American University’s Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program believes in the importance of creating a community of learners and connecting students to the “English as an additional language” community in the Washington area and beyond. This core value is paying off for its students and alumni who are making connections, building valuable networks, and establishing rewarding careers.
“We are a small, tight-knit community of people who are passionate about working with English learners from all walks of life,” says Sarah Knowles, senior professorial Lecturer in AU’s Department of World Languages and Cultures. “I've worked in this program since 2008, and I am constantly amazed at the unique places and positions where our grads end up. Many of them end up thriving in classrooms, but quite a few have moved into other roles that support learners in other ways.”
We checked in on our TESOL alum—read on for just a few of their stories!
Jennifer Campion ’19
“AU TESOL is a small program, which means you really get to know the professors and other students. The professors were outstanding and so supportive of an older student such as me. It's not easy going back to school when many people your age are thinking about retirement. The staff and my fellow students accepted me and made me feel like I had something to contribute.”
Jennifer Campion ’19 works for English Language Training Solutions (ELTS), a woman-owned micro-business that promotes the Color Vowel Approach, an innovative pronunciation method for teaching and learning English.
Campion’s official job title is business manager — think day-to-day operations and customer support, she says. But that's only part of what she does. She works with the ELTS director to develop and deliver professional development training for teachers in a brain-based approach to English language instruction. The company also sells educational materials.
“I love my job!” Campion says. “I work from home and enjoy a flexible work schedule. My colleagues are incredibly talented, creative, and knowledgeable. I get to support educators from all over the word: native speakers and non-native English-speaking teachers, volunteer tutors, K-12 teachers, college professors, online influencers. Every day offers a new opportunity and challenge.”
Campion creates materials, develops curriculum, trains teachers, and assists in running a business with a mission she believes in. But most of all, she says, has the privilege of seeing “a-ha” moments as teachers discover how they can help their learners make real progress and gain confidence in their language skills.
For Campion, much of her success has come from making connections. She first learned about Color Vowel at a teacher conference. At this same conference, she attended a session with AU’s Linguist-in-Residence, Professor Robin Barr, on what our brain hides from us when learning a language. The session made such an impression on her that she chose American University when she made the decision to start grad school at the age of 57. At AU, Campion worked on projects with ELTS' director, Karen Taylor. Campion gave Taylor her resume, and early in 2020 she started working for ELTS.
Aung Ko Zaw ’17
“I still vividly remember the engaging and enriching lessons in my classes and all the potluck parties where we shared our cultural values.”
Aung Ko Zaw ’17 is the founder and director of Everest, a language academy in Myanmar that provides Cambridge English Exam Preparation courses for children and teenagers. Everest is an authorized Preparation Center of Cambridge Exams, and it offers general English classes as well as IELTS and TOEFL preparation courses for students who want to study abroad.
“It is rewarding to see students achieve their personal and professional goals through the English language education, and I am so grateful that we can play a part in helping students become globally engaged citizens who explore, learn, and engage with the world,” Zaw says. “I enjoy managing and working with my team to design curriculum for my school, as well as creating a stimulating work environment for the teachers and the staff.”
In 2010, Zaw first founded Everest Academy in his hometown, Sittwe, in the western part of Myanmar, but faced challenges including student recruitment and curriculum development. Then after his graduation from AU in 2017, he opened another school in Yangon, the former capital and biggest city in Myanmar, but had to close it down due to the Covid pandemic.
“I came back to my hometown to continue running Everest and introduced Cambridge Exams Preparation Courses for young learners and teenagers. Since then, the academy has been growing, and we now have over 600 students enrolled,” he says.
The TESOL program at AU helped Zaw find this success. “It gave me knowledge and expertise in language teaching, which in turn helps me design curriculum and courses more effectively to make sure my students receive high-quality education,” he says. “Also obtaining my MA TESOL degree at AU enhances my school’s credibility, showing our deep understanding of language teaching and methodologies, as well as our high standards of education.”
Amy Sleep ’21
“TESOL developed my intercultural communication and competence, which has proven essential in communicating and connecting with our learner population with a range of cultural backgrounds and identities. This allows me to be an advocate for our participants in and out of the classroom.”
Amy Sleep ‘21 works as a curriculum developer for the Worker Education & Resource Center (WERC), a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides training and support to help LA County residents obtain jobs. Sleep designs, facilitates, and implements training curricula for entry-level positions in LA County that match employer needs with the unique needs of people who are learning to speak English. Sleep’s job can be challenging at times. “But being able to see the positive impact this work has on people's lives and making connections with our participants always makes the hard days worth it," she says. “I love that we have the people and resources to provide so much support (both tangible and emotional) to our participants to ensure they are successful in our courses and beyond.”
When asked about how she found this position, Sleep says, “Connections! I was looking to transition from teaching to curriculum development and reached out to a TESOL professor/mentor who connected me with a colleague who had connections to curriculum development roles in California. Stay in touch with the people you meet in TESOL — you never know where those connections may take you!”
Sleep’s work in AU’s TESOL program taught her how to create lessons, curriculum, and materials that are appropriately scaffolded, engaging, and learner centered. “Thanks to my TESOL education, I have brought material to WERC that is creative, interactive, reflective, and that ultimately serves the unique needs of our learner population to make classroom content digestible and fun,” she says.
Xinxin Wang ’19
“I continue to benefit from the program’s career planning activities. They provide a mailing list that regularly sends out job postings. Most of my jobs have come from their emails. I have benefited greatly from the program in terms of my professional development and career planning.”
Xinxin Wang ‘19, originally from China, works as a full-time English teacher at Bay Atlantic University while also working with her husband to run Bonkers' Chinese Burger, a popular Chinese street food restaurant in DC's Chinatown.
“Being a teacher has always been my dream, and I enjoy the sense of accomplishment it brings,” she says. “I also hope to share my experiences of learning English and immersing myself in English culture with my students through teaching. As for the small business, it is a dream for my husband and me. We aim to soothe the nostalgia of Chinese students by offering them the taste of street food they are familiar with.”
Wang says she gradually worked her way up to her current position. She began as an adjunct faculty at American University’s English Language and Training Academy and as a part-time ESL instructor at The Family Place, a nonprofit that works to empower low-income families in DC through educational and support services. “Now I am in a full-time role. My master’s degree was the key to applying for all jobs at the beginning. My education background, combined with my work experience, allowed me to obtain my current position,” she says.
Wang has great admiration for all the teachers who taught her. “But there are two teachers whose classes I have taken extensively, so I have a special affection for them, Dr. Sarah Knowles and Dr. Polina Vinogradova," she says. “They continue to support my academic research work to this day. I still consult them on some professional matters, and they offer a lot of valuable insights.”