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Down Under: Kelley Sullivan Teaches Students In Australia



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Kelley Sullivan teaches a diverse range of students from a wide range of countries and of varying ages, from teens to retirement age.

She is an English Second Language (ESL) teacher in Australia, at EF (Education First) Sydney, which offers a range of educational programs, from study abroad and student exchange to educational travel and courses to learn a language. It is a multilingual school, and students come from all over the world to study English in Australia on a student visa.

In addition to teaching, Ms Sullivan, a 2009 graduate of Newtown High School and member of the NHS track and soccer teams during her high school career, has a strong interest and some background in coaching.

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Marist College in 2013, then earned her Master of Science in Communication from Illinois State University in 2015.

“At Illinois State University, I taught an undergraduate public speaking and communication course, and that is when I first realized that I loved teaching,” Ms Sullivan said.

Ms Sullivan first traveled “Down Under” during a study abroad program in 2012 at Macquarie University in Sydney and fell in love with Australia. Having picked up the sport of rugby in college, her rugby playing skills helped open the door to a return and teaching position there.

“I knew I wanted to move back at some point, and in early January 2017, a rugby team offered me a sponsored spot on their team. Every year, they sponsor three to four international players and offer them some money and other perks to move down and play for them,” said Ms Sullivan, adding that she was chosen for the team along with women from Canada, Ireland, and Scotland.

“I began playing rugby at the end of my first year at Marist. I was originally on the track and field team at Marist, but my friend Rob Roarty, who was on the men’s rugby team at Marist, convinced me to give it a go. I had never heard of rugby before 2010 and was very skeptical, almost didn’t go to my first training, but then instantly fell in love with the sport. There are some high school programs around Connecticut now, but not when I was at school. I’d love to come back at start some up.”

Ms Sullivan moved to Colorado after graduate school in 2016 and spent almost a year there, working for USA Rugby as the Training and Education Manager. She was involved with organizing and managing all of the educators for the coaching and referees courses.

She has put together quite a list of accomplishments on the field. In 2010, she played for the U-19 North East All-Star Team at the USA U-19 All-Star Tournament in California. In 2011-12, she served as vice president of Marist’s rugby program and followed that up with Marist MVP recognition when she was a team captain the next season. In 2013, Sullivan was a USA Rugby Collegiate All-American nominee. Injuries impacted her playing career; she tore her ACL for the first time three weeks before the combine camp that year. But Ms Sullivan bounced back nicely and was the top point scorer in 2015 while playing in Colorado and again for the Waverly Women’s Rugby team in Sydney in 2017.

ESL In Australia

Ms Sullivan has been an ESL teacher in Australia since February of 2018, when she completed her Cambridge CELTA teaching certification. Her first six months teaching was with International House at their Bondi Junction campus; Ms Sullivan was hired after she completed her teaching course with them. Due to Australian visa work restrictions, she may only work for six months at one company. After the first six months, Ms Sullivan switched to EF Sydney, where she will continue to teach until her visa expires in February of 2019. Last year, she had a contract with EF in sales and marketing, and she said it has been nice to return to the company in a teaching role.

The classes are split into levels based on the student’s English proficiency. The most common framework that schools use is CEFR, said Ms Sullivan, referring to The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, an international standard for describing language ability.

She has taught a range of levels from A1 (beginner, for students with minimal English knowledge) to C2 (Proficient, for students who can easily participate in everyday English speaking situations and are essentially considered native speakers), said Ms Sullivan, adding that most of the time she teaches B2 (Intermediate/Upper Intermediate Level). Her students are typically between the ages of 16 and 24, but she has had students as young as 14 on up to age 65.

“I’ve had students from Brazil, Colombia, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Chile, Sweden, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, China, New Caledonia, Turkey, Mongolia, Vietnam, Czech Republic, and Argentina. I might be missing a couple countries,” Ms Sullivan said.

As much as she enjoys teaching her students, she also gains a unique education from them.

“I love connecting with the students and learning about them and their home countries. Also, I empathize with them because learning English isn’t necessarily the most exciting subject for the students. They’re in school learning English from four to five hours every day. That’s a long time to be learning one subject. I recognize that and understand that teaching grammar points can be very dense and dry, so I love the challenge of finding exciting new ways to present the information to them and get them to enjoy learning and stay engaged,” Ms Sullivan said.

“The toughest part of teaching in Australia is definitely the visa work restrictions. On my visa (Work Holiday Visa), you can only work up to six months at one company. Essentially, once you’re fully acclimated to a new school and the procedures, students, environment, etc, you have to pack up, leave, and start fresh somewhere else,” Ms Sullivan explained.

A big difference in the classroom environment is the new resources and technology available to students nowadays, Ms Sullivan said.

“Back when I was learning French at Newtown Middle School and Newtown High School, we didn’t have smartphones and Google Translate available at our fingertips. There are definitely benefits of all the resources, but it can be a distraction as well,” she said.

Ms Sullivan has, to an extent, learned a new version of the English language along the way.

“Australian English is definitely different from American English. They have a lot of British English influence and follow a lot of those spelling differences with words such as organise, colour, centre, theatre,” she said. “The biggest difference is the amount of slang/abbreviated words that are used. Aussies love to shorten everything.”

“I have found myself using some Aussie slang like brekkie and arvo,” said Ms Sullivan, referring to breakfast and afternoon. “But I haven’t mastered the accent yet.”

EF has more than 50 schools around the world, including campuses in New York and Boston, so she has considered teaching English when moving back home once her visa expires. Her long-term goal is to become a high school teacher in Connecticut and coach soccer or track and field and possibly start a high school rugby program.

Because she tore her ACL for the second time during a rugby game in June of 2018 and has had to have subsequent surgeries, she is considering hanging up the rugby boots to focus on coaching. While living in Colorado, she helped start up and was coaching the Monarch High School girls’ rugby team, then coached an under 9 boys’ rugby team in Australia.

For now, teaching English as a second language is very rewarding for Ms Sullivan.

“I had one student from Brazil who started with virtually no English. We started from scratch with introductions, learning ‘Hi my name is...’ and basic numbers 1-10. After six weeks, she was able to move from the beginner level up to elementary. I ran into her the other week, and now she has a job working in Sydney, something she never thought possible when she first moved here. It’s great to stay in touch with students and see everything they achieve,” Ms Sullivan said.

“More than seeing them learn English, it’s great to see students from around the world learn about each other’s countries and cultures and form relationships with each other. I love teaching. Everyday is something different, and you can be having a horrible day, but once you walk in the classroom, you have to leave that all behind and switch into ‘teacher mode,’” she added.

Kelley Sullivan poses with a wild kangaroo at Morisset Park, Australia. Ms Sullivan, a 2009 graduate of Newtown High School, is an ESL teacher in Australia.
Kelley Sullivan, far right, stands with some of her students.
Kelley Sullivan, right, with Australian Rugby 7s captain Shannon Parry after coaching a girls’ rugby clinic together. Ms Sullivan got to wear her gold medal, which Ms Parry earned when helping Australia to gold in the 2016 Olympics.
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