TOL 019: Interview with Sky Lantz-Wagner – Volunteering for the Peace Corps

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Sky Lantz-Wagner hails from Atlanta, GA, but now calls Dayton home. He holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA, and has been working in the Intensive English Program at UD since January, 2013. Sky was a Peace Corps volunteer in China, where he worked as an English teacher at a small university in the Guizhou province in the southwest of the country. Sky married a Daytonian and he and his wife Jeannine have a daughter, Laney. His passions include teaching and learning languages, but also playing basketball, playing guitar, gardening, and hiking.

In this episode, Sky elaborates on his Peace Corps experience in China. We talk about his teaching situation, the adjustments he made to his teaching based on that particular context, and how this experience has shaped him as a practitioner of the pedagogical arts.

Time Stamped Show Notes

Click on a time stamp to jump directly to that part of the episode.

[1:12] How Sky decided to join the Peace Corps.
[2:10] Sky joined the Peace Corps through a program that allowed him to pursue a Master’s at the same time.
[2:50] What is Peace Corps? Sky explains the concept behind Peace Corps.
[3:44] Sky’s colorful teaching background – from swimming to English.
[4:39] Why Sky got into language teaching specifically – Sky’s vast language background.
[5:44] Sky’s teaching experience in the Peace Corps — a small institution of higher-education in a rural area of China.
[7:43] Most of his learners were training to be teachers.
[9:19] Sky taught skills-based courses.
[9:33] Testing is extremely important in China — scores can influence job placement.
[11:36] How Sky makes test-taking classes more communicative — turning dictation into a more interactive activity.
[13:10] The biggest challenge teaching in the Peace Corps — overcoming his preconceived notion of the “Chinese learner.”
[13:30] He tried to take a system that he new and was comfortable with, and impose it on his learners.
[14:35] The culture is so complex and nuanced, so communication reflects that complexity.
[15:45] How face plays a role in the Chinese classroom.
[17:10] Sky’s adaptations to his context in Peace Corps — keeping a reflective journal.
[19:04] What Sky learned about himself as a teacher — Teaching is cyclical.
[20:00] He’s learned to be more reflective as a teacher and to accept his ‘mistakes.’
[22:30] Teaching is a practice  — “Every teaching practice is a work in progress.”
[23:00] Sky’s teaching context now at the University of Dayton.
[25:32] How his teaching context now is different compared to his teaching context in the Peace Corps.
[26:47] Socioeconomic and cultural factors playing out in the classroom.
[27:32] Sky’s advice to new teachers — Intentionally learn about your teaching practice.
[29:30] How and when Sky reflects — journals and observations.
[31:30] Sky’s words of wisdom – “Conversations with students go a long long way in helping provide the instruction that is most effective for them.”
[32:00] Sky talks about how culture affects communication in classroom activities, especially in terms of Saudi culture.

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