Written by Juan Cabrera
At the English Language Institute we highly appreciate our wonderful instructors. That is why we want to highlight one of them: Terry Barakat. Terry joined the ELI in 2007 and is a dearly loved English instructor, so we asked her about her journey to becoming a teacher and her insights on the time she has been with the ELI.
Terry’s Background and Her Breakthrough in Teaching
“Well, I love school”, says Terry, “always loved school.” Her background and foundation was related to learning languages. When Terry was young, she used to go to church with her family in Iowa, and mass was in Latin. She says that “it was an experience every Sunday to go listen to this guy up there speaking this different language and everybody seemed to understand and go along.” She describes this experience as a “magical mystery.” Once in junior high, she decided to take French and that’s when she fell in love with languages. She loved language so much, she majored in Linguistics in college. Terry mentions that she got her B.A. in Linguistics. She went to school and studied Linguistics “because that was just too much fun; the whole science of language in general? What a cool idea! And they give you jobs for that? I was just like wow! That sounds great!”
In college, Terry studied Spanish, German, and Portuguese. After graduating, she explains that she “moved to San Francisco, worked in business, and was able to practice her Spanish a lot there.” Terry worked 20 years in business and was looking for a change; until one day her friends told her “why don’t you go back to your real love? Why don’t you go back to school and become an English teacher?” “What a great idea!” she expressed. She moved back to the Midwest, got her master’s in teaching, and in her own words “now instead of making money, I’m doing my passion. I’m in love with what I do every day.”
Her Teaching Style and Role as a Teacher
“The success that I have as a teacher is my rapport building with the students. I’m very much about finding out about them as individuals, and then using their culture and their individual preferences and likes and dislikes as examples.” Terry states that she “builds her activities using their [students’] names and the things they like to do or mentioning their countries.” She describes herself as “very student-centered as a teacher.” “But make no mistake,” she says, “I enjoy the stage of being the teacher. I’m quite an extrovert, […] I go ahead and talk about myself a little bit because I want to build that trust. If you [as a teacher] completely stay like they shouldn’t know about you, then why should they trust me? Then I pull back and make it about the students again.”
The Most Rewarding Part of Teaching International Students
“Their trust, first of all” Terry expresses, “that’s the most precious thing.” She cherishes students’ belief that she cares to make sure that they have a good experience. She says “it’s rewarding when they give back and make you feel like they trust you.” Certainly, Terry mentions, “[it’s rewarding] watching them progress and notice that they progressed. The joy that they have when they know they learned something new and can do it well.” She also describes that “it’s so much fun to learn about other cultures, and open my eyes to these different ways of looking at things, and that not everybody thinks the same way, and that’s precious as well. The world comes to me!”
What Would You Tell International Students About Coming to MSU and ELI?
“You couldn’t pick a better place to learn about truly the average Americans, and it’s a great place to have enough to do that you have fun along with studying, but not so much that it’s a complete distraction from what you’re really here for.” Terry explains that “if you’re going to be here for 4 or 6 years, you need an environment that’s conducive to your learning as well as feeling that you’re being taken care of as a member of the community because MSU is a people’s school. It’s student-centered and I love MSU for that. MSU is about the students.”