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ESL teacher learns how dangerous cultural differences can be

Cristin Boyd who teaches English as a second language, has had the opportunity to teach in nations around the world. She is always mindful of cultural differences in the classroom after a student’s violent outburst made her fear for her life.

What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
My title is ESL (English as a Second Language) Instructor. My current job is at an IEP (Intensive English Program). The students, mainly adults 18 years and older, want to increase their English proficiency in order to get a bachelors or masters degree at a US university. This is my 18th year teaching English and ESL.

Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
The most obvious thing I do daily is “teach” English to non-native speakers of English. I most commonly teach academic writing and critical thinking skills. Teaching is not like it used to be when I was in school where the students were lined up in desks and the teacher stood at the front lecturing. These days, we use a student-centered model, which means that I act more like a ringmaster in a circus. Outside of class, I organize lessons and activities that the students then do during class. I rarely lecture because my students need to “use” English. I usually spend a lot of time moving around the classroom listening, making sure students are on-task, and clarifying any questions or concerns.

In addition to teaching, I spend a large portion of my time grading papers and assignments and preparing lessons. For every hour that I teach, I spend about two hours doing support work. On a typical day, I teach 2-4 hours. I also attend faculty meetings, meet with students and focus on professional development (such as prepare conference presentations and mentor other teachers).

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
My satisfaction with my job is a 10 on days I don’t have to grade a stack of essays and a –5 during midterms and finals.

In all seriousness, I love teaching but dislike grading and the low pay. To increase the rating and my overall satisfaction, I would get paid for out-of-class prep time, receive a higher hourly wage, and have more stability (permanent position vs. part-time, temporary).

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Secretaries and administrative assistants (not administrators) rule the roost. In graduate school, where I was a teaching assistant, I inadvertently offended the department chair’s secretary. My life became pretty hellish with missing paychecks, late photocopying, etc. It was truly a misunderstanding, but no one cared. All the faculty and staff told me to kiss some a– and make it go away. I did. Now I always, always bring flowers and goodies to the admin support at any job.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
It would have been helpful to understand more about intercultural communication. I tend to be very direct and straightforward; this trait is shaped by both my American culture and personality. Early in my career, I had some rough moments with more timid students (such as young Japanese women) who were intimidated by my communication style. I wish I had been more informed about how my directness could affect others. Instead, I had to learn “on the job” to be less direct especially with people from other cultures.

It would have been helpful to know more about organizing and managing lesson materials and ways to minimize grading time as well.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I graduated with an English degree in the mid-90s during a recession. I couldn’t get a writing job, so I went to Poland and taught high school ESL. It was there that I fell in love with teaching.

I don’t think I would have done much differently. I learned a lot about what I did not want to be or do while working in a dead-end job.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
My uncommon experiences have been more embarrassing than strange, such as a losing battle with a projector screen. One day while teaching, I could not get the projector screen (which covered my white board) to roll up. Despite offers from students to help, I insisted on managing it myself. Eventually, after much battling, the screen did roll up. Unfortunately it took the hem of my skirt with it and up over my head. Thank goodness mom always told me to wear nice underwear to work.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
The best thing about my job is being present when the light bulb goes on—that moment when students who have been struggling with some concept or challenge finally get it and understand. The look in their eyes, the release of tension in the shoulders, the prideful smile… Amazing!

I also love to get thank you emails from students who have gotten into a desired graduate program, have increased a test score, or have simply realized their skills have improved.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
There are seldom days in my job where nothing goes right. I do, however, have to deal with student dissatisfaction with grades or progress and sometimes personality or cultural issues.

For example, a student might get upset with a grade on an essay. I have even had students cry, and this makes me feel terrible. However, I strongly believe the best thing I can do is be honest, honest about the grade, why it was given, and the challenges that lie ahead. Most of my students have no idea what graduate school in the US will be like. Part of my job requires that I help them understand this.

In a more general sense, I dislike my low pay and lack of benefits. I dislike that grades are inflated by many teachers who are more concerned with being liked than true progress and learning. When I give realistic grades, I am perceived as the bad guy.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
For anyone in the teaching profession, it is easy to become consumed. Many are overworked and underpaid yet dedicated to offering their best. When I began teaching, work was my life. I ate, drank and slept teaching.

However, when I got married and started a family, things changed. For my family, I gave up a rare benefited, contracted position because I could not balance the workload with my family obligations. I went back to hourly, part-time teaching which was the right thing to do for my family.

Luckily, I have a spouse who makes good money in a different field. Many other instructors and teachers do not have this luxury. Were I not married to an engineer, I would have a lot less balance as I would need to work a lot of hours in order to make ends meet.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
In my current job, I am paid per contact hour. This means that I get paid for the hours I teach. I get one additional hour for grading per week since I teach classes that require a lot of writing. I get paid about $55 per contact hour. I do not get paid for any preparation time, meeting with students, grading beyond that extra hour, etc. My gross pay per class is about $1700 a semester.

In this field of teaching ESL, other levels, such as community college and university teaching pay more. I have made as much as $80 a teaching hour in northern California (high cost of living). Most jobs have limited, to no benefits and offer part-time positions.

No, I do not think I am paid enough as a writing instructor who has a lot of grading. However, this job is much more about helping people achieve dreams than it is about making money. I get a lot in karmic payoff.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
I can’t say that I have had any one most rewarding moment; instead, I experience on-going moments of amazement and pride. Most recently, after implementing some changes to my reading lessons, two students who had been stuck at the same level for some time, emailed me and told me that their TOEFL scores had jumped about 6 points. High scores on this exam are required for entry into US universities; the students were obviously thrilled.

When I get emails like this, the large amount of time I put into making my lessons appropriate and challenging becomes less relevant. What’s most important is helping international students reach their dreams of getting into an American University. I always tell people the best part of teaching is the karmic payoff. I feel great when they succeed!

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
By far, my most challenging and frightening experience was when a student from a Middle Eastern country (we’ll call him Gabir) lost it in my classroom. This was in the late 90’s before the US was embroiled in Middle Eastern politics, and I was a fairly new teacher. I had never had any Arab students before. In fact, most of my students were from East Asian countries.

At the time, I was teaching a paragraph-level writing class, and Gabir consistently turned in assignments late or incomplete. He would regularly try to negotiate grades, deadlines, and class requirements. I would tell the class that an assignment was due on Monday. Monday would come and go with no essay from Gabir. I’d get it on Friday, grade it, penalize the grade for late submission, and return it. He’d ask me to increase the grade, making light of the late submission; I’d explain how things work in the US. After a couple of weeks, and at least two assignments written about his machine gun at home (yikes!), I asked a colleague who had been a Middle East Peace Corps volunteer what was going on. It turns out that in many Middle Eastern countries, things operate like the Souk, the market. In a culture with a souk mentality, everything is negotiable—including grades.

Once I figured out what was going on, I called Gabir into my office and explained in a kind but clear way that US teaching institutions did not operate like the Souk. I reminded Gabir about an upcoming assignment that was due in a few days. I thought the conversation went well, and he claimed to understand.

A few days later, I asked for an assignment. Gabir did not have it. I asked him quietly to stay after class to talk with me. As the students were gathering their things to leave, I quietly asked where the assignment was. He gave some excuse, so I asked him if he had understood our conversation in my office. Then, he lost it! He stood up and started yelling at me. “You’re a terrible teacher! You demand too much! You are single woman! Why do you teach and wear such revealing clothing? You do not treat men with respect!” After what seemed like an hour (but was literally less than a minute), Gabir grab a student desk, threw it across a room and stalked out. I nearly passed out; I was shaking from head to toe, covered in cold sweat and incapable of speaking to the other teachers who came rushing into the room. Several of the other students were in tears. And all I could think about what Gabir’s favorite writing topic: his machine gun.

I never saw Gabir again; I suspect he decided life in the US was not to his liking and went back home. For a few days, it was challenging to come to class and teach because I was afraid and so were my students. No one knew where Gabir had gone or if he would come back. However, I realized I had an obligation to my students to keep teaching and to help them learn from what had happened.

As it turned out, the incident provided a great opportunity to write about cultural norms, and we all learned a lot about our cultures. Most importantly, I learned that culture and belief are deeply ingrained and often remain invisible until we are confronted with something that violates our perceptions or expectations. To this day, when something is not quite right with a student, I ask myself ‘Is something cultural going on?’

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Contrary to popular belief, being a good ESL instructor/teacher includes a lot more than being a native English speaker. While there are lots of low-paying but fun and exciting opportunities to teach overseas, most domestic jobs require an MATESL (Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language).

Skills that help are an outgoing personality, a good sense of humor, great organization and time management skills, and a strong desire to help others (and not be paid enough for it).

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Do it but only if you have the financial means to make it work.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
There is never enough time to vacation in my mind. That said, teaching ESL and EFL (English in foreign countries) can offer a perpetual vacation. I have taught in Poland, Chile, and South Korea. I can work and live anywhere in the world!

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
Teachers and instructors worldwide need to be paid more and to be treated as professionals. What is more important, the people who are shaping minds or trading on the world stock exchanges? In particular, teachers and instructors, especially public school teachers, deserve more respect, pay and recognition.

Having summers off does not mean life is easy. Those of us who do not work in the summer, also do not get paid for that time.

Teaching is not easy and does not end in the classroom. I spend significant amounts of time outside of the classroom making sure that what occurs in the classroom is the best I can offer.

Learning a language takes a lot of time. If you doubt this, try it. Don’t believe the politicians who tell you that the kids in your local school can learn English in one year. Academic proficiency takes 8-9 years. Look at the research. Know the facts. Support your local schools and their ESL populations.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
This job does indeed move my heart! Every day! I am blessed.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Teaching ESL/EFL in the US during the academic school year and, during the summers, in Thailand and Tunisia and China and Morocco and Ireland and the Philippines and Brazil and Mali and…

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
A lot of ESL teachers share my enthusiasm about what we do. I am not just cheerleading here. This is a great job despite the lower pay.

  • Saran Winters

    This was a truly inspiring article. I just took on a second
    job as an adjunct for a local community college to help pay for my education. This position will enable me to prepare ESL
    students for college; therefore, reading this article gave me the gust of what
    I should expect. I am excited about this opportunity because I believe anyone
    who purpose in their mind to learn can and will learn if given the time and
    tools to become productive and accomplished students. All learners today need to have a risk free
    environment which will allow the student to become lovers of education and
    develop the skills to become lifelong learners.
    My educational philosophy is founded upon this belief.

    I believe that everyone can and will learn in a secure,
    nurturing, and stimulating environment in which they can grow and mature
    emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. There are three elements that I believe are
    conducive to establishing such an environment, (1) the teacher acts as a
    facilitator to guide the students to new understandings, (2) allow the child’s
    natural curiosity to direct his or her learning on their timeline, and (3)
    promote respect for all people and things. All these elements in my opinion
    make up a risk free environment which will allow a student to learn no matter
    what stage of learning they are in.

  • Nimah Gobir

    As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in India, I developed engaging curriculum alongside local teachers in middle school classrooms. As most classes at my host school in Kolkata were lecture-based with little opportunity for hands-on learning, student success was determined by their ability to recall information regardless of their comprehension of the content. Students seemed to levitate out of their seats from the upward force of their raised hands during English activities. Using my previous experience in multiple educational contexts, I found art to be the best way to harness student enthusiasm and promote literacy. I had students in my English classes actively participate through listening to music, or illustrating themes to bring a perplexing story’s significance down to their shaky, crowded tables where it was readily accessible.

    Similarly to Cristin, I had to navigate cultural differences in an educational setting. My Fulbright experience gave me the opportunity to recognize that as a teacher I prioritize cultivating imaginative and divergent thinkers who find value in diversity. Being an African American female, my presence as a teacher was inconsistent with India’s national and cultural stereotypes, which led me to incorporate lessons on diversity into my curriculum, often relying on art to represent multiculturalism. I used the skills that I perfected in the classroom to develop a workshop for Black History Month, where students illustrated their personal and community goals on “I Have a Dream” clouds and created Underground Railroad coded quilt squares to collectively weave together. In adapting to the nuances in India’s education system with fellow Fulbright scholars, I realized my skills as an innovative instructor with an aptitude for creating and implementing logistically ambitious lesson plans. Moving forward, I intend to host similar workshops for students within the community that explore how cultural influences and artists of color, ranging from Yayoi Kusama to Kara Walker to Kehinde Wiley, shape our collective world.

  • Yesenia Ramos

    This post is amazing. Although I was born in the United States, my mother came from El Salvador and I learned how to speak and read in spanish before english. I was placed in ESL and IEP in elementary school. My ESL teacher really helped me balance the two languages and understand. I had trouble reading and writing in english. I was always embarrassed to read out loud in class or give a presentation. I am extremely thankful and grateful for my ESL teachers in helping improve my english skills. I truly believe my teachers have done the most to shape my life and influence my future. We need more teacher such as Cristin Boyd who loves their job and their students.

  • Jaquelee Chau

    I am an international student in the United States and had my first semester with a ESL class. It was interesting to see the perspective from an ESL instructor on the job. I agree with a lot of the information mentioned above on the qualities that are required for being an ESL instructor which not a lot of people would see from first glance.

    It was always nice to hear that ESL instructors enjoy their job as for helping students to learn, not only being liked. The ESL instructor I had for my ENGL class was somewhat similar to Ms. Boyd. He was passionate about learning about different cultures and finding the best way to teach different students. Admirable it was that they both value the process of teaching but not grading. As a student I could experience that when a teacher truly cares about teaching and learning from the job, he/she will be respected for his/her virtue and honesty.

    There was one time that my ENGL instructor apologized to me that he simply could not point out any room for improvement for one of the essays I submitted because his job was to teach, and he failed to do so in his view. It was one of the moments I saw an ESL instructor upholding his values for the job and that I wished all ESL instructors would be as responsible and accountable.

    This piece is wonderful to read and that I could relate so much to the in-class situation by the interaction with my ESL instructor.

  • Sonia Mayu Taniguchi Villafan

    This article really reminded me of how intimidating it was to come to the United States and seeing how schools separated students from regular to advanced classes. At first I felt really looked down on if I revealed that I was in regular classes but then I realized that ir was on me to better myself by studying hard and keeping up with others.

    I also realized that in Mexico, everyone is seen as the same and no one is really credited for their hard work. So I became really appreciative about the fact that students who would work harder would get higher GPA’s through accelerated classes and AP and IB courses.

    After a semester or so, I became used to the different education structure and was not resented agaibst it as in the beginning. I think it always takes time for everyone to get used to different ideas and structures when moving to a different culture.

  • Laura Y. Calderon

    I love this post! I could not agree more with this teacher on the importance of intercultural communication. As a Mexican student who got to the U.S. fairly late in her education life -after graduating high school- it would have been very useful to have English professors who were not only aware but mindful of this.
    Even though I went to a bilingual private school my entire life, coming to the U.S. was nothing less than a great challenge. The first English professor I had was accustomed to American students (obviously) and for both of us it was somewhat complicated to get our points straight when it came to explaining “basic” topics such as thesis statements, introductions, and other elements of writing. Everytime I had to go to office hours I felt so nervous about saying something with a wrong connotation or not being able to explain myself correctly that my professor could literally eat me alive and I would end up with no explanations on my grades at all.
    After the sour experience that was my first semester, I just had to get used to the “American style” and learn how to effectively communicate with “them.”
    Now that I’m a professional working and studying my Master’s in the U.S. understand more than ever the importance of acquiring intercultural communication skills, specially when it comes to negotiation. I now work in the social justice arena, where anything that I say incorrectly can have political implications not only for me but for my job and being aware of cultural differences and being able to respect others’ customs has helped me a lot to develop a better career path.
    I was also interested in this post because second language teaching is something that I would like to pursue in the future, either for Spanish or English and reading through this post helped me realize that it would be awesome to do it as a side job or even as a volunteer activity. At the end, this is the kind of job you do more as a service than as a way of living, or at least that’s how I see it.

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  • D.L.

    During my undergraduate studies I volunteered as a tutor for elementary to middle school students and as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers assistant. Although I did not work in the position full time, many of my experiences were similar to the one in this story. My experience as an ESL teaching assistant was primarily with children of middle-high school age and adults from Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). Cultural competence is something that I have learned to both value and continue to grow to understand and adapt in my every day life.

    Being an immigrant from Sub Saharan Africa who lived in England and America, I can certainly relate to how cultural norms that seem commonplace to others may not be as obvious to oneself. I have been on both sides of this experience, as an immigrant unfamiliar with customs and manner of speech or ‘lingo’, that may have at times inadvertently put me in awkward or contentious situations and also as the teacher. I recall on numerous occasions when I was a child having difficulty communicating with teachers and other students.

    As someone who is now with a teacher and has worked with students of numerous ages, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the work that teachers do. Working with children and young adults can at times require more hands on facilitation of where they are and what they are doing in the teaching area just as much as providing direct instructions to tasks at hand. I lost count of the times I spent trying to corral kids into some form of orderly seated arrangement to stop them bantering with each other, running around, or wanting to show me how high they could jump or do a crab walk walking down stairs. Needless to say, I often
    reminisce feel badly for any teachers that I may have also done these very same things.

    Working with adults was a drastic contrast as an ESL teaching assistant. I enjoyed working with children but working with the adults felt even more rewarding because they truly valued the need to learn English and understood the practical benefits it gave them and their families. The journey the SSA adults had made
    from nations of political and economic turmoil all the way to the United States was astonishing. But for them to now also be in the classroom after all they had been through, all in an effort to primarily aid their families is
    remarkable and humbling. So much so that it made me put my own future life motivations and aspirations into question.

    It would be an understatement to say that my volunteer work did not have a lasting impact on me. Although I did not become a teacher, I have pursued careers in fields where I can continue to help those similar to the SSA migrants that I worked with. I have worked in domestic and international careers to aid the disenfranchised, minority populations, and victims and survivors of disaster, violence, and general political and economic turmoil. My work with those who need aid is far from over and my cultural competence continues to grow, for it is a marathon and not a race. And lastly, just as the journey of the students and especially adults from SSA in the ESL class continues for them, likewise, mine continues as well.

  • Sina Khayat Kholghy

    I don’t necessarily have too much in common with this story, other than the fact that I used to be one of those students. I grew up in the US, but I didn’t speak a word of English until I entered pre-school. The patience required to be a teacher like you is beyond measure, and I’m thankful for your work. Without my English teacher, elementary school would have been a lot harder.

  • Coleen Joy Holliday

    I really enjoyed hearing Cristin’s point of view as an Adult Education ESL teacher. I don’t have plans to be an ESL teacher or teach in Adult Education, but I greatly appreciate and value the work that they do. I am currently serving as an Americorps volunteer with an Adult Education program. I help as an English tutor and I work with a refugee student from Sudan. Prior to this, I mostly worked with children in school. So working with adults has been a very different experience for me. It’s been so enjoyable! The student I tutor is diligent, kind and he always has a smile on his face. Even when he is tired his default expression is a smile. I’m grateful to have worked with him and I’m excited for his progress. I think this is such a rewarding field–though the ESL teachers I know are truly never shy about saying how little they make! I’m sorry that they don’t make more! ESL/Adult Education teachers are being charged with the task of educating adults who are looking for a second chance and who want to be able to communicate and contribute to their new home, society. That’s an important job!

  • Rachel

    How do you travel overseas while married?

  • sonny suarez

    This is an extremely interesting article that really hits home for me. I
    enjoyed this story very much reminded me of in 1981 I moved to United
    States of America with my husband.The only
    language that was spoken in the household was Spanish.

    We decide to enroll myself in college. I started taking ESL classes for
    the next two years. I was an ESL student anxious to learn English. I was
    always appreciate the ESL teachers that put so much effort in us how to
    learn English grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, or listening,
    and helps us get ready to communicate with other English speakers. I
    have so much appreciation for these wonderful human beings the I
    decided to be a teacher. I started taking Early Childhood Education
    classes and I was able to graduated four years later with my Associated
    and also teach for ten years.

  • Xin

    I came to the U.S when I was 12 years old with no knowledge of how to speak English or the culture. It was hard to adjust to the culture. The food, holidays, surrounding, areas, customs, and etc are completely different and new to me. It was hard to learned English as a second language. Even after 10 years later, I am still struggling with English grammar. It is very different, actually completely the opposite from my language, Mandarin. I am thankful to my ESL teachers. They never give up on me. This story help me understand my ESL teachers point of view.

  • Sofia694

    The rush of being a foreigner, the smell of a new city, the excitement of the unknown, all are things in common that trigger people to explore the world every single day. Like Cristin Boyd, I too have wanted to teach English as a second language. However, my story of why I wanted to become an ESL teacher differs from hers. In general, I love traveling, conversating, connecting and bonding from people from around the world. I went to Italy one summer in 2011 and made close friendships and met my significant other. For the past 3 years I have been traveling back and fourth and staying there for 3 months at a time. I learned how to speak Italian fluently and teach friends over there how to speak English. Like Cristin, I Grew from this experience. I Let that experience captivate and change me in ways that no book, degree, or form of education can ever transform me. I like how Cristin graduated with a degree in English with the intention of becoming a writer but became an English teacher in Poland. She has now found her passion and continues to travel all around the world.

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  • Vang Xiong

    ESL teacher Cristin Boyd’s discussion of cultural differences within the realm of teaching and learning has some very important implications. Having studied cultural anthropology for my undergrad, I understand her reflection quite well. As an instructor, teachers often see and do things in accordance to their own worldview only. This is often due to the fact that teachers have more authority and power over their students. Although it is necessary for students to be exposed to the dominant culture for societal purposes (in this case, western educational practices), over exertion of the dominant culture can lead to catastrophic results. Cristin’s experience exemplifies this quite well as one of his students outburst due to the culture differences.

    During my time as an undergrad, I conducted ethnographic research at a Hmong public charter school in Minneapolis, MN where I looked at the ways Hmong students behave in school classrooms. I found that Hmong students learn and behave differently from what is expected of the classroom norms. Instead of attending to classroom discourse and participation, Hmong students are situated as attentive learners (learn by listening and paying attention) as opposed to engaging in talks and answering question aloud in class. The messages that my research hope to get across are: 1.) different groups of students learn differently, 2.) teachers should take learning differences into consideration, and 3.) teacher should not evaluate students’ learning based on theirs or on stereotypes.

    Cristin’s reflection and my research experience tie well together. Culture plays a major role in teaching and learning. In order for students to learn and perform well, the students’ culture must be taken into consideration and be understood in their own terms as opposed to the instructor’s term.

  • Catherine

    I have studied foreign languages for the last nine years of my education. I started with French in middle school and ended up adding on Italian in high school. Through my classes, I have learned a lot about these different languages and the cultures that define them, and throughout the last five years I have been blessed with multiple opportunities to come abroad and learn first hand about different cultures.

    My first trip was in my sophomore year of high school, I went to France and London with my school. This was the first time I had ever been out of the US and it was definitely a shock. Having a hands-on experience allows you to learn and understand the culture and language on a completely different level.

    Once I began taking Italian, I became very passionate for all things Italian. I loved the language, the food and once the chance arose my senior year of high school to go abroad for ten days, I worked and saved up to be able to afford it. Now, three years later, I am completing this scholarship application while sitting at my desk in Italy, thankful for the opportunity I have had this semester to study abroad.

    In the past five years, my passion for other cultures has grown exponentially. I find cultural differences and foreign languages fascinating and beautiful. My senior year of high school I befriended the German exchange student, without having any clue she wasn’t from America- that’s how great her English was! Three years later, I have already visited her once and she made a return trip to the US, and in just a few weeks I am returning to Germany to visit her again. I am the only American friend that has visited her since her year abroad in America, and for that I am proud of myself. Keeping in touch has allowed me to experience a whole other culture I would have never imagined – I don’t speak German, and even though my heritage is German, before I met my best friend, I had no particular interest in visiting. Now, it’s my second favorite country.

    After I graduate from college next May, I am going to apply to become a member for Teach For America, where I am placed in an underachieving area to teach at a public school upon acceptance. They assign the subject I would teach, but if at all possible I would love to teach a foreign language or even English. During my semester abroad in Italy I have had the opportunity to volunteer and help teach elementary school students English, and it is a fantastic, rewarding experience.

  • Dyan Castro

    Generally, diversity is considered an asset. But we tend to forget many of the cons it comes with. One being cultural differences and the miscommunication it entails. Miscommunication often leads to bad blood. So in order to maintain diversity, it’s absolutely necessary to have effective communication. But because of cultural differences, it can be very difficult to communicate.

    As a girl that immigrated into the States at nine, I am fully aware of the scariness of cultural differences. I often experienced being the odd one out, the one from a different place, the “cultural difference.” Most of the time I embraced it; I loved the attention anyway. But I always had a fear–I wasn’t one of them, I wasn’t on their side. I had a fear that I would never be fully accepted because I was different. So as much as possible, I obviously tried to fit in. But the more I tried, the more I realized that our differences were immense. After that, I went the opposite way. I embraced how unique I was. I held onto my heritage. I stood out. When I had a problem with something “cultural”, I’d express it. I’d communicate. It’s because I’m different. Most of the time, people would try to understand, but never will, because of the “cultural difference.” However, they still try their best to communicate with me. Knowing that people do put in the effort to understand or accommodate the difference is the sole factor that brings me to believe that living in a diverse community full of cultural differences is more advantageous that one with not.

  • Favi08

    The differences in cultures and practices is very evident in the realm of education. This proves that not only languages can present barriers, but actions as well. It is necessary to keep in mind the diversity of the population and what this really entails. This story proves that teaching is more that what is normally associated to it. It is full of stresses, new learning experiences, rewards of every nature, and that feeling of fulfillment that only a progressing student can give.

  • Maria Bustamante

    This article gave a great insight into the experience of being an ESL teacher and the value of cultural norms. Speaking from personal experience I understand her feeling when she sees the light bulb go off in the student’s heads and the light in their eyes.

    During one of my semesters in Florida Gulf Coast University I had an opportunity to help out at an organization called The Heights Foundation. There I was given several tasks, but the most memorable was helping out in the ESL class in the afternoons. This organization targets an at-risk population and part of their program was providing English classes for those individuals who wanted to learn the
    language.

    Here I saw a passion that was different from what I saw in my classes at University. These students were in the moment and wanted to absorb everything that the teacher was saying. They were all also very welcoming to me who was an outsider. They wanted to learn what I knew and asked me for help. This particular class had people from Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti and the importance of cultural norms and values was very applicable. The teacher had to figure out a way to accommodate everyone because all the students came from different backgrounds and learned differently.

    Overall this article was very insightful and spoke of some very important truths.

  • Darly Martinez

    I remember when I immigrate to Miami from Cuba. I was just 7 years old and my only language was Spanish. I came with my parents and sisters but they only knew Spanish as well. I will always remember my elementary ESL teacher how much effort she put to help me and other student to learn English and learn how to get along with other kids that just spoke English. I remember my first months in Elementary I just cried and cried because I was so afraid because I didn’t understood anything they were saying and most of all the kids where mean to me. My elementary ESL teacher had a great impact of my life because thanks to her I learned so much. I appreciate her time, dedication, and effort to help me to adapt to this new world for me.

  • Melissa AU

    Melissa Au

    I can relate to your story in two ways- I am an administrative assistant and I know when people are rude to me, their “requests” can be delayed and demands are always delayed, while those that are courteous and respectful to me always get what they need in time. It’s ridiculous to me when people are rude, especially when they are aware of their actions.

    Also, I am Asian America, so my behavior has been shaped by both cultures, making me a little more understanding of other cultures than most. I may be more open to understanding other cultures, but some still offend me. My old boss is Egyptian, and his culture has shaped him to say sexist, sometimes racist and rude things. He is unaware that he’s doing it, and it took me a long while to get used to his demeanor and not get offended by his comments.

  • Hyunki Yoon

    Ms. Boyd’s experiences teaching English around the world, interfacing with cultures, and inspiring and helping others mirrors what I hope to do in my future career. I currently teach piano lessons, and agree that the light of inspiration, of a student “getting it” is among the most inspiring sights. The world of music is often undervalued like the world of education; teachers shape the minds of the future, music shapes its soul. Education, musical or otherwise, definitely takes cultural awareness and sensitivity.

    One of my biggest challenges after moving to the US from South Korea was adjusting to new cultural attitudes. Its something I still work on every day. I must also adjust my teaching style, which is that a foreigner, so that my students are most comfortable.

    In performance, recital, or concert it would seem as though one’s personal background would be less important, however I have found that my culture effects how I play, how the audience responds, and how the piece is received. The author’s experience with extreme cultural differences reminds me of the first public performance of the Rites of Spring, and the extreme reactions music can bring out in others.

    Thank you so much.

    Hyunki Yoon

  • Jairo Hernandez

    I enjoyed this story very much, as it reminded me of when my parents migrated from Mexico to the United States back in 1976. The only language that was spoken in the household was Spanish until we started going to pre-k as this is where and how we learned how to speak English. Until this day when I speak with my mother it is always in Spanish but when I speak with my sister or brother it is always English very unique in its own way of how we communicate with each other. The single most important factor and by reading ESL teacher wished that throughout the learning experience, one of the important factor would be cultural awareness training that will allow for the opportunity in improving how to adapt and teach the students is what would have been beneficial to have a better understanding of each other’s individual cultures. This will
    allow for everyone in the class environment to have a better understanding of how diversity the class really is and help to improve the educational development of each individual and everyone will have a clearer understanding of one another background to improve the learning experience of each other.

    I have been serving in the United States Army now for 14 years and have been practically around the world. With this experience it has allowed me of really be open minded and cherish everyone that I have encounter,
    to know about other cultures other than my own. Recently I have graduated the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Advisor Course. What made me realize during the course and reflecting all that I have learned, is that diversity in the work place is critical, because either working for the Federal Government
    or in the corporate world, either working in the U.S. or abroad is critical to understand that everyone has a different socialization process of how everyone see the world and how they live life. Influences of where people national origin, race, religion, social medial and government has an impact on today’s economy and how people relate to one another. Knowing how people grew up and culture is to build trust in the workplace because it does not matter how one person looks or dresses. By building trust regardless of culture or background of how a person is socialized in their own viewpoints of how they see the world. I know that this can have a positive impact on the workplace because everyone will be accepted to bring ideas to improve
    the work area. Either in a deployed overseas environment or conducting global business operations, cultural awareness if vital to have a better working relationship and not to disrespect the others cultures or create an
    international incident is important to build a long everlasting working relationship.

  • Rubi Pliego

    I feel that in a way I can relate to this interview. I had an amazing ESL teacher who taught me basic English grammar. Up until today I still remember her with warm thoughts, I hope she knows how big of an impact she made in my life. She did not have it easy with other ESL students, but I recall how continously she would try to teach us what we needed to learn in oder to be part of the regular classes with the other non ESL students.

  • Abigail Harms

    My experience teaching English in the Middle East was difficult as well. I never had any major confrontations as Cristin did, but I remember one of my female students was always very hesitant to speak in class. I encouraged students to give me answers and speak out loud in English so they could practice. It was a young adult’s beginners class, and this woman was probably almost twenty. She was well into maturity and wore her hijab to class every day.

    What I didn’t realize was that by asking her questions in a room full of mostly male students, I was forcing her to play a role that as a woman in her society she was not comfortable doing. I thought she was struggling at first, which only prompted me to give her more attention. She stopped coming to class after the first three days, and I felt awful. I finally realized what I had done and took more precautions in the future.

  • elaha.bashizada

    While reading the article this article, it was interesting learning more about being an ESL teacher. Especially since at one time it was a career I was considering. I am a refugee from Afghanistan, and when I came here I had spent much time with many ESL teachers trying to learn English. I have so much appreciation for these wonderful human beings for they have so much influence over students. ESL teachers were the first people I built relationships with when coming to the US, and I will always be grateful for the knowledge they had given to me.

    However, after reading a bit the article turned a bit sour for me when Catrin started telling us a story about Gabir. While other’s may applaud her to her actions in the situation I for one am a bit more critical.While I explain this please keep in mind that I am a woman from Afghanistan and our culture is very similar to that of Arabs. First of all, I don’t understand why she had to automatically link his behavior with his ethnicity and culture. I believe Catrin came from a very arrogant perspective that his behavior was not his own but rather of his ethnicity’s. By specifically implying that he must have acted that way due to his “culture” being that way is quite inaccurate and extremely poorly stated. Through this she is just adding fuel to the already skewed perspective people have about the middle east, only confirming false stereotypes in society. I think this has to do much with Catrin’s ignorance of the actual situations in the Arab world. Thus, I have to say I am fairly disappointed.

    I have many female Arab friends, as well as Afghan friends. All the girls I know are educated and working. We have never felt that we are any less than that of men. My aunt for example is the Head Professor for the Math Department in Afghanistan. One of my closest friends and colleague who is Arab, graduated University with a Degree in Political Science and her sister with a Degree in Psychology. My other friend who is from Palestine, came to the US as an international student to study Engineering. One of my Afghan girlfriends is graduating this year with a degree in Law, Societies and Justice and planning on going to law school. I myself am planning on transferring this year and majoring in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. These are just few of the females I know who have never let a man stop them, and yes they are from the Middle East.

    Gender issues vary a lot from family to family and it has nothing to do with culture only. There are so many different dynamics that are needed to be taken into consideration. One of the main things is lack of education. Families who are educated and literate are more open minded, those that are less educated and illiterate tend to be more strict with females. This is not an “Arab” thing because if I’m not mistaken, it was only in the last 100 years where women became more equal to men in the US. Scientifically, it wasn’t event until the 1860s (when Mendel came out with the idea of genetics) that women were even considered important enough study in the western world. This shows just how much education is important! For it is only through education that misconceptions and ignorance can be demolished. Education can conquer things like no other.

    Another thing that needs to be taken into consideration are the political conditions of that certain area. For example, in Afghanistan, the main reason people stopped allowing their females outside is because the Taliban would kidnap and kill girls if they were seen outside alone. This was not something that our culture forbid, rather it was something imposed upon us by a political group. The same goes with girls going to school. After years of taking precaution, females are still kept inside for that same fear, even if the Taliban is not there. The war had pushed back Afghanistan almost 100 years and it takes time for a country to heal from that.

    Another point I would like to make is that she implicitly made the situation a black and white type of situation. Where her “culture” is superior good guys while the savage Arabs are the inferior bad guys. Yes, I understand that is not what she said. However that is what is being implied when talks about being scared that he was going to come back and harm her. This sounds very similar to situations where white people hold their purse a little bit tighter when a black man sits next to them. Is that not racism? Had that man been a white male who said that would she have reacted the same way?

    Over all, there are many other things that are needed to be taken into consideration, however it would take all day to explain the complexity of gender issues. Although it sounds very pretty that Catrin looked past Gabir’s behavior and “gave” him a chance to redeem himself by putting the blame on his culture, she was really, she actually did much more harm than good. Now everyone that read this article, although they do not want to, have a biased perspective of Arab men and their culture for they do not have the knowledge and context for that situation. I wish we could all see the power our words have and the impact they have on other people, maybe then we would realize how to find true equality.

  • Sasha Ashley

    This story was very interesting and also very touching. It touches all the barriers and trials that we as people go through because of our different cultural backgrounds. It also speaks on the life of teachers and how rewarding but yet unsatisfactory the job can be. I’m originally from The Bahamas and moved to the States to further my education at a US university. I’m currently studying Sociology and one day I hope to teach it. Eventually, I also hope to work for the United Nations. Reading the story about the rewards and the challenging experiences she faced makes me rethink striving to become a teacher. So much effort and sacrificing that is put into the job to get such little in return. Like she mentioned, it was a blessing that her spouse was able to support them financially because being single as a teacher can result in financial strain. Additionally, as mentioned, she talks about coming across people from different backgrounds and home training. Learning how to deal with different attitudes and beliefs and still trying to teach a class can be very difficult. Its also disappointing that times have change greatly and education is now marketed as a very crucial factor to obtain. However, teachers are still reaping little rewards, but are expected to change the mindsets and learning goals of over 2,000 students. I really enjoyed reading this post because it help prepared me for what I’m going to be headed into as a teacher. It also connected the dots and touched a lot on our differences as a people.

  • Patrice Sorensen

    The quote “I learned that culture and belief are deeply ingrained and often remain invisible until we are confronted with something that violates our perceptions and expectations” is something to live by.

    At a young age, I was adopted from China. Because of that I am immersed in the American culture and am more invisible to other cultures that I appear. It wasn’t until I became friends with other minorities that I realized how little I know about other cultures. While I’ve never experience a complete culture shock, small things such as my friend having henna on her arms, her mom kissing my cheeks when I came over, and offering me more hot sauce on my already hot dinner were new to me. From that point on, I was more aware of how cultures can vary in small to large ways. Even though I don’t know about many other cultures, these experiences have made me realize how blind we are to the way others live their lives, and how that can change the way they act.

  • Xzavier Scott

    The stories
    Cristin Boyd shares with us in this article are a kin to my own being a sophomore
    in college. I understand her problems and the teacher process as I do a similar
    job working with children in an after school program. I know the difficulties
    one may have when a child just can’t quite understand a lesson or homework. I
    also feel her same joy and pride when a child does get something.

    I feel as though I understand and am grateful for people like Cristin because of where I am
    from, and my own journey in life just to get to College. I did not learn to
    read until I was in first grade and even then for most of my childhood I was
    sub-par and below the average in reading and writing skills. I remember failing
    every spelling test, and coming home in tears because I felt I wasn’t smart
    enough or as good as the other kids in school. However due to teachers and
    tutors and people like Cristen who would believe in me where many other’s would
    not because of where I was from. Living in the “hood” people would
    believe me to be another statistic who wouldn’t go anywhere in life because of
    my slow start. But now I give back in helping other student learn and read and
    do better as Cristen does every day with her students, because without people
    like her, the teachers and mentors of the world I wouldn’t be the man or
    student I am today.

  • Saira C.

    “What are you?” As the “not-so-typical” Hispanic girl that I am, I get asked this question constantly. Maybe my skin isn’t very dark, or maybe I “don’t look Mexican” (whatever that means), or maybe I look “something” other than Caucasian but no one can ever seem to pinpoint it. In ways, I like the idea that someone isn’t able to figure out my ethnicity. Not because I am not proud of it or because I would rather be of a different ethnicity, but simply because I would rather someone judge me off who I really am and not off the stereotype that my group of ethic people fall into.

    I have personally never experienced anything exactly like that but I am aware that someday I might in my future career. I plan to complete my undergraduate Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Spanish in the year 2017; then continue my studies to receive a Masters degree in Clinical Social Work. I hope that these accomplishments lead to what ultimately is my greatest goal- a position with Child Protective Services. I know that this type of work involves people with many different backgrounds. My hope though, is to go into it color blind. I do not want different races and their stereotypes to intervene with my initial first thoughts. Yes we all have different backgrounds which ultimately makes us all very different; but in my eyes, what makes us all the same is that we all have something to offer other people or the world.

    My Hispanic background helped me make the decision to major in Spanish as well. I love knowing that someday I am going to be able to bring two people together simply by translating their thoughts to each other. I feel that languages and translations bring cultures and society together. Translations see no color, race, or ethnicity; translations simple make the world be seen as one. As a Hispanic teenage girl, I know what it is like to be looked down upon because of an ethnicity; that is why I look forward to using my Spanish degree to better the gap between ethnic groups that are truly deep down, just alike. We are all human beings with passions, dreams, and goals

    Diversity is beautiful. I think it is important to be aware of how essential it is to really understand more than just our own cultures. The people we encounter on the daily come from places all over the world. They impact our lives one way or another. Whether it is with a smile that makes brightens our days, or with an experience like the one mentioned in the story above. Either way, they impacted us. They changed us. They helped us evolve. It does not matter “what they are.” When someone impacts your life, they least thing that should matter is the color of their skin or the accent behind their spoken words. What really matters is how the people around us come together and ultimately, change the world.

  • Cee H

    I agree most with how the section where she is talking about how a student “lost it” in her class. How he was not used to the cultural norms of the U.S. I think this is very true even with the subcultures in the U.S there are certain places where asking for help or money is okay but in other places its seen as mooching. The same goes for language, there is different slang in each part of the country and it might be offensive to you if you do not know the meaning it.

  • Aatifa Shareef

    I can definitely relate to the necessity of knowing a culture before trying to teach. As part of my service requirement in high school, I decided to volunteer at a low-income school in India. I am ethnically Indian, though born and raised in America, and I was going back to visit relatives so I figured I was pretty familiar with the culture. When I was told to teach English, I walked into a classroom of students who likely had a better English vocabulary than me. The students were very intelligent, but their definition of intelligence was how quickly and accurately they could regurgitate what they had memorized; there was no development of thought. When I was told to teach English, they really meant, “teach them how to think independently.”

    Here in America, I feel like we have the opposite problem of being too opinionated, often not grounding our opinions in fact. We speak whatever crosses our mind and schooling exists to further develop those thoughts and help us organize them. In India, getting the students to come up with their own ideas, write about things they were passionate about, and speaking ad hoc was the challenge laid before me. These skills don’t imply respected qualities in their culture, but they are definitely taken as a given in America. I am impressed with the administration of the school for even noticing this as an issue and doing what they can to make the children of India today the better leaders of the world tomorrow.

  • Stephen Andears

    This essay is a great way to view and understand the differences that people in the world have. I have an undergraduate degree in anthropology and completely understand why these differences arise. I have a similar story to this due to some recent changes in my life as well.

    When I was 20 I decided to move from a small town in Ohio to San Antonio, Texas. The differences in the two places were astronomical. I had never been the minority in an area, as San Antonio is majority Hispanic, and this caused some culture shock for me. Recently at my job I was helping a customer and smiled when her husband had done something silly to me (which is the norm in Ohio.) The man’s wife became very distraught and started yelling at me that I was laughing at her husband and that I was being very rude. I told the customer what had occurred but she did not listen and left the store very agitated. This really opened my eyes to the cultural difference of where i’m from to where I am. The slightest thing can be an insult to someone across the world and this really made me start to monitor myself more when sitting with those customers that I knew to be culturally different.

  • Brooder Abhit

    I’m not sure about the story of Gabir, especially the conclusion. I doubt very much that someone would ‘go back home’ just because he didn’t like one of his teachers. Hmmmmmm.

  • Marissa

    My dream is to travel the world. In the summer of 2012, I traveled to four
    countries: Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France. I raised $6,500 to travel
    as a People to People Ambassador. In my expeditions, I was able to revere the artistic
    masterpieces of Italy, experience the crisp air of Austria, swim the clear
    waters of Switzerland, and admire the architectural wonders of France.

    The highlight of my trip, however, was my home stay in Austria. As a
    student ambassador, I was provided the opportunity to stay with an Austrian
    family for three days. I had a mother, a father, and two sisters. What struck
    me the most about their elegant house was the efficiency. The dryer was only used in the winter, as the clothes
    were hang-dried. The house was heated by a water system, which is extremely
    conservative of water and electric resources. The main source of transportation
    was biking. By law, they had a mandatory compost pile, to fuel their beautiful garden, which grew all kinds
    of fresh fruits and vegetables. We were able to go out in the yard, pick
    lettuce, rinse it off, and have a fresh salad! There were windmills in the
    fields by the house, as well as multitudes of colorful flowers. The entire
    environment was so fresh and full of life. My immediate thoughts related this
    Eden to our own polluted wasteland. How could I use the example of Austria to
    promote conservative and environmentally conscience habits in the United
    States?

    I went to school with my sisters, Silja and Sandra, for a field trip to
    the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The children in Austria have a mandatory
    tour of this camp to remind them of the horrors and atrocities of the
    Holocaust, as well as to educate the children, the future, to keep such a
    tragedy from repeating. Such an experience would be extremely beneficial to the
    children of America, to make the Holocaust more real to them. It is easy to be
    ignorant of unbelievable devastation if you have never experienced such intense
    despair. How could I bring the reality of the Holocaust and other historic
    horrors to our own future generations?

    In my time at my Austrian home, I realized just how similar my adopted
    family is to my American family. We sat down to breakfast every morning, spent
    time watching movies and travelling the streets of Austria, and enjoyed Silja’s
    delicious strudels. The love and care emanating from that house was not unlike
    the affection I felt within my own family. How could I show the people of
    America that those of foreign countries aren’t so foreign at all?

    I don’t want to stop my journeying at four countries. The world is
    immense, and each and every culture has knowledge to offer. By being up close
    and personal with countries, I hope to expand my global awareness to a point of
    wisdom that I can share with others and use for the benefit of the world. Peace
    is created through understanding, and my dream is to spread understanding
    through my discoveries, thus spreading peace. How can I better my country, and
    the world, through the experience I gain in my travels?

  • Siobon Barrett

    I can totally relate to this. Although I am not a teacher, as a nurse I feel like what I enjoy most about my job is the “karmic payoff”. It really does feel good to see someone else succeed, and know that you have played a role in that.

    There is so much that nurses do behind the scenes for patients and it often times requires you to think way outside the box. Often it isn’t just how can i help this person, but rather I am going to do for you what I would want someone to do for my parent in the same scenario. This type of approach to nursing means putting your everything into taking care of a patient.

    For all that is done to be a great nurse, the monetary pay scale is way off. Nurses are play such a huge role in health/wellness promotion. It isn’t only about a healing wound, or simply administering medication. Nurses are educators, advocators, problem-solvers, and trusted confidants. These roles encompassed into nursing are still to be reflected in my paycheck. Nonetheless I love my job for personal satisfaction it brings.

  • David Segun

    I have never had to take an ESL classes or IEP classes. I must say however I am very fortunate that I am able to speak a second language (Spanish). It is pretty awesome being able to converse with other Spanish speakers especially when they are unaware I can understand them. Watching their eyes light up is always a humbling reminder of how special it is to be bilingual.

    On another note, I feel people should understand that these natives who speak a different language are to be appreciated. Far too often we see the education system trying to blot out their native tongue and “Americanize” them to the extent where they [the non english speaker] begins feeling they are inadequate or their home language is useless. FALSE. integrate their language, appreciate their tongue..Globalization people. GET WITH IT!

  • therealastrid

    This article is so inspiring! I’m a rising junior at NYU, originally from France, and I just came back from a semester spent in Shanghai. I totally agree with Cristin – cultural differences CAN be dangerous/scary. During my semester in China, I’ve had so many strange and scary experiences, and all of them happened because of the language barrier – I took Chinese classes while in Shanghai, but as a beginner communication with locals has not always been easy.

    One of them happened when I stayed in a hostel with some friends. One of them – let’s call him Joseph – was wearing contact lenses, he would only wear them during the day, and leave them on the night table during the night, in a case. One morning, he woke up and could not find the case with his contact lenses. I woke up earlier that day, and clearly saw the cleaning lady come in the room to take out the trash and clean the room a little bit. I told this to my friend, and he went to the reception to ask if he could talk to the cleaning lady. She came (and didn’t know a word of English, so the other employee had to translate, and her English wasn’t that good…), and after a lengthy discussion we found out that she had thrown out the case. She looked into the trash and found the case. Then, to “clean” it, she decided it would be a good idea to open the case and… empty it. So yes, she emptied the case in front of us, and just like that, the lenses were gone. My friend then started yelling in English, the scared employee called the manager who came a few minutes after, and the yelling kept on going.

    One thing you have to know is that in China, people hate arguing in public – they hate yelling at each other in front of strangers, so everything is very subtle. My friend apparently forgot this golden rule and kept on yelling, asking for a refund, but the manager refused to listen to him because he was yelling at her, humiliating her in front of her employees and other guests… In the end, we left the hostel, with no refund, no lenses, and this awful memory.

  • Yangv03

    I can relate to this story because when I came here from Laos when I was a child, I was put into ESL classrooms where special teachers can teach and integrate me with American Society. As I grew older, my knowledge and American vocabulary have improved. I no longer needed ESL but because of my race and background, I was automatically enrolled in ESL, where classes were no longer challenging.

    When I got to high school and beyond, I opted out of ESL because I can make it out there in the world being bi-langual in both the English language and my native language. I still get looked at and treated like I still don’t know English from few of my classes and work. However, that doesn’t both me at all.

    I do give lots of credit to the ESL teachers because they spend a lot of time adjusting and trying to help foreign students understand the American culture. Like I remember pledging to the American flag for the first time in grade school. It was awkward to me because my parents said they never did that when they went to school back in Laos. I learned that by pledging, we are being a patriot to this country.

    I also think ESL teachers go the extra mile by having to discipline students to differentiate between school and home. When I was young, my ESL teachers told me I need to show respect and couldn’t do certain things like I would normally do in the home. I believe this happens because both my parents worked during the time when I get out of school and I lived with my teenage relatives who taught me video games and behaviors that would not be appropriate in school. So this carried on to school with me until I learned to manage and understand it from my ESL teacher. I could never say enough the extra effort these ESL teachers go through to help students in guiding and teaching them.

  • Jessica An

    Time and time again
    friends and family friends tell me how lucky I am that I speak three languages.
    Most say things like “You’re so lucky,” or “I wish my parents
    taught me when I was younger.” What most fail to appreciate is the work
    that has gone behind learning these languages. It is with constant struggling,
    and teasing moments that I accomplished learning these.

    I am half Korean and half
    Mexican, and speak Korean, Spanish, and English. I am a first generation student
    in the United States due to my parents’ immigration. I am shy and reserved. I
    am passionate and “feisty.” I am Korean and I am Mexican, but I am
    also American. Intertwining all of these three has presented a challenge my
    entire life. But it is this challenge that has shaped me into the person I
    am aiming to become.

    Having lived in Mexico the
    first three years of my life, my first language was Spanish. I learned through
    my mother and grandmother who looked after me, as well as their friends and our
    neighbors. Later, I lived with my father in the states, where I learned my
    second language, Korean. I did not attend school until I was five years old,
    and by that point, I knew two languages, but not English. I faced obstacles
    attending class, but through afterschool programs as well as staying in from
    recess, I eventually learned to speak English. It is through the help of
    willing and dedicated teachers that I learned to speak the language of the
    majority of my class.

  • Jieun Huh

    When I first immigrated to the United States when I was eight, I had no idea what was happening. I did not care much about moving, mainly because I was too young to understand that I would stay in America for a very long time. I did not realize that immigrating would make me compelled to change identities by assimilating into a new culture. During my first day at an American school, my mother asked one of my classmates to take care of me. She was genuinely concerned that I would have a difficult time fitting in; perhaps she knew that she would have a difficult time adapting to a new culture as well. My family members came at different points in their lives. My parents came when they were in their 50s, my oldest sister immigrated when she was a freshman in college, my older sister immigrated when she was in high school, and I immigrated when I was in elementary school. We have different perceptions of comfort levels in both cultures: my parents feel more comfortable in a Korean community, whereas I feel more comfortable in an American setting.

    I consider myself a generation 1.5er. I am stuck in between two cultures and langues, having no definite single identity to call my own. I have experienced a shift in culture, dealing with language barriers, cultural differences, and fraying family relationships. The immigration process was difficult, especially because I experienced difficulty in utilizing my native language in a manner that would allow me to communicate effectively with my parents. Along with the discomfort that comes along with the loss of communication, the knowledge that one could gain from their parents is lost as well. For example, I purposely avoid talking about complicated topics, especially those that pertain to academic areas such as philosophy, religion, and science, with my parents, because I lack the ability to utilize the complex vocabulary that is needed to communicate efficiently. Also, since I have not talked to my parents much regarding such topics, I find difficulty in engaging in a deep conversation, precisely because of language barriers.

    Immigration processes are difficult for many. One cannot ignore the power of language and the effect that it has on the human population. People exchange ideas and knowledge through means of communication. Language enables people to explore concepts greater than what is already laid forth in a concrete manner. Language helps people discover what is abstract, intangible, unseeable.

    I am thankful to my parents for enabling me to attain two languages. With knowledge in language comes the knowledge in culture, and with knowledge in culture comes the ability to adapt and accept diversity. Along with many other language learners who are also experiencing a change in customs, we form a bridge between two societies pulled apart by differences in traditions.

  • Megan Burns

    I do not understand how people can think teachers get paid too much money! I am in school to be an elementary teacher and I am dreading the paychecks, mostly because I am not sure they will cover my student loan payments! I like that you said they pay could be better, but that there is “karmic payoff” so true. We do not go into teaching because we think are going to be making the BIG BUCKS, we do it because we want to help change lives!

    Keep it up girl! You know your students are learning so much from you, not just to speak/write English, but they are learning a new skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives! One day, this country will appreciate teachers as much as teachers appreciate teachers!

  • Melissa Chan

    I teach ESL in my spare time, and it surprises me how often cultural boundaries are crossed by both teachers and students. It’s most interesting to see exactly how much of language is the actual words, and how much is expressed by means of body language. Proficiency in language does not come easy, and the older that people get, the harder it is for them to grasp the grammar and colloquialisms of a language. Most of the work I see available is volunteer or low-paying, so I do wholeheartedly agree with the teacher when she says that they’re underpaid for the work that people like her do!

  • I had an experience very similar to hers. When the housing market crashed in 2008, I was laid off from my job. Due to the economy, other organizations weren’t hiring or were laying off their employees too. Since there wasn’t any jobs, I decided to leave the country to teach leadership skills and English in the Philippines.

    When I arrived, I thought I was going to fit in. Although I am of Philippine descent, I am US born and raised. I quickly found out how more American I was than Filipino. However, working there was amazing! Never before have I seen people who really “wanted” to learn a skill. After each class, many of my students stayed back to ask for more homework, writing tips, etc. The thirst for knowledge was extraordinary! It made my work so much more fulfilling because I knew what the knowledge would bring to help them become someone later in life!

    Culture shock seemed to be an everyday occurrence while living there. In the United States, lateness is not tolerated. One day, a big rain storm hit Manila. Because of the rain, I arrived a little early to set up for a Conversational English test. When the clock hit 10 am, none of my students arrived. I waited for a whole hour. I was infuriated! I immediately took the issue to the higher ups. Each one of my students received a phone call because of the incident. The next day, I came back to a class full of crying students apologizing to me for their behavior. The reason for no shows of course was the rain. Although my heart sank with all the crying, I stood my ground and schooled them on American culture. The message was this, if it rained in America and you are scheduled to work, you still need to be there on time. Rain will not be an excuse to call in!

    Overall, my Philippine experience is something I will never forget. It taught me more about who I am. It also brought humbleness as I learned more about my students who lived there. Now that I am back in the United States, I appreciate what I grew up with and see life more differently. Although I was in the Philippines to teach, it felt more like the other way around. The Philippines taught me humbleness, appreciation, and goodness in the hearts of people!

  • Gary Wang

    I can totally understand it! English is also not my first language. When I just came to the United States, I just barely understand some basic sentences. In the United States, I have no friend, no family member, and even no home here. Everything in the United States is new to me. The culture shock, difference of food, and different language confused and troubled me. At that time, a teacher, worked for ESL school, helped me a lot. He helped me rent an apartment, introduced his students to me to help me make friends, told some common sense in the United States, and taught me English when he was free. I will remember and his help forever. Without his help, I think I could not adapt my new life so quickly.

  • Cindy Light

    This is a great story. I have learned how important to understand the culture difference in comminations. In 2007, i saw a finical planner lost a $500,000 business in less than 2 minutes, because of he said something to my Chinese friend( his client at the time) that affdied Chinese Culture. That was a shocking moment to me.

  • addisonkh

    This is a really interesting and informative read for me. I am a Junior in college, looking forward to graduating in a year. However, I don’t know exactly what I want to do. I am interested in English as a second language and teaching, so this topic is certainly personal.

    I really identify with Cristin in so many ways. Like her, I am a very direct communicator, so I understand the challenge of having to change your style to fit cultural norms. I also really liked how much she talked about her relationships with students. It is really important to me to establish connections with the people I work with in any capacity, so it was neat hearing about how she was so rewarded by her students “getting it.” I also really liked her discussion of tailoring her style to her students. To me, that is what it is all about. I absolutely love figuring out what individuals need and then altering myself or the environment to best suit them. I think this is really important for any profession, especially those that I am drawn to, that are more service oriented.

    This article certainly informed some of the decision that lie ahead for me. I am really glad I read it!

  • Malik Williams

    I experienced something similar when I went to Jamaica, their ways of communicating are so different.

  • Flavio Guzman

    While many people come from only one world, I believe I come from two. From birth to the age of six I lived in one world. This world was in Mexico; and even though it was not always the best, it was the one I knew and loved. In Mexico I lived with my sister, my grandfather, and two very special women who were always my mother figures, my aunt and my grandmother.

    My mom had left me when I was two, and on my sixth birthday was the first time I had seen her since then. Previously it had been four years since I had spent time with her and during this time my father was not around, either. The only memory I had of him was when he took his frustration out on me after having an argument with my mom by slapping me across the mouth. I still remember crying hysterically as I felt tremendous pain in my mouth and saw blood dripping onto my hands and the floor. This violence and abuse was what lead to my parent’s separation. Yet, I would see kids at school with their father and I would feel the deep desire for him to be by my side.

    After my sixth birthday, I was told I would be leaving the world I knew, my life in Mexico. As I headed to America, I was on my way to starting a new life, in a new country, and in what felt like a new world. I would join three people I didn’t know, even though one of these was my mother. I felt enthusiasm for what the future would hold but at the same time was scared of it. When we got to my new “home”, a small pink garage, I saw my stepfather standing outside
    the door. He was a short but stocky, brown skinned, curly haired man who seemed
    very serious, tough, and unemotional. I felt a bit afraid because of his
    physical appearance and wondered how he would treat me for not being related to
    him. The world I was now living in consisted of a different culture, different
    way of life, complete strangers now as my family, and a school language I had
    never heard and couldn’t understand or speak.

    Over time, I’ve grown and matured, learning very valuable lessons. Understandably, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that in order to achieve what you want sacrifices must be made. My mother had to sacrifice leaving me for four years and suffered just as much as I did, all in order to give me a better future. My stepfather showed me responsibility and sacrifice when he worked two full-time jobs just to give our family a better future. From my stepfather I learned that a father isn’t the person who gives you life, but the person who is there for you and will guide you through life. A human life is similar to a plant because if you put a plant in the soil you can give it life. Anyone can do that. But you need to give it nourishment and sunlight to make it grow and live.

    Throughout my life I’ve had to struggle and overcome challenges. I’ve grown from being the scared immigrant ESL student to the hardworking determined person I am now. I’ve made English part of my everyday life and now feel comfortable moving from English to Spanish interchangeably. I’ve had to sacrifice many things and spent long hours of study in order to get to that position but, I’m at a point where I feel I am completely in control of my life. From here I feel that my determination and hard work can only take me higher. I know that it will take not only hard work and determination, but also sacrifice. But, I’ve made sacrifices before and have benefited from them and the sacrifices of others. I’m a product of two separate worlds, but I’ve managed to take the best from both. I plan to use the strength, empathy, determination, ability to sacrifice and desire to succeed that I have acquired in my two worlds and apply it to the
    world that I am now enthusiastically facing, my future. Without the continuous support of my teachers, my family, and having been able to become proficient in English I would not be the successful individual I am today.

    I know what this teacher and so many like her mean to the world. She is right teachers do need to be respected more and paid more. If it wasn’t for teachers like her none of us would be where we are today.

  • natsabil

    I moved to Kansas from Honduras when I was 4 years old and when I started elementary school I was in ESL for about 2 years and the teacher was one of the kindest women I have ever met. Years later she still asks about my family and seems truly interested in our well being.

    I appreciate how much Cristin has stayed with her career choice because I can tell she cares a lot about the persons background, not just in giving good grades and being well liked.

    That type of cultural understanding is something that should not only be used in the teaching field but just in every day living. Sometimes we are too quick to assume that the way people act is a character flaw rather than wondering why they act the way that they do. That deeper understanding makes teachers better teachers and people, better people.

    I may have only been 5 years old when I started ESL but her teaching methods, and the whole idea of being an ESL teacher has stuck with me my whole life. It is why I still find myself wanting to teach others and be self sacrificing in many ways that this woman is.

    Thank you for your honesty and not holding back about the negatives of your career choice. I’ve been studying French for many years now and I’m thankful for all the patience my teachers have had. I hope to be able to utilize my future language skills for more than just fun summers in France! 🙂

  • KianaLee

    Language seems to play a crucial role in defining culture. Many times I have overheard comments in my Mexican border home-town Yuma, that no one is truly ever considered “Mexican” unless they are fluent in Spanish. This can be very problematic because it separates the “Mexicans” from the “Non-Mexicans” and often causes hostility among these man-made groups. In high school these two groups were well-defined with language used to alienate these groups from one another. I’ve experienced this first hand as I tried to straddle both cultures -both the “American” and “Mexican” cultures. It was difficult to be accepted by my Hispanic peers at first because of my “white” appearance, and was only able to prove myself as part of the Hispanic culture when word got around that I was a fluent native speaker.

    Not only was language itself an essential defining factor of these two “American” and “Mexican” groups, but also the cultural practices and perspectives were very different. This often led to misunderstandings and hostility, and created a volatile tension between the two. Explosive arguments were common in my high school caused by these cultural differences and misunderstandings, and extended to the rest of the city -from check-out lines in the grocery store to misunderstandings between waitresses and their ordering customers. Juggling these two cultures has personally proven very difficult. I’ve noticed that the true hostility stems purely from misunderstandings and once the language barriers are broken and other prejudices are removed, then people are able to communicate and relate to one another in a positive way. Despite the many conflicts I have witnessed and experienced, there are far greater positive cultural intermixing that promotes understanding and an open dialogue among these two cultures.

  • Brittney Rizo

    This is an extremely interesting article that really hits home for me. For the past three years at Northeastern University I have been tutoring international students in their Introduction to Writing courses. This is an introduction course everyone at Northeastern has to take, and can be very challenging for international students whose first language is not English.

    However, what is most difficult about the course is that they are thrown into a class full of native English speakers whose reading and writing skills are at a much higher level than the students just picking up the language, this can be extremely frustrating. These students come from different cultures and rules and what is important from them to realize is that this does not make them less intelligent than the other kids in their class. Having a diverse student body is something that all colleges seek, yet sometimes teachers do not know what it means to teach a class of diverse students. I believe that this is definitely something that can be learned over time, and everyone can help to speed along the process by understanding that cultures can be different, but that does not mean that they are wrong or insufficient.

    I agree, the pay is not ideal, but for me that is not what tutoring ESL students is about. It’s about giving another person confidence that they can pick up another language and communicate in it with people around them. It is about teaching these students how to utilize their background and international experiences to develop their thoughts and ideas through another language. Often times, I find that my students are teaching me more than I am teaching them. They are so insightful and full of experiences they just do not know how to get the words out to share it with English speakers. I have learned things through my international students that I never could learn in a classroom.

    Sometimes situations can be hard, and people can be hard to reach but you are always going to encounter obstacles. It is about having the courage to work through them and the conviction to help another that gives you the strength to continue to teach ESL students. I love tutoring the International students at Northeastern, and I know that even when I graduate I will still make time to help those who seek it.

  • Many of my friends have come from different countries, most of them from the Philippines, and I can understand what this teacher mean by language and cultural boundaries. Sometimes I find myself laughing as I correct my friends on their English grammar. Across from the dorm I live in there is a building called CESL (Center for English as a Second Language) where mostly all of the Asian and Middle Eastern students tend to hang out. Since its right across from me I befriended an exchange student from China. I found out that she likes to dance so I told her to join my dance crew, which she did. What I didn’t realize is that my new friend, though really accepting of her, didn’t fit in with my dance crew when we went on team bonding events. When our dance coach would tell us to do something I would have to say it slower for her to understand. I have never wanted to be able to speak mandarin until then so that I could least give her someone she could talk openly to. Though culturally we acted the same the language barrier was a big problem.

    Another thing I noticed while going to college is the way I dress. As I mentioned before a lot of middle Eastern students hang out across from my dorm and most of them are Muslim. The girls are never there hanging out its just the boys that sit and smoke on the steps. In America the way we dress isn’t as conservative as in the Muslim countries in the Middle East. Arizona is a very hot place that requires only tank tops and shorts but the Muslim girls have to cover up from head to toe. When Boyd had the Middle Eastern student that yelled at her for wearing revealing clothing i can understand her feelings. Though people from China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines have been accepting of me, I have yet to have a Middle Eastern friend. It could be because of the cultural border.

  • Laure

    I came to the United States when i was 10 years old, I did not speak or understand a word of English. I want to thank all ESL teachers you guys truly make a difference in so many lives, culture shock affects both the teacher and the student I never really put it in the teacher’s perspective before reading this interview, I didn’t think teachers had such a hard time adjusting to different culture I always saw it in student’s point of view. I really enjoy this interview it helped me see ESL teachers in a new light.

  • CBeck

    I taught English in Japan for a summer and it was amazing. I completely agree with this article, the job itself is enjoyable and rewarding! There are defenitely things you need to make sure you are careful of when interacting with other cultures… making eye contact, how to directly communicate with people of different backgrounds, and how their religion effects there view of learning. It is underpaid but it was amazing! I would suggest it to anyone who likes teaching, enjoys being around people, and loves to travel!

  • As a Chinese student, I had the same experience in some English classes that are
    taught by foreign professors. In this kind of course, there are always some cultural
    differences between the students and lecturers, such as what
    students need to do before the classes begin. Now, I am going to tell you a
    personal story.

    When I was in primary school in China, my classmates and I were honored to receive a
    special English lecture that was taught by an Australian professor. She is an amiable
    old lady. At the first day, after she came in the class and told, “Let’s us get
    the ball rolling,” our class monitor required all the students to stand up and bow
    to the professor. In China, this behavior is a custom at the beginning of
    courses. Nonetheless, it may be a strange behavior for the lecturer. She backed
    up a few feet and asked us the reason why we did this action. When we clarified
    that it is an approach to demonstrate students’ respect for lecturers in China,
    the professor gradually comprehended what was happened.

    Through this short story, I realized that because of cultural differences, the types of
    course customs in different countries are not the same.

  • Shannon E. Wilson

    I chose to respond to this article because it reflects my
    teaching experience the most. I too have taught EFL in foreign countries. I
    have taught in South Korea, Taiwan and Kuwait. In addition, I have also taught
    foreign adult students in the United States. What I found intriguing about this
    article was how closely it reflected my own experiences. For example, it is
    certainly true that students in the Middle East will attempt to haggle as if
    they were at the souk when it comes to changing a test score or a course grade.
    When I taught at a women’s college in Kuwait, I often had to do to deal with it
    was state very firmly but not unkindly that students earned their grade based
    on the actual test itself. They usually respected this.

    In addition, I have found that teaching English as a Second
    or Foreign Language is quite rewarding. One of the most difficult aspects of
    the job has been to keep students’ spirits and motivation up. For most
    students, learning another language just takes pure hard work. Unfortunately,
    there isn’t a magic way to become fluent and proficient in English without the
    effort. I have always made an effort to learn the mother tongue of my students.
    While in Korea, I would spend my commutes studying and took every opportunity
    to practice. In Kuwait, I spoke Arabic daily. My mother-in-law is from Egypt
    and speaks no English. She is more than happy to help me struggle through my
    elementary Arabic in an attempt to communicate with her! Learning another language
    has always helped me connect with my students. One cannot learn another
    language without learning about the culture attached to it. By respecting a
    student’s culture, the barrier is removed a little and the student is more comfortable.
    As a result, more effective learning takes place.

  • miha02

    I chose this article because it relates to my own experience. A few years ago I was an ESL student anxious to learn English. The culture that each student partains has a great influence on the way one is behaving. This article describes in detail how students behave differently in class due to their culture in which they were born and raised.

    I gladly remember how the asian students were quiet and never chose to talk in front of the class, but when it came to homework and tests, they always had high grades. On the other hand, the students from South America were vocal, even during class, and loved to discuss any other subjects than school.

    I will always apreciate the ESL teachers that put so much effort in teaching us how to write, read and speak English. Coming from a different country with no family and friends, they were the first ones that created our ESL family. ESL teachers and students became great memories that will remain with me forever. ESL was similar to being in first grade again, when emotions and fear of unknown controlle your whole body.

    ESL molded me as a person, incresed my knowledge and gave me wings towards learning a new language. I am glad I had this experience that built my foundation in the English language!

  • tngreene

    This was a very interesting interview and I think language is a major barrier in communication. This is a great controversary to the “monkey see monkey do”. We may know, but cannot teach it effectively. When I was counseling a student from
    the Middle East there was some difficulty when trying to assess the student’s
    reasoning for their priority in achievement and excelling in academics. He
    voiced that he needed to improve in his grades, but also wanted to go a
    community college and then enter into a local prestigious university. He was
    willing to try harder in his courses but was very hesitant of staying
    afterschool for tutoring. Berg (2012) implied,
    “Secondary teachers should keep expectations high for all students but must be
    particularly aware of their expectations with regard to ELLs. They must keep in
    mind that ELLs lack proficiency in English, but they are not cognitively
    limited. Although second language acquisition mirrors first
    language development,”
    (p.33). This student had
    failed three out of four classes for the first six weeks grading period and was
    currently failing all his course s. This was week seven in the school year and
    he was laughing throughout the entire academic conference as if it was a joke
    and he had a lot of time to improve his grade before final exams. The counselor
    questioned how his family may feel if he does not graduate this year and he
    stated that they would probably disappoint them, but my family always has backup
    plans for me. I did research and did find out that the Arabic families do honor
    their male family members more than the females. They have the perception that
    the females can bring disgrace or shame to their linage. Male offspring’s was seen to be
    able to take care of their aging family members so they are more respected in
    their families. I was
    under the impression that Arabic was a ethnicity as one that is African American
    or Caucasian. Arabic is as one is an American. With that said one is an Arab by
    their cultural trait rather than their racial identity.

    The learning style of individual
    students shows much variation, but the unproven theoretical method of acquiring
    a second language remains an uncertainty. The education profession continue to
    assess the rate and style of the students who literally “take OFF” and become
    proficient conversational English. Despite unreal strides made in the areas of
    teaching theories and methods some continue to have hardships and struggles of
    learning English as a second language even with lengthy individualized target
    exposure. Effective strategies for learning a second language focuses on the use
    of technology, professional case study concepts and simple modeling of
    socialization amongst their peers who speak the English language proficiently.
    In other words, ‘MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO” Inclusive co-teaching, with family
    collaboration ensures successful acclimation of learning when dealing with
    students from such a diverse background. Successful learning of English as a
    second language is a definitive influence in a student’s ability to succeed in
    the classroom and the American society. Improving the student outcomes requires
    teaching in the least restrictive environment. Potential problems and success in
    learning a second language are affected by the following factors: A students
    learning characteristics, environmental factors, and most importantly prior
    ability to acquire language competency. Initially we will deal with a student
    learning traits.

    References

    Berg, H.,Petron, M.
    & Greybeck, B. (2012). Setting the foundation for working
    with English Language Learners in the secondary classroom. American Secondary
    Education, 40(3), 34-44.

  • A few years ago I was working as an ESL teacher for Golden Plains Unified School District and my students were also mainly adults 18 years of age and older. Although, each student had his or her unique reason or reasons for enrolling in an ESL class, they all shared a common belief and that was they all desired to learn the English language to create an avenue for fostering progress in both their and their children’s academic and social life.

    Every class session I provided students with ample opportunities to engage in practice exercises that were geared towards developing language proficiency and these informal assessments were reinforced and supplemented with direct instruction. The majority of my learners were categorized as beginners, because they had no prior classroom or English language usage experience, therefore, my instructional priority was to establish a foundation by teaching them the basic functions and rules of the English language. Including lessons on the alphabet, consonants and vowels, numbers, dates, such as holidays and the days of the week and months of the year.

    My job satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10 was a 10. I love academia and enjoy interacting with diverse students and assisting them in their endeavor towards achieving academic excellence.

    Similar to the story’s author, I also had to learned the hard way that in education as in many sectors of our economy it is not about what a person knows, but who a person knows. During my last year as an ESL teacher, I began advocating for additional materials and resources for my students and at the time our district had hired a new Superintendent and he was not pleased with my advocacy efforts and decided to eliminate our Adult Education program. At that point I learned that doing the right thing for students isn’t always interpreted that way by administrators.

    During the completion of my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential at California State University, Fresno, they failed to teach us the reality of education. Including the process of dealing with administrators that may not have the same priorities as a classroom teacher. I think it will be helpful for all new incoming educators to learn about effective strategies for interacting with administrators and conveying the importance of advocating for students.

    I earned an Associate in Arts in Administration of Justice from West Hills Community College, a Bachelor in Arts in Chicano and Liberal Studies and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Fresno. During my time at a Continuation High School, I had a teacher named Mr. Rodriguez who instilled the value of education and of helping community members and he was the reason I chose a career in academia. I’m currently completing a Master of Arts in Education: Teacher Leadership from the University of Phoenix and will begin applying for admission to a Doctorate Program at the University of California, Berkeley and at Stanford University. My primary goal is to be an Alternative Education teacher, but I enjoy working as en ESL teacher and I’m currently a High School Equivalency Instructor for West Hills College. I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything.

    The best thing that could happen to me as an educator is seeing the look on a student’s face when he or she has grasped a new concept or idea. The feeling I get is of satisfaction and it makes me feel good to know I am making a positive impact on a learners academic experience.

    I been fortunate to have an excellent rapport with my students and until this date, I have not had a negative experience with an alumni.

    Teaching can be a stressful job, but as mentioned above all that stress is overcome by the academic progress of students.

    I have always believed that teachers are not paid the salary that they deserve, but as I tell my students and colleagues if I wanted a profession in that I could become rich, I would’ve majored in Business and not Education. I feel I am underpaid, but I love teaching and I wouldn’t change it for any profession, regardless of the pay. As an ESL teacher I was paid $25 an hour and in my current position I am paid $22 an hour.

    The most rewarding moment I’ve experience as an educator was during my time teaching at a Continuation High School. That year I had 25 juniors that had failed Algebra two years in a row and that year in my class I was able to successfully pass 22 of the 25 students and that was a rewarding moment and I was extremely proud of my students.

    I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had many challenges that I could share in response to the pose question.

    Advanced education, I believe that the more education a teacher acquires will lead to increase productivity.

    I tell my colleagues, friends and students that teaching is not for everyone. It requires commitment, dedication and passion.

    I don’t take any paid vacations in my current position, but we have a month off during the Winter and a month off during the Summer.

    Yes! This job moves my heart and I go to work with the same dedication and passion I had the first day I started teaching. I love it!

    In five years I will like to be done with my Doctorate degree and working as a Alternative Education teacher during the day and providing GED and or ESL instruction in the evenings.

  • Melanie

    I co-construct a course at a university titled EDU 205: Multicultural Perspectives in the Classroom. This class is part of the teaching degree because the university is a private Lutheran school in the middle of a diverse, impoverished area. It stands alone and out of place. Our class contains much of the information you have described here, and I often come in contact with obstacles in dealing with and relating to other cultures. While most of my students are American, we do have quite a few exchange students. This makes teaching about multiculturalism in the United States a challenge. This country is very different from other countries in regard to cultural awareness and diversity issues, and this is a main reason why our future teachers need more exposure than they would otherwise receive by living on this very homogenous campus.

    I am very passionate about civil and social rights, as well as issues of diversity and culture. I am currently half-way through a Masters degree in Psychology, not to become a practicing clinical psychologist, but to better understand myself and the people around me as I continue to work in the field of diversity.

    This story is so similar to what I do as a university professor’s assistant. We go into the classroom with these goals of educating our students with information we are passionate about, and there is no better feeling than to experience true understanding when a student’s “lightbulb” turns on. It is an overwhelming feeling to know that we have created a learning environment that fosters cultural exploration and discussion without repercussion. Teaching is a lot of work, but I do not mind the grading so much. Reading papers and reflections my students submit helps me see who is having a hard time taking down the barriers of white privilege and open up to deeper understanding of the world around them.

  • Yvonne S

    Reading this makes me think of my friends here at my university who I have met through our Intercultural Student Association. I myself speak both English and Spanish and understand how being from another culture and living in the US can be difficult. That is why I try to help international students at my university any way I can. There are many different cultural groups at my uniersity such as the caribbean student association (which I am part of), the japanese student association, or the indian student association. All of these clubs have different events around the year and share their cultures with our community which makes it easier for others to learn and appreciate their customs.

    At my university all the ESL tutors are students and that gives an opportunity for students to get paid, help others, and make friends. I love that even though we are located in a small city we have a very diverse community and that everyone loves to share a little to form an interesting group of people. My own goals in life are going to other countries and taking my graphic design/photography degree to places where I can help and share other cultures. I find that it is very important to share and to learn about cultures so we can all be understood and respected. When cultural clashes occur arguments, fights, and even war can happen. If everyone could just take a moment to learn about someone else’s culture maybe the world would be a safer place.

  • Paulina

    I know how you feel, I’m a Spanish conversation leader in Georgia and the satisfaction don’t meet the salary.

  • sharonchin

    I used to be in an ESL class for two months, then I moved to a regular English class.I had learned how much work the ESL teachers put in, it can be easy for them when the person is good at learning, a new language, but sometimes it can be really hard. I had checked my friends paper once, but it was full of mistake, I didn’t understand anything, and that’s when I remembered my ESL teacher. It is just like any English class, but I think it needs more time and investment in it. I am a poliglot, and I had friends ask me to teach them Spanish, Korean, Portuguese or English. It was really hard, but I had felt some satisfaction, I think it would be a different satisfaction than what regular or advanced English teacher would feel. I think this ESL teacher is doing a great job, really impressive.

  • Mollie S.

    My junior year of high school, my South Korean friend moved in with my family. She was one of my best friends, however that friendship was tested over the course of that year. I had no idea how different our lives were until we were living across the hallway from one another. It was an amazing learning experience.

    Living with Nami gave me compassion for every student that leaves their family to study in the United States. The courage that she had to move so far from home and speak an unfamiliar language was admirable.

    However my patience was often tested. I would be consumed with my homework, and Nami would need help with hers. I would become frustrated taking time to help her. But after calming down, I saw the selfishness in my actions. I would try putting myself in her shoes, and I always saw the fault in being frustrated with her.

    Nami also exposed me to her Korean lifestyle. I now love traditional Korean food dishes, K-pop, and basically anything else Korean. I am so grateful for that year with Nami, and I would never go back and do it differently.

    • kerleystrong

      I can relate to this story in a way. I am currently a Safety Trainer for my local school district. I am preparing and currently enrolled in a teacher alternative certification program to become a teacher. For so many years I have been a school bus driver and have come across so many students who just needed someone to listen to them. I would give my advice and help out in homework assignments most of the time. I have been in this field for 20 years. I said to myself 5 years ago that I needed to get back into school and pursue my dream. My dream was to teach and coach the very students I love. I have attended the University of Phoenix for five years to complete my Master’s in Business Administration. It has not been a easy journey, because I work and still have two boys to parent out of my three children. My oldest son is now on the Army and I have my younger two to still raise. I am currently in the Doctoral Program and I know this is the most difficult obstacle for me. No one in my family has ever completed a degree in college, or thought about the completion of their doctrine. I will be the first to complete a doctrine and become an educator to give back to my community what the educators gave me so long ago. This was simply an opportunity. I just want the opportunity to live my dream as an educator and have my children be proud of me for not giving up. I plan to touch lives, but can touch so many more when I have my own live together.

  • Alex C

    I can definitely relate to this interview because I am able to speak two languages and I hope that someday I will be able to help students learn a different language as well.

    Diversity in the classroom is a big deal and not a lot of teachers think about their mannerisms as having a major effect on the way that their students are learning. It is not ok to assume that every child is the same, that they learn the same, or that they grasp the same concepts the same. It isn’t ok to assume this for children that are of the same backgrounds, nonetheless children who come from different backgrounds/different cultures. Diversity is something that is everywhere simply because being diverse doesn’t just have to do with your culture or heritage, it has to do with your interests and the things that you believe. Being able to address the diversity in one’s classroom and to reach out to each and every student in that classroom individually is hard but is the best way to run a classroom.

  • Jasmin Tobar

    Being an educator is such a beautiful
    thing; which consists of being able to spark knowledge to an individual, and
    open a world of possibilities for a student. But often we forget how difficult it’s for
    educators to teach. I can completely
    relate to this article, English being my second language; and also having the
    opportunity myself to teach students in the middle school. I participated in an AmeriCorps program that
    placed me in a school in need of mentors, tutors and role models. AmeriCorps is a national movement that unites
    young people to serve their community through service.

    I had the amazing opportunity to tutor
    eighth graders, in a Los Angeles urban school. I often found myself in the same
    situation. Many of my students were ESL Students, and had fallen years behind. I
    had to learn patience and understanding to work with my students, who not only
    were behind, but were brought with great frustrations that made them act out in
    class. I had to put myself back at that age and remember how hard it was to be
    in an urban school with little resources, and crowded classrooms. Los Angeles School District is the second
    biggest district in the Country and serves approximately 694,288 students.

    I gained great respect to the
    teaching profession, and realized what a vital aspect of society a teacher is. Furthermore,
    I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity I had, and this I will cherish
    for a lifetime. I want to become a school Social Worker, and work in Urban
    schools.

  • NC

    This relates to me, because I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants. Without selfless teachers such as these, my parents would not have been equipped with the tools necessary to succeed in this country.

    Cultural differences cam be very powerful. Being a child of immigrants, many African-Americans expect me to be familiar with their customs because of my skin color, but there are some things that I just can’t relate to. Even my religion (Catholicism) was seen as strange.

    With my diverse circle of friends it is very interesting to hear their opinions on social/political matters, and see their customs first hand when I go to their houses.

  • This relates to me on that fact that I can actually relate to Gabir. I am from Oakland and the particular home discourse in which I use is not accepted by the Standard English Discourse. I wanted to do exactly what Gabir did when I was targeted for my cultural difference, however I strived to achieve greatness and not allow people’s opinions to let me down. I am now a UC Berkeley scholar studying political science, which requires major writing. Basically, my perseverance is greatly expressed through my success. I have mastered both slang and the standard english discourse which goes to show that people from the outside can actually get it and do great.

  • Karla Ochoa

    I am a student myself, and I was born with speaking spanish as my native language. I had some practice of speaking English when I was in elementary school and thanks to that help I did not have to go through ESL in middle or high school. I did have a lot of friends who went through ESL because they came straight from Mexico and Cuba and other places and they didn’t seem to really care about the class.
    I have a lot of respect for this teacher because although it seems she has gone through some difficulties and she still loves her job. I think plenty of teachers grow frustrated with some students and end up losing that passion they had for teaching and it appears this teacher has not let that passion sink even though there has been things she doesn’t agree with.
    What a lot of ESL teachers don’t talk about in classes is the cultural diversity of each and everyone of their students. I think students would engage way more to the class and actually care about learning English if they talked about their culture and the English culture. There is so much interesting information when it comes to culture and teachers should always talk about culture. I think when students engage in the learning, teachers will love teaching unconditionally.

  • Zin

    Culture
    does not just benefit attitude and work environment it also increase the
    balance of personal life. By recognizing, respecting and learning about
    different cultures and setting communication models about appropriate behavior,
    work will be very effective and satisfactory for any organization.

    Communication
    is very important at any workplace within cultural organization. Key to success
    in any organization is communication. Organization can face many difficulties
    if that organization has not established types of communication methods at the
    workplace. These difficulties occur when misunderstanding takes place between
    people by saying something. Communication is influence by different cultures
    and ethnic background but communication also shapes the culture. Communication
    will follow trend if a cultural organization has set policies at the workplace.
    It is very important how we interact with others and to show respect for their
    work. Staff and managers should appreciate to work with different cultures and
    to be as example for all employees. Communication in big companies flow freely,
    which increase accountability in projects.

    Management should be consistent with the company’s
    core values and risk management protocols. If not, it may generate negative
    publicity in the short run. Long ago, I used to experience work related
    discomfort based on the cultural differences, mainly because I speak with an
    accent, but I was able to resolve them because of my strong personality and
    speaking out my thoughts before it become big issue. Some of the differences
    are being a foreigner, speaking with an accent, dominant appearance, etc. Being open minded, speaking in professional
    manner, expressing my opinion, and with my hard work, I resolved all those conflicts.
    My attitude outcomes those issues upon their arrival.

    I have been working as an accountant 15 years. Working
    in different departments, for different companies, in individual office keeps
    person away from experiencing some of the cultural differences. Recently I have
    changed the company and now I am coordinating with many people that have
    different culture and different ethics standards and I love it! My role
    includes providing any coaching that is needed to the employees. Everyone makes
    mistakes – so the first few times this happens it’s not a problem. However, if
    these mistakes become common they can lead to termination. By working with some
    of these employees for a long time, I have developed stronger personality and
    confidence. I have to follow my routine and treat every employee the same
    and provide coaching. It would be highly unethical for me to treat someone
    different. I like to listen about other cultures, practices and beliefs. I
    obtained a high knowledge about other cultures just from being interested to
    know more. I believe that everyone can learn something new from anyone. Company
    that I am working for has different codes and procedures. I have been promoted by
    my work evaluation. In previous companies I could not be promoted and my work
    evaluation was not considered seriously because of my accent. I believe that
    people should be looked equally by their value, accomplishment, experience etc.

  • Ariana

    This article is a great example of the issues we come across,in regards, to cultural differences and diversity. I live in a city that is like a melting pot, which has a huge diversity of ethnicity and cultural beliefs. Since I was a little girl in school, my classmates have been from all over the world.Experiencing an interaction with different people helped promote a balance between what is “right” or “wrong” depending on the context of different beliefs and cultures. During my last year in high school, I decided to study abroad. I took the opportunity to study in an American University in a Latin American country. This opportunity did not only prove to be rewarding on an educational level but at the personal level. I was moving to a third world country, in which, struggle was an everyday challenge. I was treated like a stranger even though I spoke and understood their language. It was at that moment in my life that I felt the great lack of cultural identification.

    Diversity and cultural differences are something that exists and that should be taken into consideration. It is very hard to understand or communicate with a group of people that each come from a different place or have different beliefs. Through the years that I lived abroad; I learned the importance of ethics, morals, and values. The three factors mentioned prior are the basis to be understood and understand. Differences will always exists and in many cases it becomes the premises for change. Change is always good once we understand the environment and surroundings around us. Diversity and cultural differences are part of our daily lives and decisions, as a result, we need to better grasp the function ethics, morals, and values play for ongoing and positive “relationships”.

  • Thomas0226

    While I have never had the experience of being a school teacher or experiencing a student lose it over a grade he received, I have had one experience that was life changing. While this experience did not teach me the negative sense about culture, it did indead teach me about culture through a more positive way. Though my study abroad Program to costa rica, I furthered learned about the culture of costa rica and have learned to respect it even more. Becuase of its life changing experience I would like to share with you just one of the many experiences I had there which truley changed the person who I was. I hope you enjoy!

    ​As our undersized car moved slowly across the jagged road, I looked curiously out the window, gazing upon the magnificent scenery of the country I called Costa Rica. As I gazed out upon the white hands of the clouds, I began to realize even more of the experience I was having in this foreign country. However, as I was doing so, out of the quietness of the car’s engine running, I heard my host father mumbles to me in Spanish. After asking my host father humbly to repeat the sentence he just spoke, I heard my host mother say in a calm and unhurried voice, “We are almost there.”  Seconds after I heard this, my heart began to beat quicker and I began to sweat more profusely. As I glanced out the window, I could see what appeared to be a somewhat large neglected old building, surrounded by a bulky old metal fence. As our car moved even closer to the aged circular building which appeared isolated from any other building, I couldn’t help but notice the two guards at the front gate of the building. As we arrived at the front gate, my host father rolled down his window at a slow even pace and paid the bulky guards. As we slowly drove through the oversized gates up the dirt road and to the mud parking lot, my excitement level began to rise and I began to daydream. Was this place really as bad as people say it is? And if so, what makes it so bad? All these questions, I knew were going to be answered as our car parked in the overcrowded mud parking lot and as we began to walk up to the metal looking building with a overhanging sign to the entrance of the building which translated into   “ Chicken fight arena. ”
    ​When entering through the metal dim doors of the structure, I began to examine and study every aspect pertaining to this part of Costa Rica’s culture. I began to observe the mud flooring, the overpopulated building, and the open ceiling. Not only that but I also noticed the circular arena off to the right and a lounge quarter to the left side of the building. However, the component that got my attention the most were the cages off to the distance which appeared utterly grim. As I glanced at these cages, I began to think of this place more like a Roman coliseum. However, this was no coliseum for humans; it was a column for animals. As I began to think about this more, I couldn’t help but gag and feel a little nauseous. But despite this idea, I began to think deeper. I knew I needed to keep an open mind towards this culture, despite my first impressions on this part of their culture. Not only that, however I needed to get the most out of this experience. Just like the trip I did in Spain after seeing bull fights, and after my trip to Kenya after seeing the dog fights, I needed to maintain a strong mind that focuses more on the cultural aspect of the event rather than the actual cruelty of the event. Now many people debate this issue saying it is morally wrong to see such a thing. I in fact agree with them in the point that this event is morally wrong. But I wasn’t there for the chicken fight and I wasn’t there to see blood and guts, I was there to learn more about their culture by seeing how the people act, what they do and what they eat. I was also there so I could learn more Spanish and get a better sense on how the Spanish language is spoken in Costa Rica. As I was thinking this and observing the scenery of the structure, I heard my host father in front of me say in a hurried voice, “quickly, follow me, the chicken fight is about to begin.” As I got to the chicken arena I was both pleased and yet disgusted at what I saw next.
    ​As I found my seat in the bleachers, I began to observe the blood splattered throughout the arena and I began to hear the thunderous voice of the announcer. As I began to hear the announcer giving the prologue, I began I quiver a little due to my adrenalin. But as this adrenaline was kicking in, I began to prepare my mind for what I was about to see. As I was doing so, I began to look around observing the faces of the rest of the audience. I noticed that not one person was hiding their face and I noticed that not one person looked the least bit scared. But instead everyone was screaming like animals waiting for the barbaric event to begin. They all at first appeared to be barbaric people, blaring, yelling, cheering and gambling, all for a gruesome event. But was this really a barbaric event or was this just part of a culture that follows their traditions. As the announcer began to introduce the two chickens I began to gaze upon both of them carefully. Both had their feathers clipped from their feet, and both had metal bars placed on their feet. I also noticed the owners stroking shaking their chickens very fast. As the event began I noticed each of the chickens throwing their legs up, striking their opponent with their razor sharp knifes on the end of their feet. The chicken fight quickly ended as one of the chickens appeared exhausted or too weak to continue.
    ​As the event went on and more chicken fights began, my mind began to wonder into the interest of the audience more than the actual chicken fight. I began to Eavesdrop on other peoples conversations, interested on what other people were talking about in such an event. I began to hear people talking about everyday life such as talking about a movie they have seen or gossiping about other people. To me this was quite odd due to the environment we were in, but to the locals, they found it quite normal. I discovered that going to this event for the locals, had the same sort of atmosphere as going to a soccer game, swim meet or even the movies. They were all social events in which people can get together and have a good time. As my mind began to focus more towards the chicken fights, I could see my host father coming back to the stands with a cup full a white type of ice-cream. As he offered it to me, without hesitation I tried it. It tasted almost like a sour type of ice cream with an ice-cream texture to it. However, as my father started to ask me to gamble with him over the chickens, I simply said “no.” He continued to encourage me saying things like “just try it once” and “don’t worry you will win.” But I continued to say no in a polite manner. Because I have been raised from birth to never gamble, I made a moral choice to never gamble in my life. This choice of mine was tested at this event, but I knew that I had to stand up for what I believe morally right.
    ​ As the event went on, my appreciation and knowledge of the culture expanded, and I gained further insight into how people act in Costa Rica. But I did not want to let this experience keep me narrow-minded about the locals in Costa Rica. I knew that in order to understand the locals more and not put them under a certain stereotype I knew I had to go on different adventures around Costa Rica to meet different locals. Because of this, I stated to plan out my next adventure for the next day. As I arrived home after the chicken fight I took a twenty minute walk from my host family’s house to the school I was studying at. As I arrive at the school I set up a reservation to go on a river rafting trip in the jungle the next day. This was another adventure that I couldn’t wait for.
    ​From my different adventures in Costa Rica, I really gained an insight into the life of the locals and as well as the growth of my independence. Even though I only spent a month studying abroad in Costa Rica, I still managed to gain a sense into how the locals act and how to live alone. I learned that traditions are an important part of the people of Costa Rica, and learned that family also is an important part of their culture. I learned this not only from my host family who had different relatives over each week, but I also learned it from talking to many locals. But As my trip from Costa Rica had come to a close I was both sad and yet satisfied. I was sad in the sense that I was not going to see my host family for a long time. However I was satisfied in the sense that I managed to do everything I wanted to in Costa Rica. I managed to go to a chicken fight, explore the jungles, meet new people, travel in the local towns, and whole lot of other stuff. Altogether, my study abroad trip to Costa Rica was a success because I did not only increase my knowledge of the language, but also of the culture. And yet I was sad to leave this fascinating country I know that one day in college I will be able to experience another trip like this when I study abroad again.

  • In my sociology class we had a mandatory field trip to Cypress Cove, a nudist colony. The objective of the professor was to open up our minds to alternative lifestyles. Students were advised about the trip on the first day of class, and were given the option of dropping the class, or writing a 3 page paper on why being a nudest is the best way to live, if they elected to not attend the trip. There was a Muslim student in the class who said that it was not appropriate in his religion and that the only person he was to see undressed was his wife. The teacher was not understanding of the student’s cultural difference and did not make any exception. This goes to show that we all must be cautious of other peoples cultures and norms.It can affect us, the individual, and the people around us.

  • Chao Xiong

    I, myself, was an English as a Second Language learner. I can not tell you how much I’ve struggled and the challenges that I’ve faced. The toughest challenge that I’d face was with bullying. Everyone use to make fun of the way I spoke. Especially with the heavy accent. At some point, I wanted to quit. However, having an ESL teacher similar to Boyd, he motivated me. He never gave up on me or the other students. Nowadays, many international students at my University comes to me for help because they know that I’m willing to help anyone and everyone. I’m glad that there are great ESL teachers like Boyd out there that are willing to help students and soon I, myself, will be one of them!

  • I think it is absolutely fantastic that the author finds her job meaningful and satisfied despite the low pay. The money matter is one of the important factors in what one would consider a job as meeting the requirement. However, whether it is a sense of achievement or the amount of wage, it is hard to find a job that has a perfect balance.

    Like her, I have had a similar experience. I worked as a student painter during my undergrad years. It was a painful experience. The repetitive physical job tasks, the sizzling hot sun bearing down, and the low pay combined to give a feeling that I was being overworked for no reason. I felt like I deserved more money.

    Like the author, painting was fun and interesting when the workload was average. However, when the workload was increased to a point where I felt the wage was too low for such instances, I became really dissatisfied and disappointed with the job. I do know that money doesn’t buy happiness but achievement and satisfaction does. And certainly, there wasn’t much of that during those instances.

    Some say that it is best to get a job that entails on what you want to do and what makes you excited. However, like that dream of looking for a soul mate, this is unrealistic. I think that there has to be a mix of these elements of requirements when assessing your job satisfaction. Most importantly, I think you have to find self-satisfaction in your job in order to go the distance just like the author.

  • Elydia Villicana

    I can strongly relate with the thousands of English Learners who struggle every day to become proficient in English. My parents arrived to the United States about 30 years ago and I remember when my parents first enrolled me in school I was very exited. Some of the most memorable teachers of my past are ESL teachers who encouraged me and inspired me to perform better in school and in my social life. They made a significant impact in my life and I have consequently chosen to do the same for other ESL students. I’m currently attending California Baptist University to receive my Bachelors in Liberal Studies to become an ESL teacher. I’m also working for ValVerde Unified School District’s Department of Language Development; in which we assist all students who’s second language is English. ESL teachers and programs are unique and are a great resource for all children who are anxious to learn English and want to strive in life.

  • Brenda

    Pay rate is a big debate in the education realm. Teachers should be compensated for their time spent outside the classroom so they can continue to what to teach. As a former elementary school coach my pay was also low but my greatest joy came from the children. Many teacher will second that teaching is a labor of love but the administrative and bureaucratic politics is anger inducing. Higher income would be one solution to improving not only the morale of a teacher but also attracting other professionals into teaching that would otherwise shy way from it to work in a more lucrative career.

  • Lammi A

    This story is very relate able to me. My mom came to the united states more than 20 years ago. She didn’t have an education when she was living in Ethiopia, and the first time she went to school was when she came to the US. I remember helping her with reading or spelling words, all of my life. The difficulties of teaching someone English are immense, especially when your reasoning of why something makes sense is more instinctual. As a native English speaker, I would listen to a sentence and be able to say, that doesn’t sound right, without knowing what is specifically wrong, non-native speakers don’t have that advantage. Therefore trying to teach someone English requires you to review all of the grammar rules that you’ve forgotten or taken for granted. Therefore this job is something that requires a lot of devotion and enthusiasm.

  • Tonya _J

    I share some similar experiences with Mrs. Boyd. I began my English as a Second Language (ESL) career as a volunteer tutor in Richmond, VA. My tutee was native Korean and inspired me to go to South Korea where I taught both children and adults for three years. With only a B.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Virginia, I knew I needed to obtain a masters degree, especially after teaching adults in northern Virginia at a language institution that did not provide medical benefits. I did obtain a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from American University and taught ESL for eight years for DC Public Schools. However, I distinctly remember as a Bilingual Special Education doctoral student at George Washington University the importance of cross-cultural competence. I have been blessed to have traveled to over twenty countries, so I learned cross-cultural competence in a very personal manner.

  • gonzalez_at

    This is a great article. I can realted to the lady beacuse I am intrested in becoming an ESL teacher, however Ill be in Spain. I recently took study abroad classes in Spain and enjoyed the experience. I like the idea of being able to travel and help people learn. Its a great oppurtunity. I do thing though, teachers should get paid more. They are very hard workers. I top my hat off the her!

  • RosaZhang10

    Although I can’t say I have any ESL teaching experience, I can definitely relate when they say when cultural differences can sometimes become a dangerous factor. Growing up in an international school, I’d say I came in contact with a lot of unique yet different cultures. Born in the United States, moving to Guangzhou, China in grade 4, immediately I was greeted with a community who had less of a concern for personal space. As people squeezed & rubbed against each other on the subways as if were a normal thing, I felt a little less comfortable with all the physical “attention” however, after living there for a while, I’ve learned it was just a survival tactic in the city. Because my family is still Chinese culture oriented, my adaptation to the cultural change may have been a lot smoother than perhaps other foreigners. I remember seeing an old lady at one of the street vendors poke at a female caucasian while cracking a joke to make her want to buy merchandise however the buyer backed up as if taking the physical contact as assault. Other times, I have seen fights break out outside night clubs while walking by between people because of their different cultural differences. I distinctly remember this one time an Australian male, who was probably slightly intoxicated, in a fight with an Arabic man. The Arabic man was telling the Australian man that he thought he was too brash and rude, always so loud and obnoxious, and called him a “threat to society”. The Australian man came back with a bunch of racist comments that I won’t mention but basically defended himself with his “In Australia this is how we do it” speech.

    These are just a few of the incidents I have seen but on a more personal note, I have encountered times of tension with people because of cultural differences. Growing up westernized, I am a rather outgoing and straight forward girl who speaks out for myself. Many of my relatives and well as local Chinese people sometimes see me as un ladylike. Even my mother sometimes jokes about no Asian man ever wanting to marry me. Back in the United States though, I fit in just right. People sometimes think I am even timid which I find funny.

  • enorwood2012

    I know all to well about diversity, as a Muslim woman I face it everyday. I face the fear of people thinking I am strange by not shaking your hand. I too, know what it is like to help someone not of your own society. i work with the refugees of Somalia. they come here scared and alone, not knowing who to trust, though very strong women, still no training, no english language learned, and no money. it takes a real special person to fill the shoes of our educators and social workers that work with people of other countries.

  • Nichole

    As
    an educator, I can relate to the love and passion for the profession.
    The cultural awareness that is needed to become a successful ESL
    teacher is a topic of great interest. So much so, that I was apart
    of a consortium for the diversity awareness of educators-in-training
    at a local university. However given my experience with cultural
    diversity, the teacher’s experience with Gabir was very enlightening.
    It is a wonderful example of why cultural awareness is important. I
    am thankful that she shared her experience with the readers, so that
    we may learn from them as well.

  • I admire your enthusiasm and dedication to teaching English to non-native speakers. You are truly making a difference in people’s lives and I hope you keep that in mind when times get tough. I learned English as a second language and feel the need to say thank you.

  • Your essay inspired me to keep seeking knowledge for to help
    myself and others. Having just the desire to help other people is not enough;
    in order to do it we must have the right skills. Your story is very touching. I
    struggled while learning English and today I am so grateful that finally can
    read and write in this language after so many efforts.

  • apruiz09

    Being a teacher isn’t just in a school setting. Just over 10 years ago I met my husband, who only spoke Spanish and I only spoke English. Our relationship has grown through the years along with our vocabularies. We have spent the last 10 years teaching eachother to speak second languages. I think it is important to always learn new things.

  • Silvia

    Truly lots of things to learn. Initial years of an job are always the hardest.
    Last year I was doing some research on different cultures and was astonished to find how different words and gestures mean different in different cultures. One needs to be really careful while dealing with people from cultures that he or she is not aware of.

  • Tanya

    “Experiencing many
    moments of awe and reward” only serves as further validation that some
    careers are rewarding because of what you give each day instead of what you receive.
    This only further supports my desire to educate in my community every
    opportunity I get.

  • Pankamah

    I grew up and attended high school in Ghana. Now I teach math in the US. I agree with Ms. Boyd that teaching has become more student oriented. The experiences I had as a high school student is very different from what my students are having with me as their teacher. My Math teacher will come and lecture for an hour and that will be it. It is up to the students to go find help somewhere. My teachers hardly had office hours and the few times that you will see a teacher you had time for a one or two questions. As a teacher, I design my classroom so I can walk to any student if they need help. Class time is broken into three sections: warm up (a review of what we covered the previous meeting), lectures (new concepts or reteach of previous concepts), and individual or group work (students practice what I just taught them). The last section is when I am able to focus on the students. I think it is a very good teaching practice to have a student centered environment, but also we must make sure students do not become dependent on the teachers.

  • sheila kanchwala

    It’s true how teaching has become so much more student-centered these days. With an emphasis on teaching for understanding, we are addressing 21st century critical thinking skills. I think what you do is amazing. Keep it up!

  • mitzi cortes

    I’m from P.R. I’m not a teacher but a teacher did make a difference in my daughters life, he had never live in the U.S. before and one day I just decided to sale everything and move to Florida she was terrified which I did understand perfectly but I was trusting my instinct that it was the best thing at that time I could do for her future and mine.

    it was thanks to a ESL teacher that my daughter’s life change completely Thanks to her support and always being there for her made her understand that it was ok and that she was going to be able to get over her fear of speaking a different language. I will always be great full for that teacher that took the time to seat with my daughter and made her feel important and gave her the support she needed at that time. I know it is hard for teachers to do the job they do but it must be amazing to know that they can make a big difference in a person’s life.

    Today my daughter is in college wanting to become a Nurse RN. and I support her 100% =)

  • Anthony W.

    I like the story and I’m very appreciative of teachers and their impact. I like the fact that there is people out there that are willing to help others for their success. I can definitely imagine that teaching a student with a language barrier is extremely hard.
    I’m not a teacher, but my childrens mother is from the Dominican Republic. We meet when we were kids and I taught her alot of english. Not in any degree like a EDL or a EFL teacher but just enough for her to get by. I learned alot from having this experience, i learned from her the same way she learned from me.
    So I have a great appreciation for anybody who can break through the language barrier to help others with furtherment of their education.

  • Joel

    This story is very rich in how important is to understand and respect other people’s culture. I admired the job of the teachers as it involves many other factors than teaching a specific subject, it is about all the time and effort they put into to help us students to suceed.
    I think this is one of the most gratification jobs even though is an underpaid profession for all the job they do. Teachers are very passionate for the work they do, and their satisfaction is to see their students overcome their own issues and reach their academic goals.

  • katsamoa

    I
    entered school as an ELL student who spoke no English. My first language being
    Samoan, which was fairly unheard of in Northern California in the early 70’s, I
    had no one who spoke my language. My parents had just split up and my Caucasian
    father brought me from American Samoa to California to live with him and his
    family. I had a difficult time adjusting due to culture shock and the loss of
    my mother and her side of the family.

    I entered kindergarten with no idea of
    how “Main Landers” lived or socialized. A few months into my
    kindergarten year my family began to notice I had eye problems and took me to
    the doctor. I couldn’t vocalize what was happening as we did not speak the same language. I was diagnosed as being born with cataracts. In the early 70’s this
    was rare. I ended up spending most of my kindergarten year in a hospital having
    invasive surgeries. They did not have the laser surgeries and the
    in-and-out-in-one-day cataract surgeries they have today. When I went back to
    school I had to stay back a year because of so much time spent in the hospital.
    I also now wore what most called at that time “bottle bottom glasses.”

    I
    had a rocky upbringing with a dad who worked all the time and a home with
    no one ever really there. My father remarried twice after my mother left us. The changing people coming in and out of my life was difficult. The schools I went to were title 1 schools in the inner city with many
    teachers who just did not seem to care or take the time to get to know me.

    As a teenager I went back to American
    Samoa to meet my birth mother. What I found surprised me greatly. Living in
    California with my father, his new wife, and her two children, I was the only
    dark skinned person in the family and was not considered by most to be
    Caucasian because of my dark skin. However, when I went home to American Samoa,
    I was too “Americanized” and light skinned to be considered Samoan.
    Funny thing is, because I never quite fit in, I learned a lot about myself and
    how to accept myself for all of my differences and uniqueness.

    I now work in
    elementary education, the past four years in Special Education, and will begin
    my student teaching in the next couple weeks. I plan to have my own classroom
    that welcomes and promotes student diversity and acceptance. I want to show my
    students how much we all have to learn from one another and what each of us has
    to offer others.

  • Steven Yen

    After moving back to the states in 8th grade, I’ve had a few ESL teachers. One of the teachers I liked in particular was Ms. Sandchez. What I liked about her teaching was that, instead of lecturing to the students, she encouraged discussion (much like what Ms. Cristin Boyd did with her class). She would let each of us read a book of our own choice, and share our thoughts during class discussions. This teaching method is very effective and thought-provoking.

    Other ESL teachers I’ve had would simply make us read grade school children’s books, because that’s where our language proficiency might have been at the time. This experience was demoralizing. Students felt like they were being treated as little children; it is as though our limited English vocabulary and grammar had made us less intelligent in general. Almost 9 years after my last ESL course, I’m always mindful when talking to international students at my University. I constantly remind myself that I’m talking to intelligent and creative individuals; just because they don’t speak fluent English, it does not mean their ideas are any less insightful and informed.

    Finally, I like to echo Ms. Cristin Boyds concern over low pay for teachers. While working as an academic tutor at my undergraduate alma mater, I learned how much time it takes (outside of class) to prepare each lesson. A lot of people don’t realize what makes a good teacher is not improvisation skills, but countless hours of preparation behind the scenes. Teachers should really be rewarded correspondingly for their preparation work.

  • This teacher’s story hit very close to home with me. Working with ESL students can very often be a huge challenge, espcially if teacher and student do not have a language in common.
    As a second year teacher, on the first day of school, I received a new student who did not speak any English at all and I do not know Portugeese. Needless to say I was very nervous about how we would communicate with one another and how he would learn the skills he needed in order to successful not only in school, but in life as well. I am so happy to say that by the end of the school year, my student was reading on grade level in English and doing well in all academnic areas. We both did a lot of learning together that year, him learning English, and me figuring out ways to communicate with him.
    Another thing in the interview that struck home with me was the story about secretaries and adminstrative assistants in the school building. I also learned this very valuable lesson very early in my career, during my internship. Fortunatley for me though, it was before there was the chance of a misunderstanding. My supervising teacher told me very early on that these were the people who make the school run and to make sure to keep them happy, if you do, then your life at shcool will be much easier.
    Teaching is definintly not about the pay, it is a work of heart. The teacher in the interview seems to be one who goes above and beyond and who truly loves her job.

  • Sherry

    This story was very touching. ESL students struggle in the classroom so very often. Teaching adults English would be even more challenging. This teacher is truly and inspiration to all teachers because of her patience and understanding of the students needs.

  • lehanom

    This was a very inspiring article. I constantly see ESL high school students struggling in the classroom and cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to teach older adults English. I admire teachers who are willing to teach at a lower pay just to see these individuals succeed. It is very rewarding as a Special Education/Health teacher when my students get that “lightbulb” and will continue to teach just for those moments.

  • Dolores laGuardia

    A terrific interview: thoughtful, interesting, articulate! I particularly agree that language learning can’t happen in a year and just being a native speaker doesn’t mean you can teach your language to others.

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