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Instructor Spotlight: Sitara Maruf|Islamic Center of Maryland

1 year 3 months 4 weeks 18 hours ago

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what has inspired you to be a teacher?
Originally from India, I have been living in the United States for 30 years. I have a master’s in science and a master’s in journalism. I have been a college instructor and a journalist, and I’m an author of an English grammar book. Apart from teaching ESOL part-time, I am a science writer.

Credit for my interest in ESOL teaching goes to my relatives. Back home, many relatives were taking ESOL classes, and on my visit in 2010, they expressed some of their doubts.  I ended up teaching them English grammar every day, and, when it was time for me to leave, they asked when I would return to teach them again! They were overjoyed when I told them I could continue teaching from US too. We installed computers and Internet for them in specific homes, and nearby relatives would gather for the class. I taught them via Skype and Go to Meeting. So, they and other college students inspired and encouraged me to continue teaching.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an ESOL teacher?
Each ESOL learner has a different learning experience, background, and cultural heritage. Some have experience in academic and work environment, and others have never stepped in one! The challenge is to ensure that my instructions and explanations resonate with all. Since adults are conscious learners, it’s important to pick cues and give lot of encouragement.

What has teaching remotely during a global pandemic taught you?
I have been teaching remotely since 2010; however, teaching during the pandemic has brought in many online resources, that were lacking previously, or perhaps I was not aware of. During the pandemic, I started teaching ESOL at the Islamic Center of Maryland and gained valuable insights and input from them. Now that human interactions are fewer in the pandemic, I appreciate the interactions and gratification that come from teaching even more! It has given me and my students a wonderful sense of community besides a tremendous learning experience in a supportive environment.

What advice would you give to a new ESOL teacher or volunteer?
To teach well, teachers must have the passion to teach and also be passionate about the subject they are teaching. Teachers’ knowledge and interest in the subject as well as their energy, enthusiasm, and passion in teaching shows through and inspires and motivates students. Besides getting extensive knowledge of the subject, prepare well for classes, expect the unexpected questions and issues, and enforce discipline and consistency.

What have been your favorite pastimes during COVID-19?
I like reading, writing, and watching documentaries. During COVID-19, we discovered many hiking trails, parks, farms, botanical gardens, and country clubs nearby. As a family, we enjoy nature walks.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Every class is a treat for me when I see the students’ happy faces, their enthusiasm, gratitude, and how they look up to me. In the short-term, seeing increments in their knowledge and confidence makes me very happy. Over the years, I have felt my effort has been worth it, when they share news about better job and education opportunities or independently completing tasks that require higher-order skills.  One mutual benefit in teaching English to adults is that we can have productive, interesting, and fun conversations on many topics, which broadens our horizons.

What is something you learned about your students during this remote teaching period?
Each student is accomplished in a way and contributes positively to local communities.  They also help one another and have their Zoom sessions to practice English or discuss homework.  The English classes have given them another avenue to expand their social and learning network. Despite their work and family obligations and the difficulties that the pandemic has added, they are a happy, chirpy, thankful, and dedicated bunch who finds great pleasure in learning and in the small things of daily life.

Dance Party & Books

1 year 4 months 1 day 18 hours ago

(Click on the image to view the conversation)

Blog Author: Kathy Stevens

Did you know our libraries - Montgomery County Public Libraries offer dance parties?  Well, that is one of many things I learned today during my MCAEL Connects Conversation with Anita Vassallo, the Director of MCPL.
MCAEL counts MCPL as one of our largest partners. Not only do the libraries offer conversation clubs for adults who are starting their English language education, but many of the libraries offer ESOL collections, and are always welcoming to adult ESOL class field trips and the opportunities our instructors make available for ESOL students to obtain their library cards.

Among the four books I am currently reading, I am struck by botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass.  First, I highly recommend the book as a lovely journey thinking about our natural world through a science lens, but also as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. This has led me to think about who my teachers are and who we learn from as we move through times that bring us great change.  As an organization, MCAEL continues to rely on the power of the coalition  - program staff, instructors, learners, other community partners, and more – to listen and learn so we can adapt and move forward. I look forward to being in dialogue with many of you as we listen and learn together.

Instructor Spotlight: Lidia Almidon | Drop-in ESOL at Maryvale Elementary School, Rockville Recreation and Parks Foundation

1 year 4 months 2 weeks 2 days ago

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what has inspired you to be a teacher? 

My name is Lidia Almidon and I was born in Lima, Peru. I live in Gaithersburg, MD. I graduated from Montgomery College and University of Maryland. My hobbies are cooking, painting, and dancing. What inspires me to be a teacher is the magic of the process of learning and sharing knowledge and giving the students the opportunity to acquire a new language and reaching their own goals. It is just amazing. I was inspired by my mother Ines and my First-Grade teacher Carmen Rosa.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an ESOL teacher? 
The challenges I face are in person interaction with students and their difficulties of trying to concentrate while learning at home.

What has teaching remotely during a global pandemic taught you? 
Teaching remotely has taught me to be more patient with the use of technical connectivity mishaps and mostly to connect with my students and build relationships among my students. The sense of community and the capacity of the students to overcome their fears that it is possible to learn using technology.

What advice would you give to a new ESOL teacher or volunteer? 
I will humbly just say that having the drive and motivation to serve one another. It is intrinsically gratifying and to be a part in the process of a student’s journey to learn to speak, write and read English is so important. Being patient, supportive and encouraging will help us in this journey.

What have been your favorite pastimes during COVID-19? 
My favorite pastimes during these challenging times are painting, cooking, creating new recipes and writing poems and journals for a long-awaited writing project.

What do you find most rewarding about your work? 
Teaching for me is allowing myself to encourage another being to fulfill their individual goal to learn English. It is rewarding personally and professionally. I strongly believe that being a teacher can touch a student life forever.

What is something you learned about your students during this remote teaching period?
I learned that my students are caring and look after one another and help one another. The respect, care and admiration and gratefulness are constant. Their energy is vital in the midst of any circumstance. I admire their perseverance, hard work and resilience but most of all their love to learn and thankful heart. 

Instructor Spotlight: Chiao-chiao Liu|Chinese Culture And Community Service Center

1 year 5 months 2 weeks 2 days ago

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what has inspired you to be a teacher?
My father was an English professor; English was my major in college; it all seems to me that I was meant to be an English teacher.  After being in IT field for many years, I am glad I came back to the education field, being an ESOL teacher is my destiny. 

What are the biggest challenges you face as an ESOL teacher?
Being an ESOL teacher to teach adult learners is very different from teaching middle school students. Generally speaking, adult learners are more willing to take the time and effort to learn English, but they need more encouragement.

What has teaching remotely during a global pandemic taught you?
Our ESOL program had to stop in early March of 2020 due to COVID-19. At that time, we did not have any experience in “Distance Learning”. Then thanks to Zoom; we learn to use Zoom and all of our ESOL programs were back on schedule by April of 2020 until now, and going stronger. 

What advice would you give to a new ESOL teacher or volunteer?
Passion and preparation are the key. Keep your passion in teaching, your students can feel that even remotely. Teaching remotely is very different from teaching in-person.  The more preparation one has the better, easier, interesting and fun it will be to teach.

What have been your favorite pastimes during COVID-19?
Listening to music and learning Chinese folk dance through Zoom have always been my favorite pastimes. During COVID-19, I enjoy researching and preparing ESOL class online and have learned a lot about designing games for students, such as crossword puzzle, Bingo, Kahoot, etc. They are so much fun.  
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Since I am teaching the adult learners, besides helping them in learning English, we have established friendship.  I am glad that I have made many good friends.

What is something you learned about your students during this remote teaching period?
There is a Chinese proverb saying, “Learning while teaching”.  Since my adult students were immigrants, even though they are not very good at English, but some of them were top on their fields. I found out one student was a musician, a great singer and a pianist. Another one is an artist, he even has his own art studio. One student is a Taichi master.  I am learning more from my ESOL students. 


Instructor Spotlight: Mariana Loayza|Catholic Charities

1 year 6 months 3 weeks 5 days ago

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what has inspired you to be a teacher?
My name is Mariana Loayza. I have a master’s in social communication research from my country of origin, Peru. My career is in Teaching Language Methodology – Spanish, French, and English. My inspiration to teach comes from my parents – both who are university professors. I am certain my love and dedication to teaching is thanks to them.  As a mother of two boys – Nicolas age 8 and Sebastian age 6, I have learned that there is no better way to understand the role of a teacher than when you become a mom. So, my kids are my inspiration too. I dedicated myself to exclusively teaching ESOL when I come to reside in the U.S eleven years ago. Since then my love for teaching grew more than ever. 

What are the biggest challenges you face as an ESOL teacher?
One of the biggest challenges as an ESOL teacher is to always be ready to have an accurate answer to my learners’ questions. To be extremely prepared to solve their doubts in grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc. To help them face new challenges in their lives by using the language appropriately.

What has teaching remotely during a global pandemic taught you?
It has taught me more about compassion, empathy, and humanity. It has also taught me that student’s commitment in difficult times could be so rewarding and motivating for a teacher that classes can become even more enjoyable and rewarding for everybody. It has taught me that there are no limits for learning when there is a goal settled from the heart and your mind is open wide for new adventures.

What advice would you give to a new ESOL teacher or volunteer?
I would tell them to always be kind, extremely patient and to give their hearts before, during and after class. Every student is immensely different and comes from diverse social, economic and educational backgrounds. We have a huge responsibility to guide them in this amazing path of learning.   

What have been your favorite pastimes during COVID-19?
My favorite pastimes during COVID-19 have been spending more quality time with my family, playing my guitar and piano, exercising in the mornings and chatting with my best friends at night.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding thing about my work is to see how my students feel about themselves after each class. How happy and grateful they become when learning. They are my motivation to continue working hard and to make things better. I learn from them every single day and I think that is why a teacher’s heart and soul never grow older. 

What is something you learned about your students during this remote teaching period?
I learned many things. The main one being is that they never stop trying. They never give up, despite fears of uncertain times and circumstances. 

How I Became an ESOL Supporter

1 year 7 months 3 weeks 2 days ago

Author: Kathy Stevens

One of my staff recently asked me about how I came to work at MCAEL.  She said, “You have a good story.”  Well, I don’t know if it is a good story, but I will say that as I reflect on the last eight years and certainly the last seven months, there are many daily reminders and stories that affirm how I came to be at MCAEL – and much of it boils down to the opportunity to work for an organization that is critical to the well-being of our community.  English language is a key for adults to reach their own goals, get jobs, take care of their own health, and support their children in school.

I love my job and I still don’t know exactly what I want to be when I grow up. I have had many jobs and job titles in my career. One thread that has been always be woven into my work has been a connection with education and community.  I’ve worked in the corporate, education and nonprofit worlds.  I am a recovering lawyer, fundraiser, community builder and I have a counseling degree.  I took the job (I was offered this job and one other in the same week – big decision !) because I thought the job would allow me to combine my interests, it was a new challenge,  – even though I was a little nervous that I was not an ESOL expert.

Not only have I used a broad skill set, but I have the opportunity to make sure that adults in our community can get quality English classes and that is beyond rewarding. The impact MCAEL makes with the organizations that teach English, the instructors who are in classrooms (or on ZOOM) every day, and most importantly the almost 17,000 adult learners we serve each year is necessary to the health, economic growth, and overall success of our community.

Instructor Spotlight: Elena Robles| International Rescue Committee (IRC) Beginner ESOL with Childcare

1 year 7 months 3 weeks 4 days ago
Elena RoblesTell us a little bit about yourself and what has inspired you to be a teacher? 

I had a lot of experience in college having facilitated trainings through the Multicultural Education Department and my first year out of college I worked in advocacy helping to train constituents in effective lobbying. The classroom environment has felt like a very natural part of my professional experience and it’s a setting I really enjoy working in because of the power of dialogue and being in a setting where knowledge is so readily and willingly transferred. My first year working with the IRC was as a job-trainer conducting job readiness trainings, interview trainings, hospitality training and serving as a co-teacher for the women’s English program!  I love serving our clients and working with a team of interns and supervisors who share that same passion is what keeps me inspired!

What are the biggest challenges you face as an ESOL teacher? 

Our classes are only three weeks and we have women who have a variety of different literacy and educational backgrounds. The biggest challenge often feels like having the curriculum be as accessible as possible to all the women. I want to meet all the programmatic goals that we set together (teachers and students) and I also want to make sure that the material is digestible and meets the needs of each student. We have student clients who maybe it’s there first time getting to enter the classroom and others who may have once been the teachers in their home country. I’ve been very lucky to work  with a team of interns and my supervisor who are all ready and willing to help to adjust the curriculum, to look up resources through our MCAEL/IRC network, or spend additional time with the students one on one.

What has teaching remotely during a global pandemic taught you? 

The internet is a beautiful platform for connection and trust building. We had a very short period of time to turn our normal in-person classroom into a virtual platform. Thankfully, with some assistance and careful planning we were successful in training and testing for digital literacy and then continuing the classrooms online. Zoom has been most effective and I’m thankful that the IRC gets to continue to accompany our women during this time period. Our classroom space meant there was dialogue around what the women were facing, and in many ways we were able to again connect them with resources through this very hard time as they shared with us different home situations and how the pandemic was impacting them. 

What advice would you give to a new ESOL teacher or volunteer? 

Have fun! Be organized and plan ahead! If it is possible to have interns or assistants, get them! I love the classroom setting and I experience so much joy with our students! I love getting to see our interns also participate and learn from the experience!! Planning and organization definitely also helps with any jitters or stress! Have fun!

What have been your favorite pastimes during COVID-19? 

I love taking my dog for a long hike outside. It’s nice to breathe and just be present with the weather after spending hours of each day cooped up on a computer! 

What do you find most rewarding about your work?  

I love the folks I serve and the people I work with. Every day, I get to be supported by the most passionate, brilliant and talented coworkers. Even with the challenges of serving refugees during a pandemic and under a politically difficult environment, I still feel a deep sense of fulfillment and joy that I get to have the privilege of serving our clients. I am so lucky!

Digital Divide: Four Areas for Coordinated Action

1 year 8 months 4 days 19 hours ago

Author: Kathy Stevens 

I’ve been thinking about the digital divide a lot in recent months. You hear the phrase a lot, but what actually is it, what do our community members need, and is there coordinated effort to meet those needs. 

A useful framework that I am using addresses three areas of the digital divide that I see here in Montgomery County.  I believe there is much work to be done in all areas. The bottom-line goal for me, and the work of MCAEL is that we create a coordinated pathway to digital equity for all families. 

Three Digital Divides - Are all households able to optimize their online access? 

Reliable, Affordable Internet Access – This is the starting point. Ensuring that families have consistent and sustainable internet connections is key.  If a family does not have affordable access with quality service upon which they can rely, they have no access to school, work, support services and health care.   

Equipment to support all household members – Does a household have equipment (computer/ tablet) with which they can log on to online services in an optimal manner?  Many households share one computer or rely on smart phones. So, even if they have internet access in the home, one can’t optimize appointments or classes via a smart phone. 

Digital literacy skills – Assuming a household has access and equipment, the next question is whether one has the skills necessary to use the computer – to log on, to access a Zoom call, to research unemployment filing instructions, etc.  Training on these skills and then using them is imperative to optimize the use of online tools. 

These three areas are critical to a family’s success in using the virtual world for school, work, and other vital services.   

Additionally, it is imperative to consider two other areas: 1) Does a person have a private (or semi-private) space in which to have an online job interview or medical appointment?  2) How are we supporting nonprofits who are now providing their core services PLUS assistance to clients to acquire internet, computers and training them on the spot with digital skills.   

While many businesses, nonprofits, schools and service providers have moved to online platforms and have helped the individual clients they serve, I do not believe we have taken stock as a county in a coordinated manner  to assess whether families have what they need in the areas of internet access, equipment and digital skills training. Yes, we are doing great work as individual organizations, but I believe we can do better with increased conversation and coordination, and I look forward to working with other nonprofits, agencies and businesses in this regard.          

Feeling at Home

1 year 8 months 4 weeks 1 day ago

Written by Stacey Fannon, ESL Program Director, Briggs Center for Faith and Action 

I remember seeing a picture from a potluck party last year that MCAEL hosted for Welcoming Week in 2019. All the participants were holding up signs which read “I’m a Welcomer.” This year I did not want to miss out on any of the fun even though there would be no potluck in 2020 and the events would all be virtual. 

I attended three events: “Building Community and Creating Home in the ESOL Classroom” a MCAEL discussion with learners, providers and instructors, “Creating a Warm and Welcoming Online Classroom” with network member English Now! and a Zoom Social with Kathy Stevens, Executive Director of MCAEL. 

At the event “Building Community and Creating Home in the ESOL Classroom” ESOL learners were asked how they felt going into the classroom for the first time and what instructors said or did to make them feel more comfortable. Learners recalled feeling fear and anxiety. One learner mentioned that she was ashamed of her English-speaking skills. All that changed when learners and instructors began to be vulnerable with each other. They were in class to support each other and to have fun together. Instructors tried to pronounce their learners’ names correctly. Learners tried to pronounce new vocabulary words correctly. Instructors and learners would both participate in icebreakers. If a learner did not understand something in English, their classmate who spoke the same native language would help translate. Eventually, the classroom started to feel like home. Recipes were shared. Stories were told. Games were played. Laughs were laughed. 

At the event “Creating a Warm and Welcoming Online Classroom” facilitated by Jennifer Kagan, Director of Program Development at English Now!, participants identified the following words associated with “home”: comfortable, safe, non-judgmental and honest. Although everything has gone virtual, there are still opportunities to create human connection. It was pointed out that ESOL instructors can create comfortable, safe and honest classrooms by doing some of the same activities online as in-person. For example, instructors can still use icebreakers like “2 truths and a lie,” interviewing each other and have a “Show and Tell” online. We also discussed how story sharing, teaching each other, calling each other by name, playing games, listening to music, sharing recipes, watching funny videos, celebrating holidays, carving pumpkins, and laughing together can create home in the classroom

I wrapped up the week with a Zoom Social hosted by Kathy Stevens from MCAEL. We listened to music together, looked at photos celebrating the week, talked about some of the highlights from the events. We all still need human connection, even if we can only do it online now. I certainly have learned ways to make my students feel at home in the ESOL classroom. You can still create home if you make the effort – even online!


Instructor Spotlight: Linda Kuserk |Mill Creek Parish United Methodist Church

1 year 8 months 4 weeks 1 day ago

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what has inspired you to be a teacher?

I am a physical therapist living in Derwood Maryland and attending Mill Creek Parish, which started an ESOL program last year.  As a physical therapist, I enjoy educating students and patients and thought these skills might carry over to teaching ESOL. I was hoping my volunteering in the program would help to serve a need in our community.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an ESOL teacher?

One of the challenges I face as a teacher is only knowing one language.  Although you do not need to be bilingual, and are to only speak in English, it would be easier if I could understand the questions from students in their native language. We eventually figure it out, though.

What has teaching remotely during a global pandemic taught you?

Teaching remotely has forced me to find and use more virtual resources that can be shared through the computer screen.  It has also shown me how, for students with very little or no English skills, virtual instruction may be more challenging. It limits a teacher’s ability to communicate non-verbally as well as your ability to see a student’s non-verbal communication and to look over their shoulder to see how they are comprehending an assignment.

What advice would you give to a new ESOL teacher or volunteer?

I am still a relatively new teacher myself.  My advice would be to relax and go with the flow of the class.  Things do not always go as planned but usually work out in the end. 

What has been your favorite pastimes during COVID-19?

My favorite past-time during COVID-19 has been walking outside for exercise.  After a day at work under PPE, I am longing to be out in the fresh air.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I find the relationships with students most rewarding.  I am always amazed at a student’s story and their journey to this country.  

What is something you learned about your students during this remote teaching period?

When COVID first began, we continued our classes informally over zoom.  Our numbers decreased compared to the in-person classes.  Those students who were most committed continued to attend the zoom sessions.  Those student who are familiar with technology and had some English proficiency found zoom easier than those who little to no English skills.


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