As colleges continue to serve linguistically diverse populations, one of their greatest needs is to identify effective methods for Teaching English to Speakers of other languages (TESOL). This teacher's narrative about how her language learning experiences influence her instructional approach with ESL learners provides useful data. More teacher stories can be informative, support professional development and deter teacher isolation.
By documenting some of the language learning experiences of teachers who work with non-native English speakers, and how these personal struggles have shaped their own teaching approaches, much can be learned. Those instructors who've studied English as a Second Language (ESL) themselves, also have valuable stories, because they can personally identify with some of their students' experiences. One critical key for educators working in linguistically diverse classrooms is understanding and respecting learners from a variety of backgrounds as they adapt to cultural differences (Barbier, 2003; Chen, Boyd, & Goh, 2003; Soliday & Gleason, 1997). Recording teachers' language learning narratives, and understanding how they affect teaching strategies and students' language performance, provides valuable data (Gudmundsdottir, 1997; Waxman & Padron, 1995). This can contribute to more effective methods for Teaching English to Speakers of other languages (TESOL). The case study presented here therefore, is the personal narrative of Elena, a professor with a passion for language learning and how it shapes her TESOL approach.
Elena was selected for this study for several reasons. First, she has thirty years of TESOL experience in the City University of New York (CUNY). She is highly respected by her colleagues, her student evaluations have been exemplary, and most of her learners receive passing grades. Elena, a native Spanish speaker, is also fluent in English, French and Italian.
Approach, Methods, and Data Collection
In order to learn about Elena's experiences, a qualitative approach was used. This consisted of open-ended interviews, observations of classroom teaching and notes collected during a 16-week semester. The interviews were tape recorded and transcribed to preserve her unique experiences. The researcher was mainly interested in finding out what could be learned by looking at Elena's language learning experiences. After coding the primary data, Elena's experiences were written as descriptive stories according to three categories: (1) Personal Background, (2) Language Learning, and (3) Language Teaching.
Elena's Personal Background
Elena, the youngest of three children, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She spoke Spanish at home and learned English as a Foreign Language in school. Her mother was a first grade teacher and her father was an engineer:
I always loved school and was an excellent student. When I was five
years old, I was placed in the second grade because there were no
seats left in the first grade. I was always the smallest child in
my classes, but I worked very hard to keep up.
Elena's childhood role model was her maternal grandmother, who struggled as a widow to raise her own family in Puerto Rico. The legacy of working hard to achieve one's goals was firmly planted in Elena's mind:
My grandmother was married to a man that worked for the government
of the island, and she had four kids. Then, all of a sudden, her
husband died of a heart attack. Women that time did not work
outside because their major responsibility was to take care of the
home ... but she was very artistic, did all kinds of needlework,
and even lace she used to do by hand. With her talent she
established a Montessori school called Escuela de Labores para
Senoritas. There, young women came to do stitching, and she
charged them a fee. …