Raising our profile as ESAP teachers
Jun 2, 2017 English for Special Purposes (ESP) 1093 Views
The profile of EAP and ESAP is often very low key and under the radar of many academic departments. It is often seen as remedial and an afterthought. As EAP teachers we are aware of the difficulties non-native and indeed native speakers face in becoming familiar with the academic culture and acquiring an academic voice of their own. This article shows a way that as EAP teachers we can raise our own profile and by doing so can help to raise awareness that we are not just a remedial service or a basic study skills provider. It helps to show that we are professional members of the university by achieving Fellowship of Higher Education status and have an important role to play in learning and teaching.
I have almost twenty years teaching experience including ten of EAP and ESAP in three tertiary establishments in the UK. However, in this time I have often felt that insessional support has been viewed as an add on or as something that we give to the weaker students or just overseas students. This seems to be the message that comes from academic departments.
I have worked at three universities in the UK and dealt with many different departments and academics. In my first two jobs I provided support in six different departments and in three faculties. In my current role I am Actiing Director of Studies for an ESAP programme that offers support in over 40 departments across the five faculties. It means I have extensive experience of how the programme is viewed.
There can be a really positive relationship and I have formed this over the past few years with the Landscape Architecture department, Mechanical Engineering department and Computer Science at Sheffield. Here I would often meet the tutors who run courses, talk about students, discuss assignment briefs, marking criteria and we would share our experiences. In these departments my courses would often run alongside the main modules and in fact one of them is for credits. This is where the programmes and support are well integrated and the results are often very good.
However, those cases are unfortunately the exception rather than the rule. Many departments do not engage and infact the people in charge of provision are sometimes administration rather than academic. It seems as if as a profession we are not viewed with the same standing as others within the university and as a result it can be the students who suffer. Many teachers in EAP are very well qualified and have the CELTA, DELTA, MA and even PhD. However, CELTA, DELTA and even terminology are alien to many departments as are other acronyms we come across at the university.
Last year I enrolled on the Fellow in Higher Education Award (FHEA) programme and had to write up case studies, show my engagement across various areas, prove my core knowledge and show how my values met the criteria. This scheme is country wide and the FHEA is recommended to all teaching staff no matter what department you are in. It meant that I had to attend an introductory session, write up sessions and also beocme aware of my own practice and how it applied to higher education in general.
Over the next six months I worked on my my portfolio and also case studies and often attended sessions with other members of the university to discuss and help each other through the process. I found it very rewarding as I worked alongside lecturers from all the different faculties, but also PhD students and also people from study skills, the library and welfare services. We learnt about each other and as a result my knowledge of the university as an institution and also how the various services fit together was raised. It also meant that I really focused on my own development, not just as an ESAP teacher, but as a member of higher education in general. Just for this reason alone I would recommend doing the fellowship, but the benefits go way beyond this.
I achieved fellow status this April and now can use it as a signature on emails and can also attend events that are for fellows. I have aslo notcied the difference in terms of how I am viewed within the establishment. People know what it stands for and I have gained some cognitive authority. It appears as if now I am taken more seriously within the university as a whole and people seem to answer my emails more than before and I seem to have more access to departments. It is not just my imagination as many of my colleagues with the Language Teaching Centre, but also outside have congratulated me. In fact many of them have asked about the programme and what it involves.
Even if it has made a small difference and raised my profile as an individual the fact that I often have to contact departments as the representative of the ESAP programme means that the service itself will also benefit. If more teachers on the programme also achieve the status, I think it will give the course more academic weight and standing. Increasing the perceived professionalism of our area is crucial as well as the actual professioanlism. I think the Fellowship certianly does that on both levels. I have now been inspired to apply for the Senior Fellow and also the equivalent for BALEAP. If I obtain these, then I feel it can only help myself but also the programme I represent.