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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.
Beckett Eickerman has a big heart.
For the past two years, the Arizona State University student has been active in internships teaching English to adults in the Phoenix area, including to refugees. Eickerman, who formerly worked in I.T., said he was inspired to the teaching career in an undergraduate linguistics class.
Perhaps Eickerman’s great empathy for the plight of those who have left, or lost, their home countries comes from his strong connection to his own home, having been born, raised, and schooled in the Phoenix area.
He was a transfer student to Arizona State University after having earned an Associate of Arts degree at Mesa Community College. This fall, Eickerman is completing the accelerated MTESOL (Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program at ASU and has thrown his hat in the ring for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in the Netherlands. He’ll have his fingers crossed until this spring, when the competitive program notifies those it has accepted.
We sat down with Eickerman on the eve of graduation to find out a little bit more about his plans.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: There were two "aha" moments for me. The first, smaller "aha" was in ENG 404: Culture in the Language Classroom when (English instructor and director of internships) Ruby Macksoud talked about her experiences working at companies abroad teaching English to adults. Until that moment, I hadn't realized that teaching English to adults was a possible career. Learning that led me to doing the undergrad TESOL certificate, and then later the 4+1 MTESOL program.
The main "aha" moment started when I was applying to Fulbright this year to go to the Netherlands to be an English Teaching Assistant — this required a potential project proposal. In looking for a project I found an organization in the Netherlands that accepted volunteers to help with projects for LGBT asylum seekers. Finding this caused me to reflect back on my MTESOL internship where I taught English to adult refugees at GateWay Community College. That internship was incredibly difficult because I had students who had no literacy in their first language and hardly any literacy in English. After reflecting on that internship, and talking with Ruby about the gaps in English Language Teaching for refugees here in the U.S. — especially compared to the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program — I knew what I wanted to study and do. So, my "aha" moment was when I realized that I want to create and implement a standardized curriculum for pre-literate adult refugees in the U.S.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: In high school, I had a classmate who planned to teach English abroad after graduation. A close friend said that was something anyone with a high school diploma could go do. At the time, I agreed with that sentiment, it made sense and it would be so easy to do. No. No, it is not. I learned first-hand, and through classes — especially APL 518: World Englishes with (Associate Professor) Aya Matsuda — that just because you can speak English does not mean you can teach English.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Honestly, because it's in state and the closest to me. But after being taught by the amazing professors in MTESOL and linguistics programs, I'm very glad I came here.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Ruby Macksoud taught me so much and it's hard to pick just one thing. For me, it comes back to what she teaches about reflection and adaptability. After teaching a lesson, reflecting on what worked in the lesson plan, what didn't work, and why, and then making changes to adapt to the needs of the students are key to being a good teacher of ESOL.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Talk to your professors — go to their office hours or make appointments. Ask them questions about the content, readings, assignments, etc. Voice other questions and concerns. Ask them for advice. Just talk to them.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The graduate student lounge in Ross-Blakley Hall. It's secluded and tucked away so not a lot of people use it and only the occasional person walks by. It might be a bit small, but since it doesn't have its own ceiling it seems a lot bigger than it is. The vaulted ceiling makes it open to the acoustics of the first and second floor, which I like because I can't stand a completely silent space. And it has great big windows to look out of.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: In January, I will likely be teaching ESOL classes at GateWay Community College. I may do online ESOL teaching as well, but I am still undecided about that. I'll also be waiting to hear if I've been accepted to be an English Teaching Assistant in the Netherlands through Fulbright.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would tackle the lack of standardized curriculum for adult refugees in the U.S. With the money, I would set about hiring and collaborating with the right people to create the U.S. equivalent of the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program.