This Is Why Education Begets Education
Welcome back to our “Teacher Feature Series,” where we chat with educators who work online across borders. Today, please read about Serena Bloom’s journey with 51Talk American Academy, or now known as HAWO American Academy.
Serena, please tell us all about you and your work with 51Talk/HAWO American Academy.
My name is Serena Dawn Bloom, and I’m an ESL Teacher, and I hold a BS in Human Development, and AS in Business Administration. I’m a former certified EMT, with an extensive non-degree college-level educational background in biology, human physiology, chemistry, microbiology, physics, and computer science. I’m currently working toward an MS in Education.
How did you land your role at 51Talk/HAWO American Academy, and how long have you been working with the company?
I’ve worked for 51Talk/HAWO American Academy for little over a year now. When I applied, I had been working one on one with a family of three young girls. A friend of mine who is a teacher in PPS mentioned that 51Talk was hiring and asked anyone with appropriate teaching experience if they’d be interested in applying. It sounded like an exciting opportunity, so I applied for the role. They interviewed me and hired me within the same week.
I have a teaching background, but I’ve mostly worked with adults. In university, I tutored ESL graduate level students in literature and English.
While I served in the military, I taught medically based courses to adults and led a certification course on emergency medical care in the field. For a year and a half, I was an in-home nanny for twin baby girls and a six-year-old. I focused a lot on teaching various skills to the babies, while also working with the older girl on her reading skills.
What are two things you find most rewarding about teaching for HAWO American Academy?
You have an opportunity to engage with these kids, and to learn about them as people. If you are successful in developing a relationship with them you can help shape not just their English speaking ability, but encourage their interests. Nothing makes me happier than when a kid trusts me enough to say, “Teacher Serena, I made this!” and to show me something they’ve crafted with their own hands. There’s a particular reward in that goes along with this job. I share my passions with them as much as they share them with me. I call it ‘nerding out’ together, because that’s what it is.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in higher education, shifting from one interest to another collecting “credits.” Admittedly, at one point I was pursuing a medical degree and had thought that was my life’s purpose. Teaching has shown me my real path forward.
Something else I find highly rewarding is knowing that I am helping these kids and adults obtain their goals. English can be a pathway to higher education, and it can also provide for more significant job opportunities in the future. It also opens up doors that may have remained closed otherwise.
In much the same way, learning a second language can offer American students the same types of opportunities. It’s rewarding and its education at its most pure.
Education begets education. Curiosity and the willingness to seek out answers is what I find most exciting about education. I love being able to ask these kids, “Do you want to know more about this?” And to hear a resounding, “Yes, please tell me more about how the body works,” or whatever it is we are talking about that day. I love being able to share what I’ve learned over the years.
Online teaching can be a rewarding experience for teachers. Can you elaborate on an experience or share a particular story that you found surprising?
I know that we are not supposed to get attached and to develop too personal of a relationship with the people we work with and teach. However, I find that to be impossible. When they are sad, I feel it. When they are happy, I feel it. When they are triumphant, I wish I could just reach through the screen and give them the highest of high-fives. The relationships are personal, and their triumphs become your triumphs in some way.
Recently, I’ve found that many of these people turn to us when they need advice or comfort. That is a comfort I am all too willing to provide because I want to see them happy.
They aren’t just numbers on a screen to me. They’re people, and they deserve so much out of life.
Some teachers are resistant to teaching online. What two pieces of advice would you give to other educators who would like to join this space?
Try it and see. I was initially hesitant. I am not the most extroverted person; I am a classic introvert. This job has helped tear down my own boundaries in the best way possible. I somehow feel more free.
With my students, we sing terribly together, play games, laugh, joke, and learn–and there’s a freedom in that bond we create. Don’t be afraid to seek out the unfamiliar because this is what education is about: learning. Let these kids teach you and change you as much as you change them.
If you were mentoring a new teacher, what do you think is most important to share and why?
I would tell them to be patient. Patience with themselves and with the kids they work with is vital. Don’t demand perfection. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of, ‘They didn’t say this word just right, so mark them down.’ It’s easy to feel annoyed because there is a certain level of inherent detachment.
Don’t go down that hole.
Encourage. Encourage. Encourage and lead gently.
What is one interesting thing we don’t know about you?
When I was eight, I wanted to be Indiana Jones, but much cooler and with a bigger hat. Also, I love dinosaurs. I’m not even remotely ashamed to admit how much I love dinosaurs. I have one sitting on my desk right now, and I also have an inflatable T-Rex costume, because I’m an adult and I do what I want.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life, and how did this person change you?
The twin girls I took care of for nearly two years have influenced me in the most profound ways. When I was working with them, I realized how much I loved teaching them. Their triumphs became mine, and I just fell in love with these girls. The day they learned to walk, I ugly cried. I’d been working with them for weeks to strengthen their legs, and they did it. That was such a pure moment.
What’s something you wish everyone knew about you?
My life hasn’t been the easiest, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve survived cancer, a horrible marriage, child loss, every doubt and sorrow life could throw at me, and I’ve come out of it OK every time. Life is hard, but there’s beauty in the grayness of it all.
What do you think we could do to improve the education system best?
Stop shaping kids to fit the system. Shape the system to fit the kids. Allow them to discover what they are passionate about and to discover their natural talents. This one box for all mentality is invalid today. If you convince kids that they are only capable and intelligent at one thing, especially when they aren’t good at it, what message are you sending students? What if they are amazing artists, speakers, writers? What if they have an incredible scientific mind and a burning curiosity about how the world works? What if they can look at something and understand how it functions, inherently? Do we quell that curiosity by saying, “You got a 70% in math? You’re not smart enough.” Stop measuring intelligence by the ability to do complex equations.