Ed has been involved in ESL for over 40 years, mostly as a classroom teacher but also as a curriculum and test developer, teacher trainer and as a resource specialist. For the past 25 years, he has been an instructor in an intensive program for academic preparation. In the past he has taught in immigrant and refugee programs, English for special purposes programs (helicopter pilots and mechanics, automotive technicians, machinists and pre-med students. He lived outside the U.S from 1973 to 1986 in Afghanistan, Iran, Canada and Thailand. For six years, he worked a small subsistence farm raising most of his own vegetables as well as chickens, pigs, turkeys, ducks and geese. He will be retiring at the end of March and plans to devote his time to gardening, presidential campaigning and the labor movement.
When was the first time you really helped someone learn English?
The first time I felt that really helped someone learn English was when I was in second grade and became friends with Johnny Lum, a refugee from Mainland China. Over the years there have been many more. Just recently, I heard from a student who I had in several classes about 10 years ago. He has since gone on to become an ordained minister. I sent him a note congratulating him on his recent marriage. In his reply, he mentioned that I had helped him become a critical thinker.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger teacher self?
Be patient. Language acquisition takes time. Learning is a process and often students need time to master new concepts. Don’t get discouraged if your lesson plans don’t work as well as you thought they would.
Tell us an experience that changed your perspective on yourself or the world around you.
While in college, I was very fortunate to be chosen for an internship in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of Peace Corps from September 1969 to July 1970. Two years later, after I had graduated, I was selected to be in a joint Teacher Corps / Peace Corps program. I spent a year teaching in a junior high school in Lackawanna, NY, a rust belt steel mill suburb of Buffalo. Then, I did my Peace Corps service in Afghanistan. That is how I became an ESL teacher.
Who has influenced you the most?
There are so many influences in my life: parents, friends, mentors, social activists authors, musicians and many others. However, in teaching ESL, the one who stands out for me is Caleb Gattegno. His philosophy that teaching needs to be subjugated to learning has stuck with me for 40 years. As he says, if the students didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it.
What do you think is a major challenge for the field today?
For programs in community colleges, a big challenge is getting adequate funding from state legislatures. The recent trend of reduced funding has resulted in unrealistic class sizes and an over reliance on contingent faculty. It is difficult to run quality programs under these circumstances.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new instructor, what would it be?
Become active in your faculty union. Unions safeguard our rights such as academic freedom and tenure. They also allow us to bargain salaries and working conditions. Unions made America’s middle class. It is not just coincidence that the weakening of the middle class has coincided with the attack on unions over the last 30 years.
Finally, please tell us something unexpected about you.
I once was an avid long distance runner.