Geraldine Walker's Global Classroom
Dr. Geraldine Walker, professor of English as a second language (ESL) at Homestead Campus, spoke to MDC magazine about education and language on a global scale. Walker was recently awarded The Ruth Anderson Foundation Endowed Teaching Chair. She is currently preparing to return to Lima, Peru, to conduct philanthropic projects.
Q. What led you into the teaching profession?
A. Some of us [teachers] believe we were born to teach. I would agree with that statement. It’s a passion that we endeavor whether we are paid or not. It’s about impacting others.
I am from the mountains of Jamaica. I am one of eight children, the only one who got a secondary education. Although my parents had only basic education, my mother instilled in me the importance of education at an early age and first motivated me to become a teacher.
Q. Why is teaching language important?
A. One cannot teach language without accessing the culture, music and the lives of people. You cannot separate the learning of language from people’s needs. Teaching language naturally connects us to each other.By teaching in Peru, I can make an impact that extends beyond the classroom. In return, through my international experiences, my MDC students connect with the world.
Q. Tell me about your experiences in Peru.
A. In 2003, MDC offered me professional development leave, which enabled me to accept a doctoral stipend from Rotary International to work in Peru for six months.
I primarily worked at the Language Center at Universidad Agraria developing the institution’s ESL curriculum and supplemental materials, but I also did translation work and conducted teacher workshops. Before my departure, I left the remainder of my stipend to help enhance library resources and support an institution for special education.
Over the course of the last few years, I have traveled there every summer to carry out additional activities.
On one trip, I discovered a small town in the mountains on the outskirts of Lima – a ghetto, where emigrants from the Andes and the jungle were settling – with a severely underfunded early childhood facility. The community was trying to build a wall around the property as a protective measure against rockslides, but the wall was left unfinished and the project neglected. A co-worker and I have adopted the project to help complete it. This was a very emotional experience for me because I was reminded of my own rural upbringing.
Q. How do your international experiences enrich your classroom?
A. Most of my students at MDC can relate to my work in Peru because many of them come from third world countries like me.
My students learned about the school in the mountains and wanted to help. They contributed school supplies and toys to the students.
My experiences and stories have also helped generate awareness among other faculty members. Professor Beverly Tate traveled to Peru with me two years ago with donated supplies from her students. This summer, professor Dr. Kathy Thomas will be accompanying me.
It is important that we connect all students; we need to remind them that we are all one family – just living in different global spaces.
Q. Have your experiences affected what you understand about education and language?
A. Teaching and learning languages are interactive entities. My Spanish fluency and dynamic love for the Inca civilization continue to be greatly enhanced as I work in Peru. The most important language is education. My philosophy of education can be summed up in Shakespeare’s words from Henry VI: “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”
I consider myself lucky and blessed, as I am intrinsically motivated to work in the development of international education. It is my desire to propel others to join me on the flight to Shakespeare’s “educational heaven.”
— Katherine Joss