Interview With A Current ESL Teacher – Former Community Organizer

As regular readers know, I try to bring the world of TEFL a little closer to you through email interviews, and I’ve got a winner right here. But this time – you can try and guess who the interviewee is using the following clues:

  • S/he was involved in another line of work before teaching: community organizing work, helping organize low and moderate income people to advocate for better housing, work and legal reforms.
  • Despite being a self-described Luddite (albeit at least a little tongue-in-cheek I suspect), s/he once organized a program where computers and Internet connections were donated to a group of EFL learners in the US – with some pretty stellar results.
  • S/he has an EFL-relevant blog which I have mentioned it and linked to it on a number of occasions. S/he was furthermore the grand prize winner of the 2007 International Reading Association Presidential Award For Reading and Technology.
  • S/he is not a procrastinator like me.

Any ideas?

That would be Larry Ferlazzo, of Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day For Teaching ELL, ESL & EFL Blog. (Find my review of the site here.)

He finds and shares links to websites useful to EFL learners, but that’s far from all. Today, he teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. “It’s the city’s largest inner-city high school, and over half of the students are English Language Learners,” he explains. “I teach “mainstream” English classes, which also include advanced English Language Learners, and I also typically teach several classes just to Beginner and/or Intermediate English Language Learners, too. For example, this year I’m teaching two classes of World History to Intermediate English Language Learners, one Intermediate English class, and one mainstream ninth grade English class. The past three years I’ve taught Beginner ESL classes.”

EFL is a field that frequently sees crossovers from other jobs, but often those are people who decide to spend a year or two overseas. In Larry’s case, though, after leaving community organizing, he stayed in his own country and went to California State University, Sacramento, for a one-year teacher credential program. He student-taught in an ESL class during his first semester, and then was hired full-time in the second semester to teach a non-ESL class.

“My intention from the beginning of my career switch had been to work with English Language Learners. I had spent nineteen years as a community organizer primarily in immigrant communities, my parents were immigrants, and my father had taught ESL.”

In Teaching Is Organizing (Or Should Be), Larry explains his motivation for the switch:

“…the best thing for me was seeing how dramatically people were able to change themselves based on what they were learning through organizing. How to give and receive constructive critique, develop leadership skills, take initiative. How working with diverse people could bring so many benefits. They were learning these things as adults, sometimes in their sixties and seventies… I also wondered to myself how much better the quality of their lives would have been if they learned some of these things at a younger age. I wanted to help people learn to think and act for themselves as they were growing up, rather than waiting until they were adults.”

Three years ago, 2,000 Hmong refugees came from Thailand to Sacramento, and most of those who were high school age were being sent to Burbank High School. “I thought it would be an opportunity of a lifetime to be a high school teacher with a class of students who had never been in school before! It was.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out more.