Kirstyn Lazur, M.A.

My earliest memory of working with an international student was around the age of five.  My grandmother had Japanese friends visiting and they had a daughter about the same age as me.  Her name was Katsumi.  We both got in the kiddie pool and began our play.  I could not understand what she said.  She didn’t understand anything I said either.  So, we played in silence and understood each other perfectly.  Perhaps this is where my love of working with people from all over the world began.

At university, while studying English Literature, I volunteered as a conversation partner for many international students, helping them with written and spoken English.  One Korean student taught me how to properly hold and use chopsticks, which proved to be essential because after graduation I moved to China to teach university students and employees of the Wuhan Iron and Steel Company.  It was there that I perfected my chopstick skills and learned how to play ping pong.

I went on to earn an M.A. in English Literature and taught Freshman College Writing at the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University.  For one year, I served as a Teaching Assistant at U.C.L.A. and soon after began teaching English Language to international students in Westwood, California.  Then, I stumbled upon an opportunity to teach the TOEFL.  Though I had never envisioned that I would teach a standardized test like TOEFL, I soon realized that students needed clear, easy-to-follow instructions, strategies on how to approach each test question and a comfortable atmosphere where they could feel safe taking on new challenges. They also needed someone who believed in them and their goals and held them accountable to a standard of excellence.  Over the years of teaching TOEFL, my students have taught me about their culture and traditions.  I am grateful for that.  I am aware of the subtleties of how cultural educational traditions influence our skill set.  Therefore, in my class not only do students learn about the TOEFL test and how to approach it to obtain optimal results, but they also learn how to thrive academically in an English speaking undergraduate or graduate degree program and thrive in life as a critical thinker.  

My goal is to break down the TOEFL so that it is not as scary or as troublesome as it appears.  In fact, TOEFL can even be fun!  (Yes, that’s right, I said FUN!) You can reach your goal with hard work and determination and it is my honor to help you in your journey.  

My History of Teaching

I can’t remember ever saying that I wanted to be a teacher. I just remember doing it.

When I was about the age of 6 or 7, I had a chalkboard in the basement of my father’s house. I also had a teacher’s desk that faced a few rows of desks. My dad and my grandmother were my first students. My grandmother’s real name is Alice, but in my class she was Mary Jones. My dad’s real name is James, but his student name was George Bush. (He named himself after U.S. President George Bush, Sr.)

I drew pictures on the board and passed our papers. I counted numbers. I reviewed the alphabet. I gave them tests and I corrected them. I gave out rainbow stickers and star stickers and heart stickers. Sometimes I had to discipline my class when they got rowdy. Mary Jones was too talkative. George Bush liked to tease. Even when my students left for the day, I continued to teach to empty chairs. But to me, they weren’t empty. They were always full of students.

Many years later, I am still looking out at my classroom full of students.

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