Toolbox: Katie Miller, English teacher
Katie Miller is an English teacher and department head at Tuscarora High School in Frederick County and past chair of Maryland TESOL (Teachers of English as a Second Language). She is a member of the Frederick County Teachers Association.
COLLABORATION Everyone in the building (and beyond) has an impact on our students, so we cannot work in isolation. Our English Teachers (EL), Community Liaison Officer and Counselor meet weekly. We also work alongside content teachers in co-taught and push courses, as well as cultural competency strategies in the monthly EL newsletter. During my six years on the Maryland TESOL (Teachers of English as a Second Language) Board of Trustees, I have connected with educators across the state. Our neighbors down the hall or down the street are among our best sources of inspiration and innovation.
STRUCTURE Our students come from all over the world with different educational backgrounds. Many 9th grade newcomers have not attended college. Structure and routines provide an important anchor. I help them (and me) stay organized and focused with calendar checks, weekly talking circles, process charts, color-coded notes, and binders with lesson packs.
EMPATHY Our English language learners have unique socio-emotional needs. Many came to Maryland under difficult circumstances. Culture shock is real and potentially traumatic, no matter what your age. I will never know what it is like to be torn from my home, my family, my language and my culture at a young age. What I can offer is an ear to listen, a heart to understand and a voice to advocate for their needs. We need to understand that multilingualism is not a ‘gift’, because it is not something ‘given’ to you. Our students work hard
learn in two (or more) languages and live in a new culture.
LEARNING Don’t all teachers like to learn? Many EL teachers teach subjects such as social studies or STEM, often with little or no training in that subject. An NEA grant allowed me to attend the international TESOL convention to showcase and learn best practices in teaching STEM to English language learners. I never imagined myself teaching algebra and engineering, but here I am years later loving it.
CONVICTION I keep a makeshift cookie paper on my fridge that says, “Be bold, brave, and direct and the bold, brave, and outspoken will rally around you.” I became an EL teacher to empower children, not injustice with linguistic or cultural hegemony. Learning a new language is not an intervention or a remediation. We’re proud of every student who crosses the stage at graduation, but our true measures of success are results for those who struggle. Every student who graduates after only three or four short years of learning English is a champion.