English Language Center instructors and students play cards at a table

Teacher Feature: Ellen Butki, English Language Center Instructor

  • May 14, 2024
  • English Language Center
  • Ellen Stader

[Editor's Note: This story is part of a Texas Global series celebrating the work of faculty members in the English Language Center at The University of Texas at Austin.] 

In addition to a comprehensive roster of classes in English language learning, The University of Texas at Austin’s English Language Center (ELC) maintains many options to customize courses for a range of communities and populations, also offering social and cultural immersion activities to deepen and contextualize students’ learning. These elements distinguish the ELC from other English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, as does the center’s knowledgeable and experienced faculty.  

English Language Center instructor Ellen Butki smiles in a red top with turquoise sweater

Among them is veteran instructor Ellen Butki, who has taught classes and facilitated cultural experiences for students at the ELC for 25 years — her long tenure proven by the many hats she wears at the center. Besides teaching and coordinating the Academic English Program, she also develops and presents topical information sessions with guest speakers, as well as the weekly conversation program Talk Time and other social events for students.  

To learn more about Butki’s work and her philosophy of teaching ESL as a means of improving international relations, Texas Global asked about her experiences during more than two decades at the ELC.   

What’s your educational and professional background?  

I did my undergraduate studies in international relations, majoring in political science and minoring in history and geography at San Diego State University. I obtained a Certificate in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language from the University of California, Berkeley, and my Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) from UT Austin.  

What led you to want to teach English as a Second Language? 

Initially, I saw it as a career path to work while traveling the world. Then, I saw the need for ESL teachers in the United States for international students and immigrants, and I enjoyed having students from many countries and cultures in one classroom. Now, I see helping students communicate and interact better with each other and their communities as a way of improving international relations and making the world a better place.  

How did you become an English Language Center teacher at UT Austin, and how long have you taught there? 

I started teaching at the ELC when I moved to Austin and started grad school at UT in 1994. I was teaching Academic Writing classes to international grad students at the same time I was taking classes, so I was uniquely qualified to tell them what tasks and expectations from professors they would face.  

I also taught in the Academic English Program (AEP) for ESL students preparing for grad school. Wanting a new challenge, I moved to Argentina and taught Business English and trained local EFL instructors in Buenos Aires 1997-2002.  

I returned to UT in 2002 to teach at ELC and then became the AEP program coordinator as well, which means doing a combination of teaching and working with students, faculty and administration. 

What types of classes have you taught at the ELC? What and who are you teaching now? 

I typically teach the Advanced Reading class for the Academic English Program, which includes presenting strategies for doing critical reading, building vocabulary, working with journal articles in students’ majors and more.  

In the past few years, I’ve also been teaching culture courses for our teacher training programs and for special groups that come from a specific university for a short stay. My favorite part of the culture courses is inviting UT students in as “culture consultants” for my students to ask questions each week and experience authentic interactions with students from the U.S. 

What kind of programming do you offer students? 

In addition to teaching, I enjoy meeting and supporting our students via social events, our weekly conversation program and information sessions. Before each new semester starts, I invite new students to a virtual roundup/new student info session to provide information about Registration Week and what to expect for the semester. As part of that event, I teach them the “Hook ’em” sign!  

ELC students and teacher throw the "Hook 'em Horns" sign in a Zoom class

Throughout the semester, I provide support and opportunities to our students by informing them about events on campus. I also facilitate a weekly conversation practice with UT students, called Talk Time.  

One final way I support our students is by hosting information sessions on topics such as applying to grad school in the U.S. We bring in a guest speaker from UT’s Office of Admissions and also host a guest speaker from the University Writing Center to demonstrate the U.S. style of writing resumés and CVs.  

What do you like most about this work? 

What I like about being involved with these events is that it allows me to meet with students of all levels and different programs. I can see their growth in language level and confidence from before they arrive until they finish their studies at ELC.