| by Jessa Zerpoli

News Stories

Eagle, Claire
Claire Eagle is an assistant professor and curriculum specialist at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.  (Credit: Loraine Ruiz-Vera )

Hold on to all the papers you write!

That’s one piece of advice from Claire Eagle, who completed her master’s in teaching foreign language at the Middlebury Institute in 2016. Eagle also completed a specialization in international education management.

“Trust me, everything that you write about in the program is stuff that people will be interested in later on in your career because it’s super current and applicable,” said Eagle. “Pay attention to everything you’re learning about how languages are acquired and the research behind it; all that is gold.”

Eagle is currently leveraging her degree as an assistant professor and curriculum specialist at one of the largest and most rigorous foreign language training schools in the world, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) in Monterey. Run by the Department of Defense, DLIFLC trains people from all branches of the military in intensive immersion programs in 13 languages. Students are expected to reach written and spoken fluency in French within 36 weeks and in 48–64 weeks for languages like Russian, Mandarin, and Arabic. Eagle started as a French language teacher, then became a team leader, and is now in an institutionwide leadership role redesigning curriculum.

From Teaching French to Learning to Teach

Claire spent nine years working toward her PhD in French literary and political theory at Cornell University in New York City. She decided to return home to the Monterey Bay area after her parents retired and finish writing her dissertation, but she ended up leaving her PhD program because it felt more and more removed from what she thought really has an impact on the world. 

Having already taught multiple levels of French language and literature courses and French translation, she entered the Institute feeling like an expert. She quickly shifted her mindset.

“I realized that I had been teaching purely on intuition and the logic of ‘I’ve always done this in the classroom, so that means it’s right,’” said Eagle. “I needed to start from zero and learn about the best practices and the research. It was both surprising and exciting.”

During her last semester at the Middlebury Institute, Eagle was hired as an adjunct French professor. She spent three years teaching French and also coordinating the French Summer Intensive Language Program before going to DLIFLC.

“My dream was to teach in a school just like MIIS—to be able to teach content-based classes that made both me and my students think, while they simultaneously learned the language,” said Eagle.

Creating Language Teaching Systems

The language programs at DLIFLC have never been fully standardized, resulting in variable success rates across different languages. Eagle is working to develop learning objectives for all the language programs at the DLI, working closely with the director of curriculum support and Professor Renée Jourdenais from the Institute.

Two courses have been particularly useful: Curriculum Design with Jason Martel for providing a strong foundation and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) with Thor Sawin.

“Once I became team leader, Curriculum Design gave me the tools I needed to reshape the French language curriculum for my class at DLIFLC. SLA taught me how to think about the language acquisition process; that is, what actually happens in the brain while our students are learning. It was fascinating. I actively draw on what I learned in both classes every day in my current position.” 

She continues to publish, including textbook reviews and an action research article based on her time teaching at the Middlebury Institute. Her next project will be developing a handbook for all future curriculum development across DLIFLC.

“Whenever I think about my time as a student at MIIS, it makes me feel warm. I loved my time there,” said Eagle, who continues to keep in touch with others from her cohort. “I felt like I had come home to what I was supposed to be doing. The teachers were so welcoming and I loved the wonderful atmosphere created by the students.”