ESL Teacher Interviews: Jason R Levine


In Kaplan’s second “Interview with the Experts”, we talk to Jason R Levine aka Fluency MC.

Jason  has nearly fifteen years of experience as a teacher, trainer, and creator of educational materials. He writes and performs "ColloTunes" as Fluency MC to help students improve their knowledge of English Language Arts, ESL, social studies, science, and mathematics.

You can discover more about Jason and his alter-ego Fluency MC by visiting his blog.

What made you become an ESL Teacher?

I became one for life the first time I taught a class. It was with a group of immigrants from Central America-factory workers living in Brooklyn, New York.

At the time, it seemed like I’d “fallen into it,” but I’d always been fascinated with language learning and had recently quit a PhD program in psychology where I’d been researching communication and identity development. I knew I was a teacher at heart; I just wasn't sure where I fit in.

As for how I began using music in my teaching, the idea evolved gradually. I was a hip hop DJ and English teacher for years before I combined these skills to create ColloTunes and Fluency MC. I'd always used music in the classroom but never my own. Having grown up around highly-skilled MCs (rappers), I never imagined myself as one. I was just a DJ and music fanatic.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Playful, intense, energetic (bordering on hyper), musical, engaging, collocation-rich, obsessively tailored to meet learners' interests.

What cultural insights can you get from teaching ESL?

I have the great privilege of working with hundreds of students and teachers from all over the world; not a day goes by that I don't learn something valuable about (or from) another culture. Teaching ESL opens your mind and transforms your thinking. You learn tolerance and empathy; you see things from perspectives you never knew existed. You become a humanist.

Have you experienced cultural difficulties from teaching ESL?

There have been myriad challenges, but I wouldn't call them difficulties, exactly.  I've encountered resistance due to a culture clash of one sort or another, but this has been a good thing, as it's helped me evolve as a teacher and trainer and develop ColloTunes to suit a wider audience. In my experience,  differences in individual learning styles and interests typically have a greater impact on ELT than those related to culture.

Which other ESL teachers do you admire and why?

Jason West for his vision, Sylvia Guinan for her inspiration, Drew Badger for his humor, Mau Buchler for his ingenuity, Turgay Evren for his poetry and storytelling, Dimitris Aivazoglou for his dedication, Scott Thornbury for his knowledge, Anissa Baa for her spirit, Mohammed Hassim for his generosity, Jeremy Harmer for his wisdom, Chaouki Mkaddem for his devotion, Maria Pinardi for her compassion, Alex Pitynski for his energy, Thomas Demerath for his commitment to Collo, and Dylan Gabrini for being the very best.

What would you say to someone was considering being an ESL teacher?

I currently teach in the MA TESOL progam at the New School in New York City. I meet many new and aspiring ESL teachers there as well as online through groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. I’m always interested to hear about what has drawn them to ELT, what motivates and excites them about this field; then I can usually offer them practical advice.

In our profession, the twin impacts of online learning and English as a lingua franca have barely begun to be felt. For passionate educators-those with a knack for engaging students in English language learning through a combination of natural talent and learned expertise-the possibilities are limitless.

What do you think is the future of ESL teaching?

The future (which for many is already here) is blended learning. Students around the world, regardless of where they live or how much money they have, will avail themselves of the best language materials and teaching through resources on the Internet. The most engaging teachers and content creators will reach millions of ELLs through videos, open classes, and social platforms.

For the majority of these learners (children and adults, in both public and private schools), it will happen through face-to-face instruction and facilitation by teachers in their home countries. Naturally, there will still be those who travel to English-speaking countries to learn the language; but they, too, will do blended learning with these very same creators.

As is true today, besides being exposed to English in their daily lives offline and outside the classroom, these students will, in many cases, benefit from higher quality face-to-face instruction. However, as is also true today, most ELLs in the world won’t be able to afford such luxury. Fortunately, those without the means to travel and live and study abroad will still have the opportunity to learn from the best.

Which superhero would you be and why?

On the old PBS program “The Electric Company,” there was a superhero called  Letterman. He saved the day by connecting letters to form words. I would be Colloman; he does the same but by connecting words to form collocations, the basic building blocks of language.

Many thanks to Jason for some fascinating answers. Music is a great way to reach out to English language learners. Do you agree with Jason's methods or do you think there are better ways to engage students? Please leave a comment with your thoughts and feedback.

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