Working Ourselves Out of a Job

“Who would ever hire you, with your blond hair and blue eyes, as a bilingual teacher?”

When Kristine Trammell's high school history teacher asked her that question, he clearly didn't have any idea the kind of determination she had—or the places that determination would take her.

Kristine had always wanted to be a teacher, ever since her grade school years in Arizona. So when her family moved to Oregon and a high school Spanish teacher encouraged her in her studies, she knew she had found her calling.

Her history teacher's skepticism notwithstanding, Kristine proceeded with her post-secondary plans—only to find that her study and passion hadn't quite prepared her to pass the bilingual education test. Did she give up? Of course not. Kristine moved to Colombia, South America for a job teaching English, and after classes focused on improving her Spanish.

Before she left Colombia, however, she experienced the first instance of what has become a theme of her life and a significant part of her educational philosophy: she worked herself out of a job. Kristine believes that the purpose of a teacher is to make herself unnecessary, so by the time she had learned enough Spanish to pass her test, she had trained her Colombian teaching assistant to replace her.

Kristine moved on to California, where high demand for bilingual education meant she quickly found a position as the only bilingual teacher in an entire elementary school. When she first started teaching in California there were very few native Spanish-speaking teachers.  But by the time she decided to move on some 20 years later, there were many native Spanish speakers who had been trained as bilingual educators.

“I stood in the gap,” Kristine says, smiling, “While other teachers were being trained.”

Before she left elementary education, however, Kristine began to use her summers to gain experience with SIL all over the world, working in Mexico, Thailand, Peru, Guatemala, and the Philippines.

Later, when she moved to Cameroon in 2006 for her first full-time assignment with SIL, she was able to apply all this experience to her work with three different Cameroonian language groups, with the ultimate goal of having the Cameroonians take over the project for themselves. After a few years, that's exactly what happened, and the project Kristine helped start has continued ever since.

While in Cameroon, Kristine met Archie, the man who would become her husband. The two of them continued their work with SIL, splitting their time between Dallas and Peru. Now, when she's not teaching the Literacy Megacourse in Peru or at the University of North Dakota, Kristine serves with SIL LEAD as an international literacy and education consultant.

 Consulting with SIL LEAD in Uganda

Consulting with SIL LEAD in Uganda

“When teachers learn how to teach and students can read what they've written,” she says, “It’s remarkable what they can accomplish.”

Kristine tells the story of a time when she was checking in on teachers she'd trained and discovered that they weren't asking their students the comprehension questions. She asked them why, and they said it was because their students could never answer the questions—because when they'd previously taught in English, that had been the case.

Kristine urged them to try. When they did, the teachers discovered to their surprise and delight that now that the materials were in the students' own language, they were raising their hands, snapping their fingers—all of them wanting to answer.

Kristine has loved working with SIL LEAD, leading workshops and sharing the Bloom book-building software around the world. She loves the reach that is possible because SIL LEAD has the ability to work with large international and governmental organizations around the world, and points to the astonishing expansion of the work that has happened in Uganda, where seven million children are now learning to read, in part because of the work of SIL LEAD!

 with SIL LEAD in Ghana

with SIL LEAD in Ghana

Kristine's high school history teacher would no doubt be amazed to see the impact she's had on bilingual education, both at home and around the world. And with Kristine's commitment to expanding her reach by perpetually working herself out of a job, that impact will continue to ripple out for years to come.