Esther Bettney: Curriculum Coordinator at Comunidad Educativa Evangélica
When Esther Bettney (B.A.H’04, B.Ed.’05, M.Ed.’15) started the Queen’s Concurrent Education program, she was “sure” she would be a high school teacher for the rest of her career. In her final year of the program, she was determined to go overseas to teach. She did just that, but she has spent only a few years as a full-time classroom teacher in the past decade and now defines herself as an educator.
She explained: “looking back, I wish I had realized the difference between being an educator and being a teacher.”
After teaching for a couple years in Honduras, Esther worked as the English Program Coordinator at Comunidad Educativa Evangélica (CEE) in Honduras for four years and then returned to Queen’s to complete her Master’s Degree. In her current role as Curriculum Coordinator at CEE and as Vice-President and part of the founding Board of Directors of the Honduras English Language Teachers’ Association, she has taken a leadership role in bilingual education in Honduras and is “applying the implications for practice” that came out of her Master’s thesis.
Esther explained that the Queen’s ties in her family influenced her decision to enroll in the Concurrent Education program and that Queen’s connections have facilitated her career as both a teacher and educator.
“My first memory of Queen’s was as a teenager when I attended my mom’s graduation with my dad and siblings. My mom, Heather Heidt (B.A. ’94) had gone back to school part-time, while teaching kindergarten and raising four teenagers. My father-in-law, Ronald Bettney, left teaching for a year to complete his M.Ed. (’78) at Queen’s. As I considered returning to school as a mom of 2 young children, I was encouraged by examples in my family of those who believe further education is worthwhile at all stages of your professional life and knew Queen’s would provide a supportive community in my educational pursuits. My husband spent the first few years of his life living in An Clachan [graduate student residence] – then he returned to living there about 30 years later when we moved in with our little family. I feel very blessed by the amazing experience I had at Queen’s each time and honoured to be part of the Queen’s family.”
At the invitation of another Queen’s B.Ed. graduate, Ken Vissers (B.Sc.H'92, B.Ed'93), Esther and her husband Dave moved to Honduras to teach at CEE in 2006. A private non-profit Christian bilingual school, CEE was started in 1990 by a group of parents who were concerned about the public education system in Honduras. Their desire was to start a school that would provide an excellent bilingual education for local students, including their own children, and that would encourage students to see themselves as agents for positive change in their country and in the world.
While working as the school’s English Program Coordinator, Esther maintained her connection to Queen’s as she “hosted lots of Queen’s B.Eds. during their alternative practicum and hired a number of Queen’s grads as teachers at our school.” She took a leave of absence to return to Queen’s to pursue her M.Ed., supervised by Dr. Liying Cheng, and her research focused on the experience of teaching and learning English at CEE. Her research was supported by the Alice Corry Award in Education for Research and earned her the Faculty’s Thesis in Education Prize.
She summed up her experience:
“I returned to the Queen's for the M.Ed. program with a much broader perspective on the world, having lived in three different countries and traveled in many more. I had taught in a part of the world that offered very few opportunities for professional support. I realized what a gift it was to pursue further education full-time and in person, in a world that increasingly operates on the virtual plane. I came to Queen's with an insatiable desire to learn and to grow as an educator, so I could return to Honduras better prepared to support students and teachers.”
In particular, Esther’s work with the Honduras English Language Teachers’ Association supports the expansion of professional development opportunities for English teachers in Honduras. The Association just hosted its second Annual Congress with over 350 English teachers from across the country. It is also affiliated with TESOL International, which provides support to English teachers worldwide.
Esther is participating in a TESOL International mentorship program this year, partnering with her mentor, Dr. Andy Curtis, Past President of TESOL International and previous Executive Director of the Queen’s University School of English. She also continues to be involved in a number of research projects, and recently presented a paper on about how studying English in a bilingual school impacts the cultural and national identity of Honduran students at the Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, hosted by the University of Minnesota.
Based on her experience, Esther’s advice to students is to:
“prepare yourself to enter the amazing world of education and to realize that you have no idea where you might end up in 10, 20 or 30 years. Take advantage of the amazing resources Queen's offers to develop skills in all different areas, so you can be prepared for wherever your life takes you. I would encourage all students to see their time at Queen's as a gift. Consider how you can multiply that gift, by soaking up every learning opportunity and then using your experience to change the world around you.”
Esther not only offers sound advice to students, she also serves as a shining example of the impact that educators can have in their local communities and around the globe.