For Chris Kilmer, associate dean of adult education and language learning center, teaching English has been a way for him to travel the world, even while staying here in Denver. “I see the world through the eyes of my students,” he says. “It’s my window into the world.”
Kilmer grew up in Aurora, but early on knew he wanted to to travel the world. Teaching English in foreign countries was a straightforward way to make that happen, so in his mid-20s he moved to Barcelona, Spain to teach English. “The first year was hard and it was a lot of work,” he says. “It wasn’t until my second year teaching that I felt like I was helping people.”
After a few years in Spain, he spent time teaching English and training teachers in South America, including in Brazil and Chile. Eventually he decided to move back to the United States, and back to Colorado. “I wanted to come home and be with my family,” he explains.
He started working at Emily Griffith about 5 years ago teaching literacy. Kilmer is proud of the work he’s been able to do at Emily Griffith. He’s helped students improve their English enough to be successful in Career and Technical Education programs and helped refugees new to the country gain the language skills needed to get a job.
“I’ve worked with all kinds of students, all levels, different languages. It’s been very rewarding and it’s been a great job,” says Kilmer. “I’ve met so many amazing people and I get to be a part of their journey. I’m teaching things that people need to know to be successful.”
One aspect of teaching English to recent immigrants and refugees that he’s had to gain more understanding around is trauma. “I have had to learn to be more delicate and flexible, to work around things and to make the classroom a comfortable place for students,” says Kilmer.
Kilmer started his current role as the Associate Dean of Adult Education and Language Learning in February. He has always enjoyed training and coaching teachers and so he is excited about the opportunity to turn his focus on it more specifically.
However, one month into his tenure as associate dean, the coronavirus pandemic took hold and the entire school went remote. This was a particular challenge for the English language acquisition programs because Emily Griffith had never offered English classes online before and there were a number of barriers to overcome in order to reach and teach students.
“Basic things that we do regularly in the classroom, such as breakout groups and small group projects, are much harder to do virtually,” explains Kilmer.
“It’s harder to create a community and engage with students and instructors,” says Kilmer. He’s spent much of the year working with instructors on how to adapt English lessons to a virtual format, as well as how to connect to students who may not have a computer in their home. “It’s challenging,” he says. “A lot of our students would prefer to be in in-person classes.”
On the flip side, Emily Griffith is now able to reach students with online English classes they might not have connected with otherwise. “Some say they couldn’t come to class if it was in person, but are able to now that classes are online,” says Kilmer. “Once students get over the tech hurdles, they are able to get a lot out of the new format.”
While English classes will continue to be virtual for the time being, Kilmer is thinking about and preparing for a time when classes can be in-person again. He says that even when Emily Griffith is able to offer in-person language classes, he hopes to continue offering some classes online.
“[Virtual classes] have opened opportunities for people,” says Kilmer, which is what Emily Griffith is all about. “We can be a stepping stone in someone’s journey.”