Learning over the Summer Takes on Many Forms for ENL Teachers


Pat Marzola

As we know, ENL teachers often take advantage of the summer months to teach summer school, take courses, and attend workshops. Others make plans to learn about new places, languages and cultures through reading or traveling to different countries. For our July blog, Pat Marzola, an Elementary ENL teacher from West Genesee Central School District, tells us about what she does to expand her horizons over the summer!

Q. Please tell me about your teaching experiences.
I obtained a B.A. in Psychology from St. John Fisher College; I minored in Elementary Education, Sociology and Spanish and I also studied Italian. I have an M.S. in Education from Binghamton University; my specialization was Early Childhood Education, and I obtained permanent N-6 certification. I later took courses at both Le Moyne College and Syracuse University to obtain my TESOL (K-12) professional certification. Over the years I taught kindergarten, third grade and pre-school in the Binghamton area and the Syracuse City School District. I began teaching ENL in the West Genesee CSD in 2012 where I have worked at three different West Genesee elementary schools.

Q. Please tell me about some of the things that you have done to expand your learning over the summer months.
In addition to reading, reconnecting with friends, relaxing, and preparing for the next school year, I have vacationed abroad the last few summers with my husband, Nick. So far, we have visited Italy twice, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic. We got the travel bug when our middle son studied abroad. We visited him in England, and he traveled with us to Italy. So it began.


The John Lennon Wall in Prague

Q. Do you have a favorite summer learning experience, and why is it your favorite?
My favorite summer learning experiences have included sampling the various cuisines, the languages and the overall culture of various countries. It has been amazing! For example, I learned that we need to greet a shop owner upon entering a shop in France. They are not happy with us if we do not, because they appreciate the little niceties. In addition, I have observed the reverence that Italians show their deceased loved ones. The cemeteries are a wealth of love and information. I have noticed that some countries have “louder”personalities than we Americans do. Others may be generally quieter. Overall, my favorite lessons learned are not in the travel books. I learn from sitting at a cafe and people-watching or being at a farmer’s market or park. I enjoy being in the thick of things to really soak up the culture.


Children’s Art from Czech Republic

Q. What were some of the most important lessons related to teaching ELLs that you have learned over the summers to date?
In the Czech Republic, we went to the Jewish District where items from concentration camps were displayed. Thousands of names were listed in columns with their hometowns at the bottom. As we entered a room, those exiting were crying. Displayed on the wall was artwork done by children who were in Dachau. Outside, a voice proclaimed the names of those lost. It seems that an art teacher had been sent to the concentration camp as a prisoner. She decided that it could help the children to continue to express themselves artistically while in the camp. To me, this showed the power of a teacher. The teacher tried to add a touch of normalcy to the horror of Dachau. In addition, as we arrived in the Czech Republic, we encountered a sign in the Cyrillic Alphabet. I stopped in my tracks, and my heart sank. I had absolutely no clue what it meant. I knew that it showed a plane; that was about it for me. I have this framed in my classroom, because I learned that it is not always about English, and I quickly understood how our ELLs must feel!

I mentioned cemeteries before, and in Italy, there are photos displayed on the graves. Flowers are there, too. The sense of reverence and respect was present at the cemetery much more so than is generally in America. I also realized that it was not just about a custom; dealing with these things is something our students experience on a regular basis. It is not to say that one is right and the other wrong, but I needed to understand that these differences in customs exist for my students.

Q. What are you summer learning plans for this year?
We are going to the lands of some of my ancestors: Ireland and Scotland this summer, and I am very excited.

Q. In your opinion, why do you think that your summer learning activities have made you a better ENL teacher?
It helps me to walk a minute (not even a mile) in my English Language Learners’ shoes. I, however briefly or temporarily, have felt what they might feel on a daily basis. I have felt the frustration of having someone not understand me and not knowing what to do about it. I have had times now, when I have an Entering ELL student, that I take a deep breath and feel an iota of what he/ she may be feeling. I have come to realize that everyone does not do things the way we do things. We don’t even do things the same way in the U.S. I saw what I thought was an ATM, and soon discovered that it was an automated pizza dispenser! Traveling to other countries has reinforced in me that while we have a common human core, we are also different- and that is good. We need to respect the differences and hold them close to our hearts!

Diane Garafalo
ENL Consultant working for RBERN through SupportEd LLC

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