Vernon Hills High teacher celebrates the small successes
For 22 years, Wendy Meister-Louria says she has been celebrating the classroom successes of students whose main language is not English.
Meister-Louria's entire career has been teaching English as a Second Language (also known as English Language Learners) in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128.
She started at Libertyville High then moved to Vernon Hills High when it opened.
Q. What led you to teach in an English as a Second Language classroom?
A. I was originally a sub for an LHS teacher on maternity leave, and her job included ELL (English Language Learners). I instantly fell in love with ELL students and, lucky for me, she resigned.
Students can come to VHHS knowing little more than phonics and their ABCs, and after 4 years we send them off to college. There are very few places in a high school where teachers see dramatic growth in students, and ELL is one of them. I am energized by the incredible relationships I develop and the fact that I am constantly learning.
Q. What's your philosophy in teaching ESL?
A. I believe that my job is to teach students the cultural, academic, and social knowledge and skills they need to be as successful in a highly competitive American high school as they would in their own countries.
This means that if a student has the intellectual ability to be in an honors or AP course, but lacks language skills, my colleagues and I will do whatever we can to prepare them for those courses and support them when they get there.
The students and I are very blessed to be in a district which supports this philosophy and has the means to make it happen.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in an ESL classroom that your colleagues in other classrooms don't contend with?
A. Because I can teach the same students up to four years, and I seek to be responsive to students' needs, I do not repeat my curriculum, which requires a lot of extra work.
And while we work on the same skills they use in non-ELL classes, our emphases are often different because I am trying to build cultural awareness and competencies alongside academic knowledge and skills.
For instance, in many other countries, the focus is on right and wrong answers. Students aren't asked to draw inferences, analyze information or respond in writing or speaking using evidence and analysis. Teaching students to do this is as much a cultural issue as it is an academic one. But the challenge of an ever-changing curriculum is one I embrace. I am never bored.
Q. How do you measure success beyond grades? Is it moving students into mainstream classes?
A. While moving students into traditional classrooms is what students and parents may see as success, I believe my job is to see success all along the journey and to help students see that as well.
This is important because research says it can take five to seven years in the best circumstances for English Language Learners to function at the same level as native speakers. For example, I keep early writing samples, "Look at this. When you first came you wrote 6 words. Now you have a page long paragraph with evidence and analysis. Don't be discouraged that some of your word order is off."
I celebrate when I see someone do something without prompting. When students do something that shows growth, I share it with the class. As I said, there are few places in the building where teachers can see students grow daily, so we have a lot of successes to celebrate.