Carlos Rosario School ESL teacher Colleen Shaughnessy was recently selected for the prestigious English Language Specialist Program, a Department of State initiative that sends experts in English language education to lead intensive teacher training projects overseas. The assignments are challenging and the teachers who are chosen represent the best of the U.S. TESOL community.

The selection process was highly competitive. Colleen was among hundreds of other well-qualified candidates who submitted applications. The projects were developed, reviewed and selected by the U.S. Embassy in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. Colleen, who has spent many years abroad, most of them in Africa, training and teaching teachers and students of English, was a great candidate for the program.  For this project, she will conduct a feasibility study and a needs analysis for the African Union, a multilateral organization made up of 55 member states from all of the countries on the continent.

Colleen is excited to return to the continent where she spent several formative years of her life working as an English Language Fellow, Peace Corps volunteer and English Language Specialist. In 1999 she went to Zimbabwe where she says her understanding on issues such as race and colonialism changed. A year later she did two years a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, teaching high school science. In 2004-2006, she taught ESL and literacy to Somali Bantu refugee women, whose first language does not have a written alphabet and so they had never written prior to her class. Colleen also taught pre-service English teachers at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, a historically Black university, where the anti-apartheid icon and former South African president Nelson Mandela was a student. Colleen returned to South Africa in 2014 and worked on language policy at the University of Free State, a historically Afrikaans university.

When Colleen returned to the U.S. from Ghana, she found her passion teaching English to adult immigrants from all over the world as a volunteer in DC at the Washington Language Center (formally Language ETC.). Ever since then Colleen has been active teaching ESL in colleges, community colleges, and schools in the US and beyond, where she is fascinated to learn about the cultures of diverse people from around the world.

One of her most rewarding teaching moments was with a 65-year-old student who was a Somali Bantu refugee in Baltimore. “She had never held a pencil or written until she was in my class,” Colleen said. After Colleen’s class, the Somali woman was able to write her name and sign papers.  “She had always used her fingerprint or an “X” before,” Colleen said.  Moments like these are what make Colleen’s job as an ESL teacher so rewarding: “I enjoy watching the transformation of students from when they start the semester until the end, how they grow in confidence and belief in themselves,” she said.