Inspired by Her Students, and an Inspiration to Them
An Adult Ed ESL instructor at Indiantown Family Learning Center in Florida, Ana Sahuagun began her teaching career in Guadalajara, Mexico. Prior to coming to the U.S., Ana taught English as a Foreign Language at PROULEX (Programa Universitario de Lenguas Extranjeras – University of Guadalajara) and Colegio Cervantes Costa Rica, and was a program coordinator at Centro Escolar Los Altos. While preparing for her B.A., she participated in the Summer Total Immersion Programs at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota.
Teaching in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest metropolitan area, didn’t completely prepare Ana for the challenges she would face in the United States. For example, the Indiantown Family Learning Center's ESL program uses an open-enrollment model, which means students sometimes "stop out" to earn money, and then they come back to class. It was a challenge for Ana to get used to students “stopping out”. Overall, however, Ana has found the Adult Ed ESL teaching experience to be the most rewarding of her lifetime. She has seen individuals go from having low levels of literacy to becoming intermediate students of ESL. The majority of her students are female, and she encourages them to become active members of their community. She wants them to build their self-confidence and be able to function without relying on their children as translators.
The size of Indiantown’s Family Learning Center allows for GED classes to occur alongside ESL classes once students reach level 3. Ana teaches five 45-minute class periods per day, and in each class, she faces a different ESL level. Classes are small, so teachers can follow up and give personalized attention. In the afternoon, Ana teaches citizenship and history classes
Ana’s main objective is for students to have fun and enjoy themselves while learning English. She loves to hold competitions and give prizes to students who read the most books, or have perfect attendance, or are chosen "student of the month." She gives candy and stickers for correct answers, too. Once, a student asked if she could bring her mother, who was visiting from Mexico, to class. The next day, Ana learned that the student's mother proudly showed her grandchildren the sticker she'd won. It makes Ana’s day when she sees joy on students’ faces, when they’ve received a prize or understood a lesson.
Ana is passionate about making her students feel a part of the community in which they live. For example, On United Nations Day, other family learning centers come together to share food, give presentations, and sing for the community. The Even Start program supports the ESL program by providing child care and reinforcing English language skills, which helps address the needs of Ana's students, 95% of whom are mothers. Also, twice a month, Ana's students go to the library with their children.
Ana empathizes with her students as she recalls her own experiences learning English and coming to the work and live in the U.S. She wants to share what she has learned with her students, to help them open a door to a new culture. Once they accomplish this, they can open a window to the whole planet.
Ana is able to put her university thesis—"Effective Recycling of Vocabulary in the EFL Classroom"—into practice daily. She introduces eight words per session, and provides opportunities to recycle them by creating activities that use the words. She tries to make sure she uses high-frequency words in her recycling activities.
Ana describes one of her students as the “best thing that could have happened to her.” The student struggled in class, but Ana kept pushing and being supportive until the student's goal was reached: learning English and passing the GED. The student was then asked to give a speech at graduation, and Ana felt like the “proud mother.” This student now works for the school district.
Like many adult educators, Ana’s work is motivated by her admiration for her students. She’s most inspired by the literacy-level students who keep coming back until they reach their goals. Her students live in tenuous circumstances, sometimes sharing a room with four or five other people, yet they just keep working to reach their goals. Ana says, "It is humbling to realize that my students see me, a Mexican who learned English in Mexico and later emigrated to the U.S., as a role model."
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