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Achievement Profile: Linda Marshall
Setting High Standards, Guiding With Sensitivity

Linda Mosteiro Marshall, a teacher with varied experiences and perspectives, is a popular speaker and instructor on literacy and ESL. She works for Palm Beach County, Florida, the 14th largest school district in the U.S., with 18,000 limited English proficient students. Ms. Marshall co-wrote the Reading Excellence Act (REA) grant for her district, which is funding a Balanced Early Literacy Research Project in the seven most language diverse elementary schools in the district. She is a Developing Literacy First (DLF formerly known as ELIC) trainer and has a great deal of experience grappling with the issues of literacy development for English Language Learners in very linguistically, culturally diverse public schools. Linda Mosteiro Marshall holds a Master's degree from the University of Vermont, where she returns to teach an intensive, two-week course this summer, "ESL Teaching Strategies: Invitations to Read and Write," to help K-12 educators understand how to implement the newly reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Some Linda Marshall links:

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (TESOL Advocacy Link)
The School District of Palm Beach County (Florida)

An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Linda Marshall:

Linda Marshall

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

I am currently a Literacy Program Planner in the Department of Elementary Education for the Palm Beach County School District. I wear many hats and work primarily in our lowest income schools (45 out of 95 elementary schools). I provide professional development to the reading coaches and administrators in these schools, who in turn provide professional development to their teachers. Some of our schools have populations of 95% ESL students!!! I am also involved in continuing to facilitate the REA grant that we received in Palm Beach County. We have a three-year project funded by REA that includes Regular classroom teachers, ESOL teachers, ESE teachers and Reading Recovery teachers. The focus of the project is professional development and focused instruction in K-2 grades. ALL students are assessed using the Observation Survey (K and select 1st graders), The Record of Oral Language (K and select 1st graders), Benchmark Running Records, Gentry's Spelling and Peter's Spelling (2nd grade). The teachers meet in cross grade-level teams weekly to discuss assessments and instruction. They conduct 2 one -hour literacy blocks (1 hour reading, 1 hour writing). They attend 4 professional development days per year. Students are making tremendous gains with our ESL students leading the pack in the greatest gains made!

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

My ESL career formally began with one of the principals that I had the pleasure to work with. I had left Florida to do graduate work at the University of Vermont (Reading). When this particular principal heard that I was back in Florida she called me and invited me to be the ESL teacher for the intensive students at her school. I told her that I had just received my degree in reading - not ESL and she replied that she knew my work and that I was whom she wanted and my reading degree was perfect. So I began as an ESL teacher and from there became an ESL coordinator for one of our district's 5 geographic areas. Our district is very large - 150,000 students. We are divided into 5 geographic areas. I served as an ESL coordinator for 4 years. My job was basically working with teachers (through conferencing and model lessons) on how they could best modify their teaching to meet the needs of their ESL students. I also did ESL compliance work and LEP plans (similar to IEP plans).

When I first began working exclusively as an ESL teacher rather than as a classroom teacher, I discovered I loved it. It became a passion because I felt a deep understanding for my students. Both of my parents did not speak English until they attended school. Academics were a struggle for them early on - especially my dad who was the oldest in his family and the only one learning English. He dropped out of school, but because my grandmother made him understand that their immigration to this country was purely to improve his and his sister's life, he went back and graduated from High School. My parents were so excited and proud of my teaching in this field that they fed me stories of what it was like for them, their brothers and sisters and their parents. The stories kept my fires burning.

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?

We have 58 languages represented here in Palm Beach County. The predominant are:

Spanish, Haitian, Portuguese, Mayan, Urdu

This is a BIG question - I can go on and on and on about the cultural nature of learning and how it affects students.

As a teacher, most of my students were Hispanic, Mayan or Haitian. My Hispanic students mostly came from Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. My Mayan students were from Guatemala. Many Mayan students are mistakenly thought to be Hispanic and people speak to them in Spanish and wonder why they don't respond. Their culture is a mixture of Indian and old world European. The Mexican students are for the most part migrant farm worker's children. Their parents work in the vegetable and sugar cane fields. The Haitian families are strict disciplinarians - they use corporal punishment and expect their children to do well in school. Haitian is an oral language, only written down over the past 20-30 years. French is the official language - the language of school and education in Haiti. This at times makes written communication to parents difficult.

In many countries the government is not the friend of the workers and people have a general mistrust of government institutions. Schools are considered government institutions and educators have to work very hard to build trust and understanding among the parents of ESL students. Sometimes we believe we are being accommodating and we are really closing a door to a timid parent. Many parents are uneducated themselves and leave the job of academically educating their child in the hands of the schools. I believe parents should be encouraged to keep their language and culture alive in their homes. A bilingual/bicultural student grows into a bilingual/bicultural adult - what an asset to our country!

I have gained so many insights into the needs of all learners by working with ESL students. I believe the most important thing that any teacher can do is learn about their students - their lives, loves, fears and knowledge base. When you take the time to learn about your students you are telling them "I care about you, what you think matters." An ESL student from any culture has to take risks to learn. To take risks students must feel comfortable. The teacher might not know how to speak a student's native language but they can make the student aware that they care about them and that they are in a safe place.

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

1. Understand the nature of language acquisition and the stages that your students will go through so that you can facilitate those stages and teach them at their level. Try to keep things as concrete as possible in the beginning.

2. Find out as much as you can about your students' lives - both personal and academic. Don't assume because they don't know English that they have no academic skills. Remember that what is viewed as comforting in one culture might be frightening in another.

3. Enjoy what your students have to offer, keep an open mind - the world is full of interesting places and cultures.

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

The lack of attention paid to what research tells us about language acquisition. We know that it can take a student from 5 - 7 years to learn academic language - the language of schooling. Yet in many places students are tested after 2 years right along with their English- only peers and are expected to perform equally well. I also think that the notion that complete immersion in English is the only way that students will learn quickly is frightening. I don't think enough people understand how to work with second language learners and generalizations are made that are not always in the best interest of the students. I think bilingual and dual language programs should be leading the charge to educate future citizens of an increasingly global community.

Interviewed by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online

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