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
-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
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
8. What advice would you like to share with those teaching
I don’t like to give advice but…
-Develop a sense of humor because teaching English is not only fun, but very
-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
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
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
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?
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
13. What impact has teaching ESL had on your life overall?
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.