

From left to right – OPIE TAs and their mentors: Dana Simoniescu, Michelle Varnye, Richard West, Eric Letronaux, and Becky Challenger

OPIE offers the Linguistics’ students multiple settings for teaching, for example in the OPIE reading, writing, and pronunciation labs. It also invites two or three graduate students as their Teaching Assistants (TAs) each year providing them with the experience that links second language acquisition and pedagogy theories with teaching. Under the supervision of experienced faculty, OPIE TAs receive a solid training in teaching English to students from all over the world.

Currently, OPIE employs three TAs—Dana Simionescu, Richard West, and Michelle Varney. They all came to OHIO with a rich teaching background, both in the U.S. and abroad, and are currently in their second year of the M.A. program in Applied Linguistics. They are passionate about teaching and note that their teaching assistantship in OPIE gives them opportunities to learn many news things about teaching English as a second language (TESL). For example, Simionescu, who had taught for over a decade in Thailand before coming to Ohio University, notes that it is her first time to teach academic English. Varneye, who had previously taught mostly children, is now teaching adults and loves the creativity that it allows her. West had taught in more urbanized areas prior to OHIO and is grateful to be an OPIE TA stressing that “colleagues and students are just so much nicer here.”

Simionescu, West, and Varney appreciate their colleagues’ help and the guidance coming from their mentors, Becky Challenger and Eric Letourneaux, experienced lecturers and OPIE Curriculum Committee members. Challenger and Letourneaux observe TAs’ classes and provide feedback on their lesson plans. TAs also do peer observations, reflecting on other teachers’ practices and techniques. They are impressed with OPIE’s solid technological resources and enjoy “trying things out” in the classroom, with an extensive tech and teaching support coming from faculty.

Recollecting some teaching experiences in OPIE, Simionescua emphasizes the rewards of creating a good rapport with students and sends a message to the future TAs: “Just do it!” Varney, sharing her memories of celebrating Eid al-Adha (a big Muslim religious holiday) with the students, says, “Have fun with your students, get to know them!” Most likely, after an upcoming graduation, Simionescu, West, and Varney will leave Athens in search of new teaching adventures. However, they all are positive about the future, feel well-equipped after teaching in OPIE, and are ready to pursue their passion for teaching.

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