Before John Turnbull started teaching English to speakers of other languages, he took some time to learn Spanish. He studied Spanish on his own, mostly from books and with Rosetta Stone. He also lived in Popayán, Colombia for six months, where he resided with a Spanish-speaking family and worked with high school teachers who teach English.
“It’s difficult when my students are learning a new language, so I had to take the same risk,” said Turnbull. “I wanted to see what taking that risk felt like so I can be a better teacher.”
Turnbull, a former newspaper journalist, has been teaching all levels of English at the LAA since 2011. He is currently teaching four classes. Turnbull is one of 24 part-time teachers who teach English, Spanish or computer classes to the more than 2,500 students who take these classes at the LAA each year. Most of the teachers have a master’s degree, and most have more than three years of teaching experience, said Lana Gavrilov, the LAA’s director of adult education.
Turnbull came to the LAA after a career in journalism and publishing. He started as a metro reporter and went on to work as a night sports editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also worked for an academic publisher and later edited and published a book on soccer. His knowledge of soccer has helped him relate to students and be a better teacher. “Soccer gives you an avenue to talk about a lot of things,” Turnbull said. “It motivates you to learn if you have that as a passion.”
Family, he said, is another topic that motivates speech among his students.
During a recent class, Turnbull played Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” over and over so students could understand conditional sentences. “She’s using the conditional every time,” he said about the lyrics.
Gavrilov said that students love Turnbull and they always come back to his classes. “John is a very dedicated and passionate teacher,” said Gavrilov. “He likes to make his classes very interesting, dynamic and fun.”
Like all language classes at the LAA, Turnbull’s class promotes cultural exchanges, or intercambios, with native speakers who are learning Spanish three times during a session. “That’s a great opportunity for learning at a cultural level,” he said. “It’s also practical with beginning students to make grammatical comparisons between the target and source languages. Both differences and similarities in language patterns can be helpful.”
Turnbull, an Army brat who was born in Livorno, Italy, and lived all over the U.S., has an undergraduate degree in political science from Duke University and a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University. He has a second master’s in religion from the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. Turnbull has also studied Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian and Russian.