The Importance Of Teaching ESL In A Holistic Approach
Welcome back to our “Teacher Feature Series,” where we chat with educators who work online across borders. Today, please read about Julia Parco’s journey with 51Talk American Academy, or now known as HAWO American Academy.
My name is Julie Parco, and I’m a recently retired teacher from Hamilton Wentworth Catholic School Board, where I taught for 32 years working with students in grades 1-8, ESL and as a team leader. I graduated with honors from McMaster University in music education, and I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Education as well.
I’ve taken various professional development courses including English as a Second Language.
How did you land your role at 51Talk/HAWO American Academy, and how long have you been working with the company?
A fellow teacher with our school board recommended 51Talk to me. They hired me in April 2017.
What are two things you find most rewarding about teaching for 51Talk/HAWO American Academy?
I love the students, especially my “regulars.” They are so eager to learn and dedicated to improving their English skills. I have become a part of their lives, and they are part of mine. They don’t come to my lessons to learn; they come to see me. We have a bond and a connection. Every lesson I teach, I can see them improve and gain more confidence.
Online teaching can be a rewarding experience for teachers. Can you tell us about a particular story that you found surprising?
When I first began with 51Talk, I was teaching full time during the day and was trying to figure out what time was the best for me to teach to “cover” my required slots.
I was opening time in the morning before work, evenings, and various times throughout the weekend. I met a wonderful student named “Lisa” and taught her quite a few times in the evenings on Fridays and Saturdays. We had a real connection, and as she was becoming more advanced, we spent a lot of time during our lessons improving her conversational skills.
As time progressed, I switched to just morning times and eventually I was able to fill my slots with “regulars.” Sadly, I lost Lisa. However, in April this year, I retired from teaching and began opening more times. Suddenly there she was, Lisa, booking a time. I was so excited to see her again. When I opened the camera for her lesson, she was sitting there smiling and crying at the same time saying, “I can’t believe it is you. I found you again!”
Her mother was in tears as well, explaining that she had been looking for me every day for the past nine months. We now have regular lessons together. I still can’t believe that we had formed such a bond over a camera and microphone with miles and miles between us.
Some teachers are resistant to teaching online. What two pieces of advice would you give to other educators who would like to join online teaching with HAWO American Academy?
Don’t be intimidated by the long distance and camera teaching. You can connect with your students on both an academic and personal level even though you are so far apart.
If you are a “born teacher,” then this is a perfect platform to develop your skills as a beginner teacher or use them as an experienced one. The prepared lessons take the “work” out of teaching and allow you to teach.
If your student wants to play and joke around, let them! As long as you complete the lesson and have fun at the same time, they will want you to be their teacher, and it makes it so rewarding.
If you were mentoring a new teacher, what do you think is most important to share and why?
Have fun and get to know your students. Spend the first few minutes each lesson talking about their day, life, sports, siblings/school–any way to get to know them. Share your life with them too. During this time, don’t “teach” or correct them. Let them talk freely. Free talking will give them confidence, and it also helps them to feel less threatened while removing the expectation that they must be perfect.
You mentioned that you taught ESL for nine years in a large refugee community. Can you tell us about that experience and how it influenced your work today?
As an ESL teacher in Ontario, Canada I was faced with the challenge of having students from all over the world, with various life experiences and educational backgrounds. Some students who arrived in my class had zero English skills. And, some students were more advanced. Some of my students who came from war-torn countries had considerable gaps in their learning. One girl came in and they placed her into seventh grade; she had never been to school.
After 22 years of teaching in the elementary panel, I switched to ESL because I had become stagnant in the classroom and wanted something new and challenging. Teaching ESL provided me the opportunity to teach students from grades 1-8.
Once my students had a good understanding of essential English oral, reading and writing skills, the focus of my instruction changed from teaching English in isolation to same grade curriculum driven lessons. This way of teaching made the lessons relevant to what their peers were learning in class, and they were not missing out.
I liked to say, “They were not trying to hit a moving target,” where I taught them English but the class was holistically learning the curriculum.
For example, I took their science, geography, literacy focus, and math concepts, and changed them in ways so they could learn and understand it, but also complete activities and assignments at their English level. Teaching to the whole child with content was rewarding. The students thrived and felt a part of their class.
The other aspect of my position was that I became the students’ safe person. They knew that no matter what when they were with me their English ability did not matter. I would understand them, help them learn, and comfort them when they just needed a safe place. Their parents would come to me for help when they needed clothes, food, and assistance or to simply help them to understand something. I was their voice in the school community.
What is one interesting thing we don’t know about you?
I have traveled to 36 countries and want to get to at least 40 if not 50 before I die.
Who has been the most significant influence in your life, and how did this person change you?
My paternal grandmother. Throughout my whole life, she was my inspiration and my kindred spirit. Her joy of life, faith, and dedication to family filtered through me and into my life. She taught me how to love and through love you can do anything. I was blessed to have her in my life for 28 years. She witnessed some of my success as a teacher.
After she was gone, I went on to take a leave from teaching to be a missionary for six months, and always looked for new ways to grow and learn to push through every challenge in front of me. Through her example, I learned how to be a devoted wife, supportive and accepting stepmother and a loving grandmother.
Her spirit lives on through me!
If you could learn one new skill, what would you learn and why?
We have retired to our cottage home in northern Ontario. It is in Bancroft, and we have a property with 250 ft. on a lake with 2 acres of land in a secluded wooded area. Sadly, the 2 km. road to our home is not plowed by the city in the winter. We bought a small tractor with a snow blower to plow the road thinking it would be for next winter. Two days into our retirement, we were hit with an April snowstorm that lasted five days! We were snowed in.
My husband quickly learned how to use the tractor, but after seeing him use it and knowing what life in the woods in winter will be like, I think I had better learn how to use it too! I never in a million years thought I would ever have to learn how to drive a tractor to clear snow!
To learn more about Julie and her work, visit her YouTube channel for some relevant helpful hints.
Skype: Julie Park 51Talk