Gloria Reichard is an ENL specialist at Lakeview Middle School in Warsaw, Indiana. She completed six years of architectural studies in her home country but changed her focus to ESL after moving to the United States. Her role as an ENL specialist has successfully facilitated communication between parents/guardians and the school corporation. She lives in rural Marshall County, Indiana with her husband Roger. With her scarce free-time left after chores on the farm, she finds herself reading, drawing or painting, and gourmet cooking. | July Interviewer: Shu-Chun Tseng
1. Please tell us your linguistic, educational and professional background. What brought you to Warsaw, Indiana? What sparked your interest in being an ESL specialist?
I considered myself very fortunate to have acquired the knowledge of three extremely fascinating languages: Spanish and Guaraní from my country of birth, Paraguay, and English as my “second-language” so to speak.
While growing up in the cosmopolitan capital city of Asunción, I graduated from a private high school and followed my dreams onto pursuing the art-inspired study of architecture. At the Universidad Nacional de Asunción, functionality, form, composition, occupiable spaces, balance and creative designs were my main focus for a period of six years.
My future was being unfolded in front of me as if a book was having its next page turned. My marriage to a distinguished U.S. Marine changed my life completely. With some apprehension and uncertainty, but with great trust in him, I left behind my loving parents, dear siblings, loyal friends and colleagues, and a promising career, and moved to the United States of America, which welcomed me with opened arms, and granted me and my family a prosperous and peaceful life.
As a Paraguayan, speaking its two official languages, once here, in the state of Indiana, I found myself drawn to people of different nationalities and backgrounds who were communicating in the same language that unify us all, English; but retaining their melodious and colorful accents full of unspoken nostalgia, yearning, and hope.
Being bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural is a gift in itself, and had opened many doors of opportunities throughout my career. I was offered a position as an ESL Instructor at Lakeview Middle School in the Warsaw School Corporation twelve years ago to utilize these skills. While working with the students I had personally taken the task of raising their awareness of the great asset of being bilingual, to empower them to strive to succeed in everything they set their minds to, to set high goals beyond middle and high school, to help them see the endless ways to be conscientious and caring citizens, to give others a little of their time, to commit to being a volunteer in their neighborhoods, to do community service, and to respect our laws and government officials.
2. I know you are an active ESL specialist at Lakeview Middle School, could you please tell us what your major responsibility is as an ESL specialist?
Many of the vast responsibilities under the ENL (formerly ESL) program that I am accountable for are: completing the necessary paper work and record-keeping documents and forms pertaining to state –mandated regulations, assessing the English Learners annually, collaborating and assisting the ENL teachers, helping parents fill out scholarship applications, staying after school to help them complete homework assignments and projects, maintaining ongoing contact with students‘ parents or guardians, organizing after-school clubs, and offering Spanish/English translation services free of charge to parents and patrons in need of an interpreter.
3. Have you ever encountered any challenges while serving in the ESL specialist position? If yes, how have you overcome them?
In comparing the students’ demographics of today with that of twelve years ago, I have met and strived to overcome a variety of challenges. In the early years, many of our middle school students were newcomers and very limited in the acquisition of the English language. They were confronting additional struggles such as not understanding American culture and its fast-paced way of life; coping with socio-economic difficulties at home; and facing school policies, standardized tests, language assessments, and homework and tests completion that were difficult for them to do due to the limited academic assistance they had from their parents.
As these students were advancing and continuing to gain fluency, my expectations for them were also rising. Nowadays, the new and exciting challenges are somewhat different. Although many English Learners have reached fluency and are proficient in communicating orally, their academic reading, writing, and comprehension skills remain underdeveloped, thus conforming to the stereotype of being inferior or incompetent. That is where the most challenging tasks lay: overcoming what other people may think of bilingual students struggling with academic English.
With the mentoring and guidance of the ENL director, the invaluable and practical help of the ENL teachers, the assistance and cooperation of the administrators and the availability of the teachers, secretaries, and technology personnel to lend a helping hand had proven to be a tremendous help. Additionally, up-to-date training and going to the INTESOL annual conference had helped me grow professionally, and provided me the necessary tools to overcome these challenges.
4. When I talked to you, you mentioned that being an ESL specialist is very rewarding. Would you please share some memorable stories you have had working with students?
Along with the everyday routine and responsibilities, a wider scope of favorable circumstances fills my work day. Seeing English Learners excel and surpass their expectations have given me countless moments of joy. Here is one great example worth mentioning: last year, a quiet, well-behaved, and timid seventh grader scored very well in the math section of the state’s standardized test. Consequently, he was given the opportunity to take Algebra I (a high school course) in eighth grade. He, adamantly, refused at first, and then decided to give it a try. A few weeks later he was getting along very well in the class. This change was reflected in his attitude and poise as he was beaming with quiet pride and newly-found confidence. He passed the End of Course Assessment, ECA, a couple of weeks ago, and this was the “icing on the cake”, as people in America would describe it.
Countless stories like the aforementioned have permeated our program throughout the years. Giving the students incentives and placing them in honor classes has raised the bar of academic competitiveness to a higher level. ELs have met such demanding challenges, and have risen to the occasion.
Notably, goal-focus ELs who I had worked with ten, twelve years ago are now graduating from colleges and universities with degrees and pursuing their careers, serving as real examples of the true meaning of obstacle-overcomers.
Allow me to additionally talk about maintaining close contact with the students’ parents and guardians. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I first started to make these: they happily welcomed me. Since then, they have treated me as a friend, have trusted me with their unspoken problems, have amicably asked me often for advice, and have considered me a part of their family.
In return, I have received nothing less than their full support, plenty of help, and a myriad of invitations to their family gatherings such as college graduations, high school commencements, quinceañeras, baptisms, confirmations, baby-showers, bridal-showers, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, sports events, and holiday celebrations which I have attended countless times for the past twelve years. Among these friends, I feel a sense and comfort and belonging.
5. Are you familiar with issues related to Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST)? If yes, what problems or issues would you like to address about the needs and concerns of being a non-native ESL specialist?
Today’s perceptions towards a non-native speaker teaching English in American Schools’ classrooms is a stereotype we need to help change. At this moment, I am not very informed about NNEST issues, and will refrain myself from giving any further comments.
6. Based on my understanding, there are other ESL specialists and teachers in our school district, but most of them are native English speakers. Would you please share how you see the differences in your own role and their roles? How do you perceive your non-native role in the school?
The majority of the ENL specialists in our school-district are bilinguals. I believe that because I am Hispanic, the students approach me with more ease. I make myself known from the first opportunity I get to be with them, I facilitate any type of help they or their family may need, and I try to be an effective provider of resources. Furthermore, the identity factor, which is our rich culture, melodious language, and timeless heritage, connects me with them and their hard-working families.
Other ENL specialists are doing equally the same as I by putting their best efforts forward, by earning their students’ respect, and by giving their time and talents to them. In sharp contrast to the common believe that ELs only open to other staff of similar cultural background, I witnessed that all teachers are capable of inspiring their students to soar. At the end, we are all striving to reach the same goals and expectations and celebrate as we achieved them with great satisfaction.
Meeting monthly, attending training sessions, and belonging to the Professional Learning Communities have been very helpful to say the least. In those instances we have asked for record-keeping assistance, much-needed supplies, students’ placements, special needs criteria, and seek the input of technology experts.
At the beginning of my position as an ESL instructor, I remembered being a bit unprepared to face the small details and little nuances that were often brought to my attention. But I have learned to reach out to kind certified teachers, professional staff, and trusting colleagues for solutions to problems, and for their needed assistance.
Despite the fact that everything had gone global and everyone is more aware of diversity in schools, some days I try to shake off the legitimate concern I feel about my non-native speaker role in the workplace. My capability and professionalism has always been there, but my competence is sometimes marginalized by the obvious fact that I am not fair-skinned, and I speak with a heavy accent.
7. As an active and experienced ESL specialist, what advice would you give to novice ESL specialists or teachers?
First and foremost, I would tell them, “you have chosen an extremely rewarding occupation and you won’t be disappointed.” Honestly, they already know this.
To prove my point, nearly three months ago, we visited a school district in Indianapolis to learn more about another successful ENL programs in the state. As we were cordially guided by the ENL director throughout the different buildings of the district, we were introduced to primary and secondary teachers and staff of all ages who expressed their pride, pleasure, honor, and delight in teaching EL students English and American customs and holidays along with other facets of their education requirements. Above all, they have the power to mold their minds, to anticipate their needs, to empower them to succeed, to guide them to prominence, and to be great role models of how a successful, caring member of society should be.
By pursuing an educator’s path, they are now eager to experience the abundant and rewarding gifts that are a bonafide part of our jobs, and the delightful and laughable little moments they will be part of. Novice ESL teachers and specialists are also keenly aware of the challenges they will stumble upon in this rapid-changing and demanding world of education. All in all, the only additional advice I would give to them would be to give their students all they have: love, time, compassion, patience, laughter, respect, trust, and big big hugs.