Aerospace Engineer Discovers Passion for Teaching English at UCSC Extension


- James Craft

Term : November, 2013
Department : Education
Program : TESOL

James Craft is not your typical TESOL student. A 30-year veteran of the aerospace industry, Craft rekindled his interest in teaching in the summer of 2012 when, after a series of company layoffs, he received NOVA funding to pursue a certificate at UCSC Extension. After reviewing his options he enrolled in the TESOL certificate program to develop teaching skills he could put to work both in California and abroad.

“I’ve been interested in teaching English for a while,” he explained. “My wife is from Thailand, and she’s been here long enough that she’s very accustomed to the language and the culture. When she first came to the U.S. and started taking ESL classes, I met some of her teachers and learned a little bit about what they did. However, I didn’t really know how involved the training is for TESOL. I think that compared to a lot of schools, UCSC Extension does a good job of providing practical and useful courses.”

Craft appreciated the program’s focus on grammar, linguistics, and cultural proficiency. He has a lot of previous experience teaching computer classes, and has always enjoyed the dynamic and interactive classroom atmosphere. He found the course on “Teaching English to Asian Students, U.S. and Abroad” particularly useful, as the instructor offered practical techniques for teaching English to students of different cultures and learning styles.

“When I would teach a class and review grammar rules, my students would take notes, but when I’d start asking questions to get the classroom more involved, nobody wanted to talk,” he said. “One of the things they taught us at UCSC Extension was how to motivate students and get them to overcome this reticence and hesitation of speaking up or expressing diverse opinions. That was very valuable.”

Craft gained valuable teaching experience during his recent TESOL Practicum course, which encouraged him to connect with ESL outreach and education programs around the South Bay. Before long he had partnered with the Santa Clara Adult Education school, where he spends three nights a week assisting an experienced ESL teacher, and a fourth night leading his own lesson. In addition, he was invited by the Mountain View Public Library to organize an English conversation club, which now attracts 20-30 active weekly members. 

“When people don’t speak English well, others tend to think that they’re not educated,” he says. “But I’ve had students who are very well-educated, just new to this country. In order to do well at their job, they not only need to be well-educated, they need to be good communicators. That’s where teaching English to non-native speakers is such a valuable thing to offer.”

Though he eventually accepted another engineering position, Craft managed to complete his TESOL certificate in the summer of 2013 and continues volunteer teaching ESL on his own time. He wants to keep current in the latest teaching practices so that when he retires from engineering he and his wife can pursue their dream of opening an English school for the native hill tribes in northern Thailand.

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