I greatly enjoyed writing this story because I knew very little about our ESL program here at HHS, and it has such a huge impact. It was nice to learn a bit more and get a better insight on what goes on.
Few school systems can say they possess speakers of 55 various languages, and there are teachers working behind the scenes to make communication in our environment flow a little easier. ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers Anu Beheraj and Rachel Hershberger are two of those making it happen, Beheraj teaching ESL English 12 and Hershberger instructing reading. Beheraj has always possessed a passion for languages, enjoying it ever since her childhood.
“I have always loved learning different languages since I was a kid… This just carried on as I grew older and made me pursue a Master’s degree in English language and literature later on,” Beheraj said.
Beheraj enjoys languages so much that she can speak Telugu and Kannada as well as Hindi and English, and spoke French in college, though she can’t remember it now. Besides her passion, there are many factors that went into Beheraj’s decision to teach ESL, including the influence of her childhood.
“Teaching has always been my passion. In addition, studying different cultures fascinates me. In a way, my own kids motivated me to teach ESL students. I wanted to help students who shared similar backgrounds [to] my own,” Beheraj said.
Learning the English language takes dedication, though, according to Beheraj.
“As [opposed to] teaching History or Math, teaching a new language is a multi-layered process. I may have taught an awesome lesson, but if students do not build and apply the skills in their everyday interactions, the process cannot move forward,” Beheraj said.
Throughout her career, Beheraj has seen much growth.
“I have seen students come in as Newcomers and in a span of three years test out of the ESL program,” Beheraj said. “One student who stands out was in my English 9 class. In less than three years, this young lady blossomed from being a non-speaker to a current National Honors Society member who is taking Honors classes. She is also part of school-wide peer leadership program. She has no help at home. It is pure grit and a love for learning that propels her forward.”
Beheraj has learned many lessons from her students, valuing them and the students’ drive immensely.
“My students have taught me the meaning of resilience and hope. They often come into this country under difficult circumstances and continue to face challenges, yet most [do well],” Beheraj said. “It is amazing. This job made me appreciate people and things in my own life more.”
Hershberger appreciates the job as well.
“I like my job… Although I don’t always teach the same classes, the same subject… Even if the material is the same, the students change, so the interaction, relationships and seeing them in the hall [are enjoyable],” Hershberger said. “I really feel more comfortable being around my [students] then say, [regular, English speaking students]… it’s a challenge, because everyday is different.”
Because she teaches reading, students of all levels and language backgrounds come to her, regardless of how much English they know prior to taking her class.
“My fourth block is a reading class, like [very recent] newcomers, and one speaks Tigrinya (the official language of Eritrea and Ethiopia), so she has no English. With Spanish speakers I can kind of explain what the word is… [I use] pictures, google translate, explaining it to them in their own language to help them understand.”
Hershberger actually prefers having a mix of languages in the classroom.
“[Teaching with a variety of languages in the room] is not difficult depending on how they are in English themselves,” Hershberger said. “So actually I kind of like having a variety, because if you’re the only one in the class with your language, then guess what, the common denominator is English, and you learn English to survive. Those students learn it a little quicker.”
Like Beheraj, Hershberger has learned much from teaching ESL as well.
“You learn a lot about yourself from teaching… You learn to chill out, choose your battles, probably being more positive than negative, being respectful… You can get kids to do what you want them to do, but if the relationship isn’t there, then it’s just an authority kind of thing,” Hershberger said. “Being negative doesn’t change anybody’s mind, encouragement goes a long way, encouraging them with what is right and trying to treat them all fairly.”
Even after 21 years of teaching and learning as well, Hershberger wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.
“I love this school, I don’t know if [teaching ESL] would be the same in other places. I’ve gone to conferences and some of my friends are teachers in the county, and I love the colleagues that I work with, and I love how diverse the halls are. I mean, we have a lot of other students from different places and if I can’t go live somewhere well, ha, I’m surrounded by the nations right here.”