ESP Project Leader Profile: Kirsten Schaetzel

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In the 35th ESP Project Leader Profile, we meet Kirsten Schaetzel, who was previously a program director at Georgetown Law School and is currently an ESL specialist at Emory University School of Law. (My thanks go again to ESP project leader, Stephen Horowitz, for recommending Kirsten!) In this profile, Kirsten describes leadership in ESP contexts as curricular decision making. Before reading Kirsten’s profile, I had read an article about decision making in international relations in the light of the behavioral revolution (Hafner-Burton, Haggard, Lake, & Victor, 2017). Accordingly, as I read Kirsten’s account of project leadership, I continued to ask myself, “Why do ESP project leaders make the decisions that we do?”

Kirsten’s bio describes her as follows:

Kirsten Schaetzel has been teaching English as a Second Language for over thirty years and has been working with international lawyers for the past nine years. She holds a doctorate in applied linguistics from Boston University (1993), a master’s in teaching English as a second language from the University of Illinois (1984), and a bachelor of arts in English literature with a secondary teaching certificate from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois (1981). She lived in Asia for ten years and taught English at North-South University, Bangladesh; The University of Macau, China; and The National Institute of Education, Singapore.

Before working at the Georgetown Law Center and Emory University School of Law, her present position, she worked at the Center for Applied Linguistics at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition. In this capacity, she worked with adult education programs. Her research interests include English for specific purposes, specifically English language materials for law students, and English for academic purposes. Her recent publications include “A Survey of Writing Instruction in Adult ESL Programs: Are Teaching Practices Meeting Adult Learner Needs?” in the Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary and Basic Education (Summer, 2017), with Rebeca Fernandez and Joy Kreeft Peyton, and “Teaching Writing to Adult Learners: Lessons from the Field” in the Journal of Literature and Art Studies, (October, 2016) with Joy Kreeft Peyton. She is currently working on a text for pre-law students with Marta Baffy.

She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, Tom, three Singaporean cats, a Labrador retriever, and her son, Nate, when his college is on break.

Kirsten’s bio illuminates various factors (educational background, professional and international experience, etc.) that could possibly influence her curriculum development decisions. She provides further insights into such factors in her interview responses below.

Kirsten Schaetzel
ESL Specialist
Emory University Law School

(1) Define leadership in your own words.

Leadership in an ESP setting, to me, is learning as much as possible about an English language environment and then using one’s expertise and experience to make the most promising curricular decisions. To get good information, on which to base decisions, it is important to talk with different stakeholders and, if possible, actually see how English is used. In working at a law school, and not ever having been a law student, it was important for me to talk with professors, students, administrators, and practicing lawyers about what English skills they feel are important. I also sat in on several law classes to observe how professors and students interact and to determine what “kinds” of English are used. Based on all this information, I made curricular decisions in designing an ESP program for law students. Similarly, when I was teaching English for Academic Purposes in Asia, it was important to examine the role of English not only at the institutions where I taught, but also in the wider society outside the university. Most of the students I taught were studying to be English teachers, and they needed classes that reflected English as it was being used in society. After observing the role of English in society and talking with professors and students, I made curricular decisions so that my English classes best reflected the role of English.

(2) Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?

I would like to describe the curricular decisions I made in two projects based on the information I received from my observations and interviews: teaching English to law students and teaching English to pre-service teachers in Macau and Singapore.

After observing law classes and talking with professors, students, and administrators, I designed a curriculum to develop English language skills students need to do well. These include the ability to respond to questions in classes taught using the Socratic method, give presentations, facilitate and participate in seminar discussions, write according to academic English principles, and read academic material. I first used general academic English materials. Then, after three years, my supervisor asked that I try to make the course materials “more legal,” to “hide” the English in the law. So, I scoured law reviews and stories of lawyers and cases, creating materials as I went, and these materials formed the basis of my teaching. Though the students were not unhappy with the general materials, they were extremely happy with the legal materials. Since they were in the United States to study law, they were happiest learning about American law while improving their English.

Similarly, I changed the materials I was using after observing how English was used in Singapore and Macau. Through my observations and talks with professors, I noticed that English was being used to write both fiction and nonfiction in Asia. I wondered why English classes were using materials by authors who lived in the United Kingdom and the United States. If there were English materials set in Asia written by Asian authors, why weren’t we using these? They would not only provide good role models for student writers, but they would also be written from a social and cultural environment already familiar to students; therefore, students could work more on language without needing many explanations about society and culture. So, I incorporated writings by Catherine Lim, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Pat Wong, Philip Jayaretnam, Banana Yashimoto, Kishor Mahbubani, F. Soinil Jose, and others. Students were at first surprised that there were so many Asian writers writing in English. They enjoyed reading short stories, novels, and essays in English from their own countries.

So when making curricular decisions for ESP classes, it is important to consider the English that the students will be using in their study and lives. If it is possible to find materials that reflect the English language of the students’ worlds, then learning English will be easier, more enjoyable, and a journey that boosts students’ confidence.

After reading Kirsten’s informative and interesting profile for ESP professional development purposes, I reminded myself that from the stance of a linguist, I needed to ask, “How and why did Kirsten write her responses to the interview questions?” Discourse analytical approaches for content, narrative, and metaphor analyses could be used to gain deeper insights into her professional communication.

Do you have any questions or comments for Kirsten? Please feel free to contact her directly!

All the best,


Hafner-Burton, E.M., Haggard, S., Lake, D.A., & Victor, D.G. (2017). The behavioral revolution and international relations. International Organization 71, Sup. 2017, pp. S1–S31.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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