From Teacher to Journalist to Teacher

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 17, 2011 2 min read
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I bid farewell to my job tomorrow at Education Week and to my authorship of this blog about English-language learners that I started four years ago. That’s because I’ve accepted a job as an English-as-a-second-language teacher at a local high school.

After observing hundreds of teachers of ELLs across the country in the 12 years I’ve written about this group of students, I decided I want to try teaching ELLs myself and see if I can be an effective teacher. I taught English in Chinese universities for two years in the mid-1980s, but teaching methods have really changed since then.

I went back to school recently to become a certified teacher and I consider myself to be a first-year teacher.

I’ve had some great reporting adventures at EdWeek, including writing about students who were strengthening their heritage language of Navajo in Fort Defiance, Ariz., interviewing Iraqi refugee children in Jordan and in El Cajon, Calif., about the impact of war on their schooling and about their adjustment to new countries, visiting indigenous villages in Mexico to explore inequalities in that country’s education system, and writing about how Mexican-American students in San Diego were creating a revival of mariachi music through their school’s music program.

I thank all of you who have explained to me over the years state and federal policies so that I could describe them for EdWeek readers. I thank teachers who welcomed me to observe in their classrooms, so I could write about different approaches to teaching ELLs.

And most of all, I thank English-language learners who have let me follow them around and see what their schools and communities are like. I’m especially inspired by the experiences of English-language learners who have come to the United States as teenagers and adjusted to a new language and new friends. That’s one reason I sought to teach ESL in a high school.

I recall a student, Morry Bamba, I wrote about in New York City who came to the United States from the West African nation of Guinea at age 15 and had never attended school. I interviewed him when he was 18. I remember his pride that he had learned English. I recall how he told me he was appreciative of a teacher who had taught him the alphabet and how to read while he was an 8th grader.

I hope that I will be the kind of teacher who can individualize instruction in that way. I will no longer be a journalist, but in my role as teacher, our paths, readers, may cross again. And that would be a very good thing.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.