An article written by Anaheim University TESOL graduate Okon Effiong has been published in a leading international magazine for language teachers. The article, "Tuning Learners up with 'Sweet Nothings' in the Language Classroom," offers strategies for helping students relax in class, overcome shyness, and feel comfortable with each other. It is featured in the December 2008 issue of Essential Teacher, the quarterly magazine of the TESOL association.
Mr. Effiong, 48, who graduated with his MA in TESOL from Anaheim University in 2008, based the article on his experiences teaching English at Kogakkan University in Japan and at Kantan English House, a small private language school he runs. He said: “I do things in the classroom to help my students relax sufficiently and feel comfortable with each other, enough to speak English with minimal or no inhibitions. We learn in a fun way and truly have fun in the classroom and the students do not even realize they are improving on a weekly basis, but I do. It is more like a family than a classroom.”
In particular, Mr. Effiong wants to help Japanese students overcome their shyness, and he stresses taking an unconventional approach to do so. “My mission statement is to make Japanese speak English, wherever I may be offered a chance to support their learning. If the tried and tested methods yield the same results, year in year out, why stick with them?
“I am particularly interested in finding out what learning strategies help individual learners achieve their learning goals, and how learners can be supported to discover unique, possibly inherent strategies which may not be apparent until they are triggered. My work then is to help the learners find or discover the switch that would trigger the realization or awareness of the strategy,” he said.
Mr. Effiong’s stress on an unconventional approach reflects his own unconventional life in general: born in Nigeria and speaking four Nigerian languages, he spent 34 years there before moving to England for 10 years, and finally moving to Japan four years ago. He now lives in Kyoto.
The holder of two Master’s degrees (TESOL and Botany) and a Postgraduate Diploma (IT and Management), he taught undergraduate genetics for six years at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Nigeria, served as a research visitor at the University of Reading in the UK, and taught children with autism at the Loddon School, Basingstoke, Hampshire, in England. It was TESOL though that was to become his passion in life. Appropriately, he became interested in the field, in his words, “for the love of a woman.” While in England in 2002, he met Hiromi, a Japanese woman who was visiting England and who would later become his wife. He moved to Japan to be with Hiromi and obtained a TESOL Certificate to help him find his first teaching job there.
Mr. Effiong said he enjoys TESOL for several reasons including, “the flexibility it offers whereby you can try a teaching method that works well or adapt a particular style to different teaching situations.” He added: “I am an academic ‘jack-of-all-trades’, having attempted Master's in three different fields including IT and Management, and the snow-balling effect of the knowledge from the different fields simply makes me a different sort of teacher. I am never shy to try new things. If I do and it fails, I apologize to whoever is unhappy with my effort, but if it works, then everybody is happy.”
To be eligible for more challenging teaching opportunities, Mr. Effiong wanted to earn a Master’s degree in TESOL and chose Anaheim University. He now reflects fondly on his Anaheim experience: “Apart from being taught by very good professors, the program brought out the side I hardly knew existed in Okon. The way the program is run helps you to discover yourself, and this is what I am trying to do to my students. I help them discover the hidden talents and skills which laid dormant in them as a result of learning in traditional classrooms.
“A Certificate in TESOL is a good start but I would recommend the MA TESOL program that Anaheim offers to any aspiring and practicing teachers because it makes the scales drop off your eyes and you can see beyond conventional wisdom.”?
Mr. Effiong would now like to pursue a doctoral degree in TESOL while still finding time to spend with his wife, learn new web design tools, cook, and dance to R & B and hip hop music. He had also presented at conferences in France and Japan on issues related to intellectual disabilities including Asperger Syndrome and autism. With such a varied background to draw on, he is able to provide sound advice to his fellow language teachers. He advises: “If you are a language teacher, wherever you may be, try and make a difference. If you are not given enough responsibilities to challenge you, create one. Be happy, or create happiness for yourself because life is too short.”
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