November 29, 2013
“Laughter Is the Best Lesson”
Susan Halsall's road to becoming an instructor in Capilano University's English for Academic Purposes Department is characterized by one phrase: diversity of experience. It is this diversity and flexibility that makes Susan such a valuable asset to both the EAP and Tourism programs, her two "homes" at Capilano University.
Susan's international and inter-cultural experiences started early in her life. In high school, she went to Japan to live and study, and she also participated in an exchange program in Quebec. Back on the west coast, these opportunities led to volunteer work at UBC helping to plan outings for summer English language students and then later to working as a teacher in the program. Her positive experience at UBC led her to explore teaching ESL in the summer English language program. It was in this job that Susan discovered her love for language teaching. Soon she was offered a challenging job with the Manpower Program for immigrants and refugees at Vancouver Community College. Her students included Vietnamese boat people, refugees from the Balkans, eastern Europeans, Nicaraguans, and Hmong people. Not only did this program require Susan to employ her great skill as a language teacher, but it also required her and her colleagues to go the extra step in providing support to students who were, for the most part, restarting their own lives in Canada after having experienced much loss in their own countries.
While she enjoyed her work in the ESL world, Susan also felt the need to take on yet another challenge: completing a MBA program. She was accepted to the prestigious MBA program at McGill University in Montreal. Upon graduation, she worked as an executive in marketing and quality assurance in North America and Europe for a number of years, notably being one of the pioneers in ISO certification of service business in the tourism, shipping, and software development industries.
Upon returning from Europe, and after having started a family, Susan decided to return to teaching from private industry. Starting back at Capilano University, where she had briefly taught in the Tourism Management Program, Susan taught in the EAP Department at Capilano and then rejoined Capilano's Tourism program to teach courses in Marketing, Strategy, Promotions Management, and Consumer Behaviour. Today, Susan has a joint posting in both departments.
Susan continues to embrace challenges at Capilano. In EAP, she was the Workload Coordinator for many years and she traveled to Vietnam to help develop distance learning English Language materials with professors at Hanoi Open University. More recently, she has been part of Canadian International Development Agency projects which helped villages in Vietnam and Paraguay develop their tourism infrastructure. Susan uses all of this expertise when teaching courses in the Faculty of Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Management. (http://www.capilanou.ca/tourism-international/)
As an EAP instructor, Susan says that she loves the interaction between instructor and students.
"If you can create a good ambiance in the classroom, the students feel comfortable. They relax, and they can learn. That is beautiful. Our students are all adults, and adults generally do not like to make mistakes. In addition, it's difficult to learn a language, and students often feel "out of water" linguistically and culturally. If the teacher can create a safe environment where it's okay to make mistakes; where students look forward to coming to school, then you have a good chance to facilitate learning," Susan said.
One other classroom ingredient is crucial according to Susan: laughter.
"Learning through laughter is really important. If you can laugh about what you're learning or your mistakes, you relax and can learn more easily and effectively."
She continues, "I think that pedagogically, it's important to leave your ego at the door when you teach. I feel comfortable being light hearted while being very serious about the learning. I'm very into grammar games, where students learn the grammar in a more natural way. This strengthens the students' ability to communicate both orally and in writing."
Overall, Susan's students learn a vast amount from her diverse life experiences as well as the comfortable, fun atmosphere she invokes in the classroom. This combination is yet another reason behind the strength of the EAP faculty at Capilano University.