Trevecca’s ESL program equips educators with real-world expertise

Growing up, Katie Walden was enamored by the stories her mom and grandmother would share about their work as teachers. Her mom taught for 12 years at a school for gifted children with learning disabilities in St. Louis, and her grandmother spent a portion of the 1950s teaching first grade. Walden said her grandmother still speaks fondly of her time in the classroom, even though it was almost 70 years ago.

Walden remembers that she and her friends would frequently play school when they were little, getting lost in imagined roles of teacher and student, giving pretend spelling tests and playing outside for recess. 

Because of her family history, Walden says, it makes perfect sense that she too became a teacher. But Walden took a slightly different path—one that landed her in Amsterdam teaching English as a second language. 

“A couple months after moving to the Netherlands, I attended a fair where I stumbled upon a booth for my school, Amity International School Amsterdam,” Walden recalled. “At the time, it was a very new school, and they were recruiting students, not teachers, but I had a nice conversation with the teachers at the booth about my background and offered to volunteer. A couple of weeks later, I was hired as a cover teacher and teaching assistant and was able to quickly move up to the position of teacher. 

“I began teaching abroad in fall 2018, so I have been at my current school for a little over two years. This is my first experience teaching abroad, and I love it. I have been exposed to so many new perspectives and teaching styles by my colleagues who come from all over the world. The school community has been a huge help in adapting to life in a new country.”

Walden, who holds an undergraduate degree in elementary education and child studies, graduated from Trevecca’s master of education program with a specialty in English as a second language education this past May. 

English as a second language (ESL) teachers help non-English speaking students learn to read, write and speak in English. The program, leaders in Trevecca’s School of Education say, empowers teachers to give learners the opportunity to fully engage in professional, academic and civic opportunities, allowing them to flourish in their communities.

“Once our students get their ESL endorsement, they will qualify for all kinds of jobs within the school system,” said Dr. Penney Carden, curriculum coordination for online programs and coordinator for the ESL program. “We have several people that have gone through the program who are not teachers—we’ve had students working as pastors who come through the program to learn to better communicate with their congregations and know what to expect with different cultures in the missions field. A big part of the program is learning how to communicate with people and how to appreciate the different cultures.”

Carden said one of the biggest strengths of the program is its applicability to real-world classroom scenarios. She explained that the program is not all just reading theory; it’s putting the learning into practice. 

Walden agrees.

“Many of the things I learned at Trevecca in the ESL master's program are extremely practical and transferable to working in an international setting. One of my favourite parts of the program was the diversity of my cohort,” she said. “The other students had a large variety of life and career experiences, which we were encouraged to share and learn from. Working with others from different backgrounds is such an essential part of teaching in an international school.”

It’s something Trevecca’s ESL program models, Carden says. The professors who teach in the program are all experts in their fields or areas of study. 

“We have a professor who has even written the textbooks on their subject matter,” Carden said. “Everybody in this program is an expert in their subject, and that’s a huge part of the program’s success. I attribute that to being a part of why all of our students for the last four years have passed the certification exam. We have a 100 percent pass rate, and our program is in the top 30 in the nation.”

Walden said Trevecca’s program left her more than prepared for her work in the classroom. More than that, she feels a great sense of purpose in her work as she empowers students to reach for their goals.

“ I hope to inspire [my students] to use their voice, overcome challenges and really be a changing force in the world,” she said. “In my current position as an early years teacher, I think I am able to help students develop the foundations for a love of learning by building strong positive relationships and making school a safe and enjoyable space.”

Learn more about Trevecca’s English as a second language program. 

By Bailey Basham, ’17
Media contact: Mandy Crow,, 615-248-1695