2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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What Next: A Frank Discussion of Jordan's Education Needs

Not long before they headed home, the 11 Jordanian teachers enrolled in TC’s summer TESOL Certificate Program sat down for an informal debriefing with TC’s President Susan Fuhrman, TESOL Certificate Program Director Linda Wine and faculty members Jim Purpura and Bill Gaudelli. Over coffee and snacks, the Jordanians talked about why the trip was a success and how they will apply what they learned at TC back in their own schools.

Perhaps the most consistent comment was that while many Jordanian teachers are proficient in the mechanics of English—that is, in English learned from textbooks—they don’t get a chance to use the language with native speakers. As a result, they feel that their accents are poor and their cultural understanding remains thin.

“We’re getting information and learning how to apply it,” said one Jordanian teacher. “Here we’ve become more confident, we can speak together fluently, and we can speak to you.”

The Jordanians also lamented the dearth of certificate programs in Jordan focusing on the teaching of English as a foreign language.

Not having certificate programs “creates a motivation problem because Jordanian teachers already have so much to do,” said another. “There is no incentive to do the extra work. But a certificate, especially associated with a prestigious institution, is something that people will see differently.”

And still another issue: There appears to be little focus in Jordan on content-based language instruction—that is, on teacher education courses that train teachers to teach math, science or other disciplines in English, as opposed to only teaching the English language as a subject unto itself with little linkage to what students are learning in their other classes.

While everyone acknowledged that TC and Columbia alone cannot meet the needs of all of Jordan’s 300,000 teachers, there was general optimism that important seeds were being planted as a result of this summer’s exchange.

One visiting teacher talked about her interest in starting an electronic Web-based community that would allow Jordanian and American educators and students alike to share observations about important cultural differences that affect learning. And Fuhrman envisioned the eventual creation of “sister school” relationships between New York City public schools and their counterparts in Jordan. Both ideas were greeted with enthusiasm, tempered by an understanding of the scope of the larger endeavor.

“We thought when we came here that Queen Rania had sent us on a long trip,” said one teacher. “We understand now that this is just the first step in a much longer journey.”

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