Home |  Resources  |  About  |  Contact
English Teaching Info
ESL Teacher Interview

-- Cathie Eustis --

A 5 year ESL teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. A moving and inspiring story of a dedicated teacher.


1. Where are you from?
I was born in New Orleans, La. and I have lived here all my life.

2. Where do you teach ESL?
I teach at Modern Languages Institute in New Orleans.

3. Tell us about other places you've taught.
This is the only place I’ve taught ESL.

4. How long have you been teching ESL?
I have been teaching ESL for 5 years.

5. How did you get started?
I got started completely by accident, when a friend told me she was quitting her job teaching ESL and that she thought I would be a good replacement.

I had never taught English before, but I had been chairman of a high school student exchange program between Argentina and New Orleans for 10 years, and I speak Spanish and a little French. Going for the interview was a foolhardy move, and I honestly didn’t think I would be hired, but I was…right then and there.

I wondered if they were crazy and immediately suffered intense anxiety. As with most of the valuable and treasured experiences in my life which began with a knot in my stomach, a deep breath, and a giant leap of faith, taking this job was no exception!

For more than two months I had no idea what I was doing and even came close to quitting. There were no lesson plans to speak of and I could see that teaching was free-form.

Then almost miraculously one day, as I began to get to know the students, I realized that I was beginning to fall in love with each one of them, and what once seemed so difficult, became my greatest joy. Teaching was no longer work, but a job made in heaven!

6. What are the perks of being an ESL techer?

There are many:
-Gaining a broader view of the world by exposure to many different cultures and languages;
-learning much more from the students than I could ever teach them as I listen to their histories;
-becoming inspired by their courage and perseverance as they struggle with adjusting to life away from their countries, making their way in a 2nd language;
-and the best perk of all is making so many new friends, or as in my case, gaining many new “sons” and “daughters.”

7. How do you plan your lessons?

In the beginning I was much more diligent about planning lessons because we have no set curriculum. However, that proved to be kind of frustrating because we do not operate on terms or semesters – new students come and go everyday, jumping in wherever the class happens to be.

After a while I began to figure out where the need was in each class and worked on different areas as each came up. I make a loose plan and then leave plenty of room for “detours.”

This is one of the best advantages of not having a set curriculum! I like to include many different things in my classes – grammar, listening, writing, pronunciation (which is ongoing), dictation, and TOEFL preparation in the more advanced classes.

I encourage lots of conversation in each of my classes and love it when the students “interrupt” with questions or discussion topics. It is extremely enriching.

8. What advice would you like to share with those teaching ESL?
I don’t like to give advice but…

-Develop a sense of humor because teaching English is not only fun, but very funny!

-Be patient and listen to the students because even though they may not speak clearly or be able to express themselves very well, they have much to tell.

-Be flexible and willing to follow the students’ lead sometimes.

-Be willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers!

-ENCOURAGE, ENCOURAGE, ENCOURAGE them in their efforts.

9. What are your other interests and how do they play into your teaching?
I’ve raised four children, each with very different personalities and talents. I see my children in the students and it helps me understand their problems and their joys.

Throughout my life I have been fortunate enough to have traveled to many different countries in Europe, Central America, and South America, and most recently visited Turkey in 2001. I am absolutely fascinated by different cultures and people, and I want to learn everything I can about them.

I have a great interest in foreign languages and after visiting Turkey, I began to study Turkish, a difficult but beautiful language. Not only did it open up a whole new world of language and literature for me, but it also taught me what the frustrations in a learning a new language are, as I realized I was making the same mistakes as my students!

I think it’s made me more patient and more sympathetic as a teacher

10. What is the most important thing to you about being an ESL teacher?Teaching students to speak and understand English is very important. But for me, even more important than that is building a sense of community in the classroom where the students get to know each other well enough to feel comfortable speaking English and sharing their stories and their talents with each other.

They have much to learn from one another and much to offer in terms of encouragement and support. I want them to feel as close as brothers and sisters who can learn about and respect their unique backgrounds, and appreciate the similarities.

For many of the students, the only people they know in this city are the ones they meet in class.

11. What do you like most about being an ESL teacher?
I love the fact that no two days are ever alike, so teaching is always funny, exciting, interesting, and educational – I’ve learned so much! But, what I like most is watching the students gain confidence and progress day by day, even though they don’t realize it. It is a tremendous inspiration.

12. What do you like the least?
I find it very difficult to have to tell the students good-bye as they move on to other schools, or return to their countries. It’s always painful and seems to leave a hole in the classroom.

13. What impact has teaching ESL had on your life overall?
When I first walked in the door of Modern Languages Institute, I could never have imagined how drastically my life would change. The impact of teaching ESL for the past 5 years is beyond description and measure.

I have learned much more than I have taught and it has been a beautiful blessing and privilege to be in the midst of such kind, interesting, and dedicated students as teacher, mentor, friend, and “Mom.” I look forward to each day and am grateful for this opportunity.

 Home |  Resources  |  About  |  Contact