August 24, 2017

Hannah Brenneman, teaching ambassador

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These days, Hannah Brenneman is busy polishing up on her Spanish and preparing for her new role as a teaching ambassador for the U.S. Department of State in Mexico.

Brenneman, who graduated in 2015 from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) with an M.S.Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), was recently selected by the State Department for its prestigious English Language Fellow Program. At 27, Brenneman is among the youngest of the 140 2017-2018 fellows. She is also the second Penn GSE graduate to earn the fellowship in the past three years.

According to the State Department, the English Language Fellow Program promotes English language learning, enhances English teaching capacity, and fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through cultural exchange. It is a 10-month program where Fellows teach English, conduct teacher training, develop resources, and act as representatives of the best of the U.S. TESOL community.

Brenneman already plans to use what she has learned at Penn GSE to help her students in Mexico achieve their academic and personal goals.

“Part of my teaching philosophy is about whole-person teaching – asking them what their interests are, what their history of learning is, and understanding the underlying factors that make them who they are in my classroom,” Brenneman said. “Teaching is a two-way street. I have learned more from my students than they have learned from me.”

She credits her experiences particularly with Penn GSE’s Practical English for Daily Living (PEDAL) program with shaping her teaching philosophy.

“PEDAL impacted me the most. It was fundamental in my development as a teacher.”

“PEDAL impacted me the most. It was fundamental in my development as a teacher,” Brenneman said. “I was a novice teacher. I had never taught in my own classroom. When I was a student, I was taught teaching skills and managing a classroom, but I had never taught in an actual class.”

PEDAL@GSE helps students grow their teaching skills by connecting the theories and readings of their courses with hands-on practice in a supported classroom setting. Over time, student teachers assume greater responsibility in the planning and instruction process for classes of English language learners.

Santoi Wagner, senior lecturer and associate director of Penn GSE’s TESOL program, believes Brenneman is poised to excel as an ambassador for the State Department – and for Penn GSE. Dr. Wagner, the faculty advisor to PEDAL, taught Brenneman in her first and last semesters.

“She is always really on board with the student teacher and helping them develop,” said Dr. Wagner. “She is the type of person who is a really good leader, a quiet leader.”

Born in Mississippi, Brenneman grew up in Pennsylvania, and graduated in 2012 from Juniata College, where she studied linguistics and anthropology. She had been an English teacher to adults and children in St. Petersburg, Russia, and volunteered as a teacher for Moder Patshala, an after-school program for Bangladeshi-Americans in West Philadelphia. Upon earning her M.S. Ed., Brenneman joined the Penn GSE faculty as a part-time instructor and also worked as the program coordinator for PEDAL@GSE.

“She’s really hardworking and supported herself through graduate school,” Dr. Wagner said. “She has a strong work ethic. She has developed so much as a teacher and teacher educator. All these things are going to make her successful in Mexico.”

Brenneman will teach English in Mérida, Mexico, at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán.

While in Mexico, Brenneman intends to immerse herself in the culture, to “capture the beauty of where I am living.” She also wants to learn more about the Mayans, who make up the largest indigenous populations in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Equally importantly, true to the objectives of the English Language Fellow Program, Brenneman hopes that in her 10 months as a Fellow she will be able to impart what she has learned at Penn GSE to her students in Mexico.

“I want my students to learn the fundamentals and how to use it,” she said. “I want to teach them how to be a reflective teacher.”