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A Cuban Practicum for Glendon’s Future Teachers of English as an International Language


Twenty-five students enrolled in Glendon’s highly successful CERT D-TEIL program (Certificate of the Discipline of Teaching English as an International Language) were treated to an unusual teaching experience this spring. They had the unique opportunity of participating in a 2-week teaching practicum from April 28 to May 12 in Cuba, at the prestigious Instituto Pedagogico Superior of Varona, Havana.

This was the first group of students to benefit from the formal York-Varona exchange agreement signed in April 2006. Their participation was greatly facilitated by a York International Mobility Grant, covering their transportation and accommodation expenses.

The Varona teacher-training program is an excellent match for the Glendon program for a number of reasons. Varona is Cuba’s leading teacher-training institution, whose 19,000 students proceed through a five-year program which, over the years, includes progressively increased practicum requirements and trains individuals to become teachers of both English and French – very much like the Glendon D-TEIL experience.
Above: Some of the Glendon team

The Canadian participants were divided into small teams and assigned to specific Cuban classes before their departure. In addition, they received extensive training and preparation for their practicum in advance, within their Glendon program, as well as a great deal of excellent practical information from the staff of York International.

Once at Varona, participants had the opportunity to teach collaboratively as well as individually, focussing on “the 3 Ps”: presentation, practice and performance in the classroom. A significant component of the Glendon TEIL course is the enhanced role of reflection in classroom experience, and this was given considerable emphasis in the Cuban practicum. Student teachers were required to observe language classes, and report on their observations. At the same time, they had several peer-teaching opportunities, which allowed them to exercise self-criticism and public reflection, aimed at fine-tuning their teaching techniques. In the Varona experience, these reflections were always delivered with great empathy and a supportive approach.

Two members of Glendon’s teaching faculty accompanied the student group: Ian Martin, a professor in the English Department and director of the CERT D-TEIL program; and Rosalind Gill, professor in the Glendon School of Translation - both with considerable Cuban experience. Their role was to observe how well the students performed, as well as to consult and advise as needed. They were joined in coordinating the practicum by Varona’s professor Alejandro Torres, who had visited Canadian universities in 2002 on a Canadian Embassy grant, with the objective of exploring possibilities of academic exchanges. A condition of this grant had been that the home institutions of Cuban exchange participants were to include a Canadian Studies component in their upper-year courses. The Glendon group had the opportunity of visiting Varona’s Canadian Studies Room and meeting participating students.

The Canadian group was housed on Varona’s Ciudad Libertad campus, which had served as Che Guevara’s headquarters in 1960, after the take-over by the revolutionary army. But there were many other interesting places to explore as well, including the famous Tropicana Club, beautiful colonial buildings, exotic parks and tropical beaches. The Canadian students were taken on memorable outings, including the May 1st festivities in Revolution Square, a guided tour of old Havana, a visit to the Museum of the Literacy Campaign, and a “Cuban Night” dance party. The host teachers and their professors gave the Canadians an unforgettable, warm welcome and many friendships were formed during the visit.

A highlight for the accompanying professors was the ‘open house’ event of the Cuban Professional English Teachers’ Association (GELI), which happened to take place in Havana during their stay. GELI’s organizers welcomed the entire group to this event, where Glendon’s Martin gave a talk on “The role of reflection in a TEIL program”.

Right: Canadians and Cubans work together in class

Ian Martin expressed the opinion of all participants when he stated that “this experience couldn’t have been better”. One student commented: “we thought we were coming on a teaching practicum, but it turned out to be a learning practicum.” Said another, “I realized the relevance of my undergraduate education and was put in contact with the global community of language teachers and experts, to which I belong.” A third student teacher commented: “I was touched at the generosity of each individual and how they gave and gave, when they have nothing. […] I could not have asked for a better international ESL experience than with these Cubans.”

“This 2006 D-TEIL Practicum is the most extensive international sojourn of any class in Glendon’s history”, concluded Martin, “and we are all most proud to have been a part of it”.

This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on September 25, 2006