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Brad Teague smiles for a photo.

Brad Teague joined The Graduate School on July 1, 2015, as assistant dean and director of the school’s English for International Students program. We recently talked with him about where he’s been, what he’s been up to since coming to Duke, and his vision for the EIS program.

Tell us a little bit about EIS, for people who aren’t familiar with the program.

EIS stands for English for International Students. It’s a program within Duke’s Graduate School that works with international students whose first language is not English. We offer courses, both required courses for students who place into them, and elective courses. We also fund additional services for international graduate students, which include the Writing Studio and Oral Skills Coaching. We see ourselves as  an English-support program.

Which international students are required to take EIS courses?

Most incoming international graduate students are required to take EIS’s placement tests. This includes a speaking test and a writing test. Based on the results of these tests, students may place into one or more of our courses. We offer two writing courses—Academic Writing I, which is the lower-level course, and Academic Writing II. Students can place into I, II, or out. We also offer three speaking classes, any of which could be required classes for students based on the results of their speaking test. The lowest-level class is Integrated Oral Communication. Another class is Academic Presentations and Discussions, which is a higher-level class. We also recently added a third possible required speaking class, which focuses on pronunciation.

Master’s students take up to one writing class and one speaking class. Ph.D. students, if they place into the lower-level writing class, must take both I and II, and if they place into a speaking class, they are  required to take that one as well. So, for Ph.D. students, it could be up to three classes total.

All of our classes are also open to students who place out of them, so classes can be taken as electives. In addition to  the classes I’ve mentioned, we also offer an elective for international Teaching Assistants. This class is focuses on college teaching skills and language, specifically pronunciation. If students take this class, it fulfills one of the course requirements for the Certificate in College Teaching Program.

Where you were before you came to Duke?

Before coming to Duke, I was the director of the INTERLINK Language Center, an intensive English program based at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I was the director there for five years. Before that, I was primarily a student. I completed my undergraduate degree in Spanish and linguistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After that, I moved to Mexico, where I completed a master’s program in applied linguistics in a Spanish-English bilingual program that’s accredited by SACS in the U.S. Then, I taught in Mexico City full time for one year. After that, I moved back to the U.S., to Nashville, Tennessee, where I completed my Ph.D. in education at Vanderbilt University. When I finished at Vanderbilt, I moved to UNC Greensboro.

Throughout my formative years, starting with my undergraduate degree, I taught English as a Second/Foreign Language. I worked in different types of programs, including community-based programs, adult-education programs, and university-affiliated programs.

What drew you to teaching English as a Second Language?

It started with my Spanish classes. My Spanish teacher in high school was a very good teacher, very motivating. She really brought her classes to life. She had traveled a lot, so she incorporated real accounts, pictures, videos, and even Hispanic friends who came to class. In the evenings, she also taught English as a Second Language for a local community college, and she invited students from her Spanish class who were interested to sit in to see what they were like and possibly interact with some of the Spanish-speaking students. I went to one of those classes and  immediately said, “I really like this. Can I keep coming, helping, and sitting in?” She said, “Of course!” That’s how my interest in English as a Second Language started.

Once I got to college, I started getting paid to help with ESL classes. At the time, I didn’t really have any formal ESL training, but it was something I really liked, so I knew I wanted to get that formal training, which I eventually did through my master’s program.

From your experience, what’s the most important thing about being an effective ESL teacher?

I think it’s important to have training. A lot of people say that just because you speak a language, you can teach it. Those of us who actually do it on a day-to-day basis know that it’s not that easy. You need coursework in second-language acquisition. You need to understand how that process happens. You need to have coursework on current teaching methodologies. Most importantly, you need to be mentored, including practice teaching with feedback from experts in the field.

What have you been up to since you’ve been at Duke?

Learning a lot. The program I worked in before is somewhat similar to the one at Duke, but also different in many ways, so it’s been a steep but manageable learning curve. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a lot of support from the former director, from the instructors in the program, and from The Graduate School. I’ve been attending lots of meetings on campus, getting to know the directors of graduate studies andtheir assistants, and of course, spending time at The Graduate School. I also taught an EIS class this past fall, which was the class for international TAs.I had never taught this class anywhere else, so I learned a lot by doing that.

I’ve focused on learning about the program through my interactions with the current EIS faculty. I’m also learning about the perception of EIS on campus  through my direct interactions with the people that we work with. This feedback will lead to some changes in the curriculum and changes in the program in general.

Let’s talk about those changes. What do you have in mind for EIS going forward?

As some people know, EIS underwent a pretty exhaustive external review a few years ago. Outside experts were brought in to study the program; interview EIS faculty andstudents as well as staff in The Graduate School; learn how the program works; and identify its strengths and possible areas for improvement. Even before I came to Duke, EIS had already begun addressing some of the issues and concerns that came out of that report. I see it as my task to continue addressing these and other issues. The three areas that I plan to focus on in the coming years are curriculum, staffing, and outreach.

In terms of curriculum, the first step is to conduct a needs-analysis on campus, to get feedback from students, departments, and programs on what students’ linguistic needs are and how EIS can meet those needs. I’ve already been meeting with directors of graduate studies and their assistants and will continue to do that this spring We’re also planning to administer a Qualtrics survey that will be sent out to all the DGSes and DGSAs, so that we can learn more about the types of speaking and writing assignments that students are expected to do in their programs. Based on the results of that detailed analysis, we envision making changes to our curriculum, which will include revising our current courses and probably adding new courses.

The second area is staffing.I think it’s important to have more full-time faculty and staff. In the past, EIS has relied on a relatively large proportion of adjunct instructors, but we really want to have the stability and collaboration that comes with having a group of full-time faculty and staff, especially knowing that we may need to make some substantial changes to the curriculum.

The last aspect we’ll be addressing is outreach. I want to continue to meet with people on campus, learn more about what they do, and identify ways to collaborate with them. For example, we’re starting to build a relationship with the Writing Studio, the Career Center, the International House, and other programs on campus that we consider partners. After all, we are all working toward the same goals. We all work with international graduate students, so I want to identify ways that we can collaborate more to better meet students’ needs.

We’ll also be making updates to our website and enhancing our social media presence. We recently revised our mission statement and added instructor profiles to our website. This spring, we created an EIS Facebook page. We’re doing our best to make people more aware of EIS and what we do, and hopefully that will help lead to more collaborative efforts.

I’m very excited and honored to be at Duke. I’m also a very collaborative person and open to feedback and ideas people may have about EIS, including things that we can do better or differently. Moreover, I consider myself very action-oriented, so hopefully the changes we need to make will happen  pretty quickly.