Interview series with new ESN coach Jode Brexa
1. Prior to coming to Uzbekistan, what educational teaching/teacher training experience(s) did you have abroad or in the United States?
I have more than thirty years in teaching and training in secondary and post-secondary education institutions, from public school teaching for fifteen years, as an active community college instructor, as an English Language Specialist with programs in India, Tajikistan and Mongolia, as a former English Language Fellow in Romania, and, more than 40 years ago, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal. I have coached teachers in my public high school through the Teach American program, across continents as an English Language Specialist with English Teacher Mentors. When COVID 19 closed schools and programs and cancelled my travel, I moved my coaching to Zoom and successfully coached a colleague in Tajikistan to co-facilitate a Digital Storytelling project on the ground with young women rural learners
2. What motivated you to work in education, either as a teacher or a teacher trainer?
I had an American professor who served as my mentor in Japan when I was studying and doing professional development in the field of Intercultural Education. There were many challenges working cross-culturally in the l990s there, and my mentor helped me understand differences I couldn’t see.
3. What do you think is the most important factor or skill for teachers to work toward in their professional development?
Resilience. There are few situations I haven’t faced in 30 years of international work: unexpected delays, power outages, petty theft, loss of technology, debilitating accident and a medevac. With resilience, everything can be overcome. In our first Cascade session yesterday, the training was disrupted by administrators who did not want English teachers in the building for the Olympiad running concurrently. We gathered up all our materials, moved to another building, and the CT reset, regrouped and we carried on to complete the first workshop. This is a relevant example of resilience!
4. What advice or recommendation would you make to young teachers who are just starting their careers?
We all need support. My advice is to find a mentor. Find someone to share your successes and challenges with. Ask for his or her advice. She or he may be an older teacher you respect in your school, a visiting trainer in your community, a Core Trainer or RPM who is in your professional circle. This may be the most valuable relationships in your professional life. And know that when you become an experienced teacher, you will also be in a position to support a younger teacher who is new to the field or even an older teacher retooling his or her skills.
5. What curriculum, book, course, or resource would you recommend to English teachers in Uzbekistan to refine or strengthen their pedagogy?
I would recommend the open source, researched-based videos, content and links to materials created by George Mason University Teaching English Through English (TETE) program. It is accessible to anyone through the website link. These student-centered activities with deeply reflective questions support evolving practice.
6. What are your personal/professional goals that you hope to accomplish while you are an ESN Coach in Uzbekistan?
My personal/professional goal is to build relationships with Uzbek teachers so that I can continue my professional and personal friendships after the grant ends and I am back in my home city of Santa Fe New Mexico.
7. What is the most interesting/surprising thing you have experienced or learned about Uzbekistan so far?
The most interesting cultural practice I have experienced in the three weeks I have been in Andijan is the respect here. Everywhere, I see male teachers greet their colleagues and elders with a handshake. I see women teachers greet each other with a gentle hug. People greet me with As-salamu alaykum and a hand over the heart. I understand that in this Islamic region of Andijan, showing respect is the most important value.
8. What is the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher trainer?
Changemaking by building rapport with Uzbek ESN Core Trainers, INSETTI teacher trainers and English teachers to shift instructional practice from the training room to the classroom so that young learners throughout the country benefit from the best methods to support their English language acquisition.
9. Is there any other advice you would like to share with professionals in the field?
The four most valuable cross-cultural adaptation skills, whether for a Coach coming to Uzbekistan or an Uzbek traveling internationally, are communication, adaptability, listening, awareness and creativity. Try to listen and communicate from a place of respect, adapt to the differences in the new culture, and bring creativity to solving problems.