David Sharkey was in an inner-city Italian middle school teaching English in the spring of 2016 when he found himself making the sort of mistake that all new teachers dread.
“I was standing in front of the class for the first time and writing on the board and I looked over and saw I spelled something wrong,” he said. “I was so nervous.”
But like any good educator, Sharkey turned the gaffe into a learning opportunity. “The classroom was a place with a lot of cultural exchange,” he said. “If they could see me struggling to learn their language, but also see I was successful at it, then they knew they could do it, too.”
Studying abroad in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, and at Cambridge University in England were the highlights of a rich four years at UNH, according to Sharkey, who pursued a dual major in English teaching and Italian studies.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I really owe a lot to my professors for helping steer me in the right direction for those majors, and allowing me to explore who I might want to become,” he said.
During his semester in Italy, Sharkey shared an apartment with other UNH students. He received the full Italian cultural experience, he said — which meant everything from fresh pasta dinners to navigating an unfamiliar city. “It really forced me to learn the language — I had to learn to survive and get food and all those other normal, everyday things,” he said.
Sharkey’s career in education is in honor of his grandmother, a longtime educator who taught English for speakers of other languages. After graduation, his next stop is Madrid, where he plans to work as an assistant teacher in a high school.
“It will be a great opportunity to practice the teaching methods and the resources I’ve acquired here in a setting that’s not high-stakes,” he said. To prepare, he’s been teaching himself Portuguese and Spanish by reading news sites and listening to Spanish-language podcasts.
“I really do love English, and that’s why I want to teach it,” he said. “Being able to model how I speak English and how I think of the language is fun, and it’s why I want to go into an environment where kids are learning English as a second language.”