, ,

Arpine Sargsyan (MATEFL ‘08): ‘One size never fits all’

4 min read

Arpine Sargsyan (MATEFL ‘08) graduated from the American University of Armenia (AUA) Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MATEFL) program. Since then, she has worked as an English language teacher mustering years of experience as a TOEFL instructor. She has published six articles, two of which have appeared in international journals. Today, Arpine works at AUA Open Education as General English instructor. She has also opened an education center in her hometown of Ashtarak and is currently working on a new project where she would blend her painting hobby with teaching English. 

AUA and Career Change after Graduation

I came to AUA to pursue my second profession; I had earned my first degree in international relations and diplomacy from Yerevan State University (YSU). While studying at YSU, I would come to AUA almost weekly in order to access the professional literature at the AGBU Papazian Library. So AUA was an important spot for me even before I enrolled at the University. Alongside my studies at YSU, I worked on a USAID-funded project called “Project Harmony,” which was part of the Armenian School Connectivity Program. I was the regional education coordinator and worked with several colleagues whose work stood out to me: their reports were more professional; they demonstrated self-confidence in every situation; and they took a professional approach in addressing issues. I always wondered where they had acquired all of that. As it turned out, they were AUA graduates. That is what prompted me to seek an AUA education and apply to the TEFL graduate program.

Coming to AUA was the right decision. It gave me the skills and competencies that an English language teacher should have. In addition to the professional skills, AUA imparted values of great importance to me, as a person and as a citizen. I learned many life skills at the University; it changed my mindset. As a student here, you learn to solve problems in different real-life situations and become a more creative and critical thinker. I was also taught to be self-confident and express myself without fear of being misunderstood. This is something fundamental that I gained at the University.

After graduation, I always maintained a connection with my alma mater. When, in 2009, AUA’s Open Education (formerly known as AUA Extension) opened a language learning center in my home city of Ashtarak, I started teaching General English and TOEFL iBT there in addition to administering the center. This launched my career as a teacher and instructor: in 2010, I started working at Yerevan State Linguistic University, teaching Testing and Assessment as well as European Press Analysis to master’s students. In 2013, I was invited to teach Testing and Assessment at the Armenian State Pedagogical University, where I also taught master’s students academic writing. Today, I also cooperate with Education USA as a TOEFL iBT instructor. In 2015, I decided it was time to use the skills and competencies I had acquired at AUA to be a changemaker and bring innovative approaches to my community. So, I opened my own language center in Ashtarak, the Anglofun Language and Training Center, where we provide a variety of courses. I also started leading a TED-ED club for teenagers, teaching them how to make presentations. In 2017, I once again started to teach General English at Open Education in my alma mater.

Teaching Became My New Purpose in Life

The decision to apply for admission to AUA’s MATEFL program came to me because of my job at the time, which took me to many schools in rural areas of Armenia. When I saw how many needed good English language teachers, I chose to apply for admission to the TEFL program because that’s how I would realize my newly specified goals and priorities in life. 

I believe that a good teacher or instructor should, first of all, be a lifelong learner: you should never stop cultivating your knowledge because if you don’t learn, you will soon be unable to teach. Teachers and instructors should constantly develop their professional skills. Secondly, teachers should be open to their students and try to understand and address their needs. I believe that “one size never fits all.” As a teacher, you should remember that even when assigning group projects or team activities, you should individually consider each student. Finally, as a teacher, the most important quality to have is to be a motivator. You should inspire students to learn.

Challenges and Motivations at Work

There are many challenges that teachers and instructors face in their careers; for me, the biggest challenge is choosing the right approach. I believe it is essential to change how we think about and perceive education. We should learn for life, not just earn a diploma. By this, I mean that as students, we should envision how we will use the material we are taught to solve real-life problems. Next, whatever we teach, we need to place emphasis on the practical application of knowledge. 

For that, we first need to employ more student-centered teaching approaches, ensuring students develop an ability to take charge of their learning, to be investigators, actors, and initiators. It is also very important and motivating for learners to take responsibility for what they are taught. 

Another critical obstacle we face today, especially in remote areas, is the lack of teaching materials and resources: literature, classroom equipment, audio-video materials, and so on. We should also perceive the value of English as a means of bridging our smaller community to a bigger world. I believe that we have many bright minds who can realize positive changes in the future, and this conviction also inspires me to push forward and never stop teaching and learning myself.

There are many things in my life that motivate me to do my job every day. Most of my encouragement comes from the understanding that I am helping people. I am thrilled and proud when I see my former students entering universities, getting jobs, or obtaining promotions. Besides, teaching English allows me to participate in volunteer work, including teaching English to our disabled soldiers at soldiers’ homes. Right now, I am teaching English to two soldiers who participated in the 44-day war. I thank God every day for such unique opportunities. My younger son, who is currently serving in the military, is my motivator too, and just as our soldiers are doing their best to defend our country, we must do our best to help our country prosper. 

A New Approach to Teaching English

I have a hobby: painting. I am a self-taught artist who started painting four years ago. I do oil paintings and have donated many pieces to charity. I am currently developing an interesting and innovative project that integrates art with English education. At first, this idea may seem odd, but this is a skill I learned at AUA: the ability to integrate two seemingly incompatible things and create something great. I am using this know-how to combine painting classes with English lessons so students can learn English through painting. I believe that this approach will be successful.