Career Profile: Linguistics & Professional Development for Teachers
The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.
An Interview with Daniel Ginsberg: Linguistics & Professional Development for Teachers
One professional path for linguists involves a focus on the educational context, helping teachers do their work better. We wanted to learn more about how linguists might support teachers in their professional development, and so we reached out to Daniel Ginsberg, a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University. As someone who is actively forging his career trajectory, we thought he would be the perfect person to profile at this time of “back to school.”
Daniel knows teaching. He’s taught English, French, Italian, and math, in a variety of school settings—and he has worked as a language test developer. Daniel also knows research. He draws on ethnography and discourse analysis to find answers to the questions that interest him, and he recognizes these tools as having the potential to help teachers be more effective in the classroom. As a linguist, he is particularly well suited to help teachers build awareness of their own teaching style and the social aspects of the classroom experience. He also has the demeanor to tackle this type of work. Daniel is collaborative, highly analytical, and curious—he loves taking a peek behind the door that says, “Authorized Personnel Only.”
As he completes his graduate program, Daniel is looking to transition to a role where he can design and facilitate professional development programs for teachers in K–12 education.
Professional Development for Teachers – The Gap
For many teachers, professional feedback is limited. Traditionally, teachers participate in after-hours trainings on specific topics, with the understanding that they can then apply the learning when they are “back on the job.” Teachers also may receive input from the occasional professional observer who, sitting in the back of the room, may provide comments on areas of strengths/improvement. While this type of feedback can be effective, Daniel favors a more collaborative approach that helps teachers connect insights to actionable changes to implement during class preparation, in the classroom, or in their one-on-one student interactions.
A Collaborative and Community-Based Approach
Working within a professional learning community, or group of teachers who are invested in their own and each other’s professional development, Daniel’s approach honors the knowledge that the teachers already have, that is, their training, subject matter expertise, and rapport with the students. He envisions a role for himself as being a person who equips teachers with additional resources and tools—drawing from the research methods he honed in graduate school—empowering teachers to drive their own development.
Daniel’s approach is, “You know your students. You know your classroom. I know research methods. Let’s build the plan together.”
Daniel shares with teachers tools common to linguists. A couple examples—
- Daniel is trained as an ethnographer, which helps him understand (and explain to others) social practices, for example, the reasons why students sometimes choose not to do what is expected of them. He teaches the principles of auto-ethnography. For example, through video playback/discussion, teachers can see their own classroom dynamics in great detail, and from many angles. Going a step further, playback sessions with small groups of teachers can support community learning. The goal is for teachers to notice and point out things about each other’s classrooms that they won’t have noticed in their own—and the whole group can gain actionable insights from the exchange.
- Daniel is tuned into the language of the classroom. He uses discourse analysis to help teachers hear the language in the classroom in a more nuanced way. This skill helps teachers consider: Is the classroom discussion inclusive or exclusive? Do students express agency, to empower their own learning? Do students have a clear understanding of the teacher’s expectations?
As Daniel describes in his blog, School for Linguists, “My role in all of this is to help teachers make observations and interpretations of video, of their teaching, and of themselves. Or more accurately, to provide a little education in interpretive methods, which will give us something to talk about, and then to foster the growth of a [teacher professional development] community where this kind of conversation can happen among peers.”
Daniel is currently completing his Ph.D. in Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He conducts research that uses ethnography, discourse analysis, and semiotics to study interaction in the mathematics classroom. Other interests include critical and inquiry-based pedagogy, online / blended learning, and computational modeling of discourse. Before coming to Georgetown, he worked as a language test developer at the Center for Applied Linguistics, a public high school ESL teacher in greater Boston, and an English Language Fellow in Kragujevac, Serbia. He has an M.A. in TESOL from the School for International Training and a B.A. in comparative literature from Brandeis University.
About the guest blogger: Sonia Checchia consults in strategic/internal communications and change management. She is the Creative Director at Creative Types Consulting Group, is a sociolinguist, a new mom, and a yogi.