In our latest staff interview, we spoke with Shoshana Gutschow, who has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) for nearly 60 years. She’s spent the last several years teaching with our program and has helped hundreds of students throughout her career. Shoshana helps make our impact possible, and we appreciate the opportunity to share her story below.
What inspired you to teach English as a Second Language?
It was 1965 and I was about 20 years old and living on a kibbutz in Israel. I was asked to teach English to the children of the kibbutz, who ranged in age from elementary school to high-school seniors, just a little younger than me. At the same time, a group of older adults at the neighboring kibbutz asked me to hold classes as well. We read and discussed Carl Sandberg on Lincoln. There were several different levels among the students. I thought, ‘How hard can this be?’ I only had two years of college at the time. I loved every minute of it, and when I returned to the U.S. and finished my B.A. in Philosophy, I began my graduate studies in Teaching English as a Second Language at Columbia Teachers College in N.Y. Several years intervened before I finished my Master’s Degree in ESL at College of New Jersey, but I have taught ESL for many, many years.
What courses have you taught, and do you have a favorite?
Over the years I have worked with elementary children, middle school and high school students in the public schools. I also taught at Berlitz and other language schools. When I retired, I still wanted to teach and found myself at the YESL program, which has been very rewarding. Each age group and English level has its own charm. I have done finger-painting and played with doll houses with young children, worked on age-appropriate skills with middle-school kids, and done poetry, novels and plays with high-school students. I enjoy working with adults very much, and depending on the level, we find different materials to explore.
How have you seen students benefit from our program?
Well, clearly, it is a necessity for our students to learn and speak English in their everyday lives, to integrate and learn about American society and values. They have told us many times that it helps their chances to get good jobs, to earn more money, to interact with their children’s teachers and school personnel, and basically to feel comfortable living in their future country. There is so much more I could add.
Is there anything about our ESL program that you find unique?
I am impressed by the quality of the teachers, staff and volunteers. We all want what’s best for the students and will go to great lengths to help them acculturate and with their day-to-day problems. For me and others, my parents came from another country, and I always have felt comfortable in an international setting. It’s really enriching and fascinating to meet people from other cultures, to explore their music, their food, and their different perspectives. We provide them with citizenship classes, cooking classes, and are fairly involved in their lives. When they hurt, we hurt. When they achieve something like getting a job, a new baby, completing their courses, we rejoice with them.
How has our program adapted to virtual ESL classes? Have you noticed any pros and cons?
I think it was quite a learning curve for many of us, myself included, to become proficient with the technology of Zoom. Some of our students did not have access to computers, printers, or even books at some point. We are all learning how to do this together. Even now, there can be computer glitches, but we have persevered. One nice thing is that we can accommodate students who live further away, and they can still take the classes from the privacy of their own homes. They don’t have to leave their families and travel. A negative aspect is that we are all talking-heads, and there’s nothing like being in a classroom together, which allows us to do more varied work and to form deeper relationships.
At the end of her interview, Shoshana also shared:
Thank you very much for allowing me to tell my own story. I am proud to be a part of the YW these last several years, and hope I can continue to teach here. It has been an honor to get to know so many fascinating people, and to see them make progress in their language acquisition. I am deeply appreciative of my time here.