Building confidence is key to student success
Seju Jain teaches in an English as a Second Language classroom at Palatine High School, where she's been for all 18 years of her teaching career.
She has been National Board certified since 2005 and holds two master's degrees: one in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago and one as a reading specialist from Roosevelt University.
She is currently working on her third master's in Instructional Leadership from Roosevelt.
Q. What led you to teach in an English as a Second Language classroom?
A. When I was in college, I fell in love with literature. That is when I knew I wanted to be a teacher who could help all students have access to literature.
When I came to the U.S. as a child, I did not speak any English. As a result, I know first-hand how difficult it is to learn a new language and culture. My past and present came together for me in college and made me realize that I wanted to work with language learners.
While in undergrad, I volunteered as an ESL tutor working with adults wanting to learn how to read and write in English. While getting my master's, I worked in a program for inner-city students to help prepare them for college in an Upwards Bound program. Each experience helped me to deepen my passion for teaching and learning.
Q. What's your philosophy in teaching ESL?
A. I believe that learning works from an additive prospective. All students bring a wealth of culture and linguistic knowledge that can be tapped to promote language learning and academic success.
I learn from my students every day, and I want them to learn from one another as well.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in an ESL classroom that your colleagues in other classrooms don't contend with?
A. I think all teachers face similar challenges. However, one aspect that is a little unique to ESL students is the amount of background knowledge that I need to build to help students have access to academic material.
ESL students and their families also need help in navigating the American educational system. For instance, many families need help in understanding the grading system, graduation requirements, school and community resources. Part of my job is to not only help my ESL students gain language proficiency, but to support their families so that students can achieve their educational goals.
Q. How do you measure success beyond grades? Is it moving students into mainstream classes?
A. I measure success by how confident students feel in their ability to achieve their goals. Grades are important, but I believe the belief a student has in his/her own ability to achieve their dreams is far more indicative of their future success.
An ESL student can take 5-8 years to gain academic proficiency in English. It is their unfailing belief in themselves that will ultimately determine how successful they are in their future goals. I also measure success by grades, level of involvement to school activities/sports, and contribution to school community.
If a student is willing to take on challenging courses and wants to persevere, and developing hobbies/interests/talents, and finding ways to give back to the school community, then I feel that such a student has achieved the highest level of success.