Teaching ESL: An Extraordinary Career Path

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By Ursula Gnass

After more than 22 years as an ESL/LINC instructor, I am getting ready to scale down my involvement. I love teaching, interacting with people and seeing individuals grow. My first experience in ESL was in the elementary school system. However, when I saw how important it was for adult newcomers to learn English, I knew that I had found my purpose in the teaching profession.

Adults need language skills not only to communicate about simple daily things, but also to ask for information and help, to express themselves, and to provide for their families. Not being able to do this is unbelievably frustrating, disheartening and mind-numbing. Helping newcomers to become vocal, confident, and able to regain their identities has been very rewarding.

ESL students need more than English language skills. While most of my time was devoted to being a teacher/instructor, I had other roles that at times were definitely important, like being a good listener or confidante for students. Sometimes I was in the role, temporarily, of mother or sister. Students often looked to me as an advisor or source of information. The memories of these situations, whether they were sad, shocking, frustrating, happy or humorous, could fill a book. I did this gladly but was still very pleased when an ISAP worker came to help the students. Other changes over the years have made life better for my students – enabling some students to go to evening classes once they got daytime jobs, or to go online in the LINC program. These changes (including HOST and NSP) allowed me to focus more on the actual teaching.

I believe that learning is a life-long process and that I have benefited from teaching newcomers. For that, I am thankful. I am going to miss the daily interaction and relationships that I have had with my students and fellow workers, but it’s good to know that the friendships I have formed are forever – and we have helped set the course for the programs of the future. Language learning programs continue to improve. YMCA Sarnia continues to provide valuable services for newcomers. It is good news for the students and for the instructors – because the best teachers are the ones who continue to learn and grow.

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