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Achievement Profile: Susan Gaer
Weaving a Tapestry of ESL Projects on the Internet

Susan Gaer is an associate professor of ESL at Santa Ana College, School of Continuing Education. She has an MA in English with emphasis on Teaching English as a Second Language and an MA in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University. She has taught online courses for the New School of Social Research and teaches technology and second language learning at California State University, Fullerton. She is on the CATESOL board as a technology consultant and has served in a leadership position in the CALL Interest Section. She helped pioneer TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning) Interest Group for CATESOL. The ESL MiniConference Online newsletter is pleased to share Professor Gaer's comments from a recent interview.

Some Susan Gaer links:
TESOL 2000 Colloquium: Perspectives on CALL for Project-Based Learning
Classroom Practice: An Introduction to E-Mail and World Wide Web Projects - in CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical Issues (1999)
Using Software in the Adult ESL Classroom. ERIC Q & A (1998)
Less Teaching and More Learning - in the Focus on Basics newsletter (1998)

An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Susan Gaer:

Susan Gaer

What is your main ESL activity now? What are your principal projects, and what is on the back burner?

I teach English as a Second Language for Santa Ana College, School of Continuing Education . Besides teaching, I also train teachers how to use technology ( On the side, I develop projects for students who are learning English ( The projects are so interesting that we have people participating from all over the world. Many are not English as a Second Language students but just interested persons.

How did you start your ESL career? Who influenced your decision? What were some important formative experiences in the early stages of your development?

When I was a student at Arizona State University, I started as a Spanish major. Many of the students there were native Spanish speakers. I was learning Spanish as a Second Language. Since the program graded on a curve, I most often received low grades. I became very frustrated and decided, if they are native Spanish speakers and they are in the Spanish program, I am a native English speaker so I should major in English. So I changed my major. However, I had no idea what to do with that major. So I asked my advisor what can I do with a BA in English. He said lots of things. How about if you volunteer and find out. So he put me in a VISTA program ( I loved it. I thought this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I asked my advisor what to do and he said go to San Francisco State. They have an excellent program. That is what I did. I went to San Francisco State University, got my BA in English and then continued on with my Masters in English: TES/FL.

What are the four or five language/culture backgrounds with which you are most familiar as a teacher? Which ones are you familiar with from the perspective of a language learner yourself? What insights have you gained in how to meet the needs of English learners from these cultures and language backgrounds?

I have taught Lao/Hmong/Mien/Lahu in Central California, Vietnamese, Spanish, Russians, Japanese, name it, I have taught them.

I have studied Korean, Japanese and Spanish. I think learning another language gives you a perspective on some of the difficulties students have learning.

If you had to give three pieces of advice to a new ESL teacher, what would they be?

Plan. Plan. Plan.

Meet the needs of your students by finding out what they need to learn.

Live for the teachable moments. When a teaching point comes up in class go with it even though you didn't plan for it to happen.

What do you see as the most important issues facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?

The lack of full-time teaching positions in the USA. The fact that language is learned not just through grammar. I feel that too many programs focus too much on just straight grammar teaching rather than on problem based learning which teaches the whole person.

Interviewed by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online

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