Students become the teachers with Employee Language Program

Flags from around the world are displayed on a wall in the modern and classical languages department. // Photo by Lauren Gallup

By Lauren Gallup

Learning another language can be a great opportunity, but one that is hard to fit into a busy schedule. For Western employees, the opportunity to learn is right on campus.

Western’s Employee Language Program allows Western employees to partake in language workshops at no cost to them, all taught by Western students.

Through the program, participants can enroll in one of three workshop levels, from level 1: basic conversation to level 2: basic conversation to written and oral communication workshops, according to the Employee Language Program website. Workshops are taught by student facilitator pairs.

Paden Koltiska, a student facilitator for Spanish workshops in the program, teaches workshops in a classroom setting for the program. Koltiska said the program is a way to change relationships across the university by reversing the typical “student-teacher” role and having students instructing professors or other staff members with more professional experience than them.

“This program gives me the opportunity to step outside the classroom setting and be in a different role in a classroom,” Koltiska said. “So instead of being a student, I am a teacher, which I think is really exciting.”

Autumn Weis, another student facilitator, acknowledged what the role reversal for a student to be teaching someone with more professional experience feels like.

“There’s definitely that hierarchy reversal that we see, but not in any kind of scary way,” Weis said. “Now they’re in this role of student again, and we’re teachers.”

Former Western president Bruce Shepard started the Employee Language Program as a professional development program in the winter of 2013, Kirsten Drickey, senior instructor of Spanish at Western, said.

The program was created as a way for employees to better serve the changing student body linguistically and culturally, Drickey said. It was structured to benefit its participants as well as student facilitators.

Workshops and conversation pairings typically last for eight weeks during the academic quarter, Drickey said. The workshops are non-credit bearing, and there is no cost for participants to use the Employee Language Program.

Drickey is the curriculum coordinator for the Spanish workshops that are a part of the program. Drickey takes care of the logistical side of the workshops in the role of coordinator. She helps student facilitators decide what to teach, how to setup Canvas pages and create a syllabus.

The Employee Language Program also offers workshops in French. Participants fill out a survey to express language needs and the program works to accommodate those needs.

“In practice, the facilitators have a great deal of voice in the curriculum,” Drickey said.“I always defer to the facilitators in terms of what’s actually happening in their workshops.”
Shannon Ouzts has been a student facilitator for Spanish workshops for several quarters, she said.

“I’ve been able to teach many different levels throughout my time in the program,” Ouzts said. “I love it because every time you get a new group of people, or maybe you know one or two people in there, but then you also get to practice your skills as a teacher.”

Student facilitators teach workshops in a classroom setting.

“The classroom atmosphere is so flexible, and we get to have lots of fun and we are able to have great conversations with our students,” Ouzts said.

This quarter is Nancy Alpuche’s first teaching a workshop as a facilitator.

“It’s really nice to have [my teaching partner] there cause if I don’t know something, then she’s there to back me up, so we always have that support from each other, and I think that helps our students a lot so they get more out of it,” she said.

Often newer facilitators and more experienced facilitators are paired together for a workshop, so that the more experienced facilitator can be a mentor to the newer student, Drickey said.

Matt Bettencourt is a facilitator for Spanish workshops.

“I want to be a high school teacher, so this gives me experience of not having a full classroom of students but having just a couple students and being able to figure out how to teach and express to them certain concepts,” Bettencourt said.

Participants at all levels can also enroll to get a one-on-one conversation partner, a flexible option that allows participants and facilitators to meet on a weekly basis based on their schedules.

Koltiska shared the successes he has seen for participants in the program. One of his conversation partners was a Western staff member that wanted to surprise his daughter who was learning Spanish in high school.

“Our most recent lesson, I just saw a significant improvement just over the course of one week,” Koltiska said. “That was really rewarding for me, cause it makes me very optimistic for what we can achieve by the end of this quarter.”

Geoffrey Matthews, a computer science professor at Western, was a long-term participant in the program. Matthews now has a science, technology, engineering and math outreach program that he takes down to Skagit Valley to speak to students and their parents in Spanish about studying STEM at Western, Drickey said.

Matthews was unavailable for an interview as he is currently in Mexico using the Spanish he learned from the program, he said in an email.

“It actually has an impact on other people’s lives.” Drickey said.

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