District 94 teacher appreciates 'mosaic of cultures'

  • Mary McCarter, a West Chicago Community High School teacher, has been teaching ESL for 30 years.

      Mary McCarter, a West Chicago Community High School teacher, has been teaching ESL for 30 years. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Mary McCarter, an ESL teacher at West Chicago Community High School, says she loves "walking into the mosaic of cultures and languages that is my classroom."

      Mary McCarter, an ESL teacher at West Chicago Community High School, says she loves "walking into the mosaic of cultures and languages that is my classroom." Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Mary McCarter, an ESL teacher at West Chicago Community High School, works with Chris Lianuk, 17.

      Mary McCarter, an ESL teacher at West Chicago Community High School, works with Chris Lianuk, 17. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
Posted12/12/2016 6:00 AM

Need to know: Mary McCarter has been teaching English as a second language for 30 years, starting at West Chicago Community High School in the adult education program. Five years later, she started working with high school students, and now teaches ESL 3 and 4, ESL study skills and an advancement via individual determination ESL class.

Q. What do you enjoy most about teaching ESL?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A. I love the energy and enthusiasm of my students. I love walking into the mosaic of cultures and languages that is my classroom. I love being witness to the moments when these students from so many different backgrounds and life experiences discover that their responses to our essential questions are often one and the same.

I have such great respect for the young people who walk through my door. I admire their resilience, integrity and perseverance, and I am indeed the learner here. It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to know these students and to work with them, and it is something that I will never take for granted.

Q. What are some new techniques you have been introducing in your ESL classes this year?

A. Recently, our district has gone 1-to-1, distributing Chromebooks to all students. The technology help available for our language learners is infinite -- from online dictionaries and translators to interactive vocabulary websites to those that change the text complexity of any given reading selection with a click of the computer.

These tools are invaluable as teachers work to activate and build background knowledge and scaffold their content to make it comprehensible to all students.

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Of course, technology comes with its own challenges, so occasionally it is in all of our best interests to close the Chromebooks and bring out the paper, pencils and highlighters!

Q. How do you anticipate ESL instruction will continue to change?

A. Given that technology is a way of life in our classrooms now, I would expect that the capability to differentiate instruction will continue to expand; allowing teachers the opportunity to individualize in ways that they haven't before.

This is extremely important to teachers of ELL students as they work to address the needs of their immigrant and refugee students, as well as those of the long-term English language learners. Students will continue to be pushed to think critically and metacognitively as they acquire language and increase their proficiency levels.

Q. What misconceptions do you hear about ESL students that you would like to clarify for the public?

A. I believe it is a matter of educating and informing. The task of walking into a classroom of learners with multiple native languages and varied levels of English proficiency and attempting to accommodate all needs is a daunting one. The expectations can weigh heavily and can easily overwhelm.

Those are the times that I have to stop and remind myself that despite all of their differences and the varied paths that have brought these students to my classroom, at the end of the day, they are all just teenagers; navigating the same challenges as adolescents everywhere and speaking the common language of Mario Kart and soccer.

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