How did you get started in adult education?
A long time ago, in a universe far, far away…I was getting a Master’s Degree in Political Science and taking a college class on Immigration Politics. As part of the class requirements, I interned at two community agencies that provided ESOL for recently arrived immigrants. I got hooked on teaching, seeing how amazing and dedicated the students were in trying to learn English and make their way in a new country – two very difficult accomplishments!
After this experience, I took a few classes in teaching ESL and joined Peace Corps out of college. I stayed 5 years with them, working at a Teacher Training college in Poland. I really learned my teaching craft there, and had the added experience of mentoring new teachers. I also took on the task of learning Polish as a second language. Having to listen, speak, read and write in another language, in order to get by day to day, certainly helped give me insight into the language learning process and has made me a better teacher. Or at least very appreciative of what second language learners go through.
I came back to the US, got another MA in TESL, and ended up working at one of the community agencies that I had volunteered in college, RIFLI. I’ve now been there for over 16 years.
Where and what do you teach and do in adult education now?
I am a Program Specialist for Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative, which is part of the Education Department at the Providence Public Library. I teach a few classes, as I would never want to totally give that up, and I also help out on the administration side of things, especially to support the teachers in the excellent work that they do. I advise teachers on their PD plans, provide resources or advice, schedule meetings, and help create partnerships with other agencies in the community.
Something I’ve worked on in this position is helping highly skilled immigrants succeed in this country. Too often these learners come with such great experience and ability but are underemployed here and often find themselves in a gap between exiting the highest levels of Adult Education classes services institutions of Higher Education provide. So we’ve started classes for this population and we’ve learned how to navigate systems for some of these learners, so that they know where to go and who to talk to in order to get on a clear and direct pathway. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve had some success.
What are you most proud of as a teacher and trainer?
Adult Education can be rewarding, in that you can actually see your work coming to fruition as students improve their language skills, find jobs, become citizens, enter college, complete training programs, help their children succeed at school, etc. I often run into former students who have carved out a life for themselves, and it’s great to see their progression. It can be very meaningful work when you see students succeed.
Tell us about your progression from teacher to teacher and professional developer? What did you do to further develop your skills?
Through my time in Peace Corps and in RIFLI, I have always had the opportunity to help out teachers and tutors, and I really enjoy doing that. I like learning about new techniques, activities, resources and share them with colleagues. I also help evaluate MA candidates from my Alma Mater who do their teaching practice in Adult Education ESOL, so that requires me keeping up on theories, methods, best practices etc., in order to coach others.
What keeps you in adult education? What are you most passionate/excited about as a teacher and as a trainer?
What is exciting for me is how far technology has evolved in the last 10 years to support language learning and teaching. Things change so fast that it is impossible for one person to keep up with all the new programs and apps, but the learning community that has been created in this environment, with educators sharing what they know with each other, has been great to be a part of. Also, students’ access to technology and their willingness to use it as a tool for learning, whether by choice or necessity, have been the biggest changes in our field by far. It’s been a real game-changer for the field, as it supplements what we do in class, leads to effective blended-learning models for students, and increases the amount of time these learners come into contact with the new language.
What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I hope to keep doing what I’m doing, which of course is a challenge in Adult Education, given our constant search for continued and sustainable funding. Hopefully, we in the field can keep the powers-that -be in the know about how effective Adult Education has been, and how it’s changed the lives of so many in such a powerful way for them and for society as a whole.