Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey


Dave Chiesa: Peace Corps Alum, ELF, & Future TESOL Powerhouse

Dave Chiesa in China
1) Tell us about your passion for teaching.

When I was younger, I would pretend to teach class in my garage. To no one, just myself. Ever since then I realized that teaching is what I want to do with my life. I taught for four years in Japan with the JET programme. Then I came to the Institute for the Peace Corps Master's International (PCMI) TESOL program. And with graduation approaching, I'm applying to PhD programs as we speak.

2) So you would like to teach at a university level?

Yes. The focus has changed - from teaching English Literature, to Math, to History, to Classics. I was a Classics major at Santa Clara University, so I studied Greek and Latin.

3) How does it feel to be home from Peace Corps China?

It was easier than returning from Japan. That time I didn't come home for a four year period. Likewise I lived China for the past two years and didn't visit home. Meeting new people along the way has been the driving force of my travels. I missed hot water - I love that now!

Peace Corps China is so different. Some places are big cities with McDonald's, KFC, and "Western" food. And then some places - like where I was - were the complete opposites. And they're only five hours away from each other.

4) What were the biggest challenges of this two year teaching adventure?

Everyday there's a challenge you must overcome from the person on the street who says, "Hi, where are you from?" "I'm from America." "Oh, where's your gun." You have to confront stereotypes. And you'll have classes of 100 or 150. Sometimes dogs wander in the classroom. Random stuff, and you take it all in stride. It can be overwhelming...

5) Tell us about one of the challenges.

I was teaching Master's degree students Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL). And I was told - "You took two CALL classes from Sarah Springer, and, therefore, you can teach computers." I walked into class the first day, and there were no computers, no chalkboard - just dirt.

6) What happened next?

I had a lesson plan made, but I had to adapt. It took months and months for me to raise money to get computers and an internet connection for the classroom. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have to give something back for any money I raise - so I edited hundreds of papers, helped PhD applicants, and worked for the drama club. For two and a half months I worked everyday for hours and hours to raise the money.

7) And I was wondering...

Actually if you don't mind, I want to tell you about one more challenge. I was passing by the Dean's office one day, and he called me over: "Dave, Dave, Dave..." And I said, "Yea? What's up?" He said, "Dave, you seem like an outgoing guy. You Dave. Our students. Take them Hong Kong." "What? What does that mean? Take them Hong Kong?" He goes, "Drama club must perform Hamlet. You do. Hong Kong go!"

There's a national Shakespeare competition in Hong Kong, and my Dean volunteered us to perform Hamlet. And somehow I was supposed to be the director (I don't have any drama background whatsoever...) of the two hour English production. I had to organize the drama club, hold auditions, make costumes, and construct stage settings. The students practiced seven hours a day before school, at lunch, and at night. They went to Hong Kong after I came back to Monterey, and they got second place! I helped them to a certain point, and they did it!

8) Wow, that was an amazing story! Did your TESOL coursework prepare you for these experiences?

Monterey was always in the loop. I would email Kathy Bailey, the PCMI advisor, and Sarah Springer sent me advice and materials on how to teach the CALL class. The TESOL professors work us hard - everything I learned in the classroom applied to teaching in China from curriculum design to testing and assessment to the structure of English language.

9) What is your dream job?

After interacting with government agencies through the Peace Corps, I'm definitely interested in a RELO (Regional English Language Officer) for the State Department. They work in developing countries and help the English education programs, organizing teacher training and teaching English at universities. You live in one country for three years and then another country. I would love to do that, but you need a PhD. Applied linguistics, here I come!

10) At the end of the day, what do you hope your students learn?

To break stereotypes. About language and language learning. About who I am as an American, about each other. I hope to change attitudes towards groups of people, nations, and societies.