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Achievement Profile: Peggy Hull
Empowering a New Workforce Generation in Kansas
Peggy Hull is the director of the ESL program at Dodge City Community College, Dodge City,
Kansas, and is an active member of both MIDTESOL and COTESOL. She is an avid language
learner, and is preparing to take an immersion advanced Spanish trip to Mexico in the
Spring of 2003. Professor Hull is a well-known ESL professional in southwest Kansas
and beyond. ESL MiniConference Online is honored that she took the time to answer
our questions in a recent interview.
Some Peggy Hull links:
Book Review by Peggy Hull:"Now and Then: Reading and Writing about the American Immigrant Experience." N. Reich
New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1996 (for KATESOL)
General Information About Dodge City Community College (universities.com)
Dodge City Community College
An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Peggy Hull:
What is your main ESL activity now?
My main activity is running an ESL program with eight different courses at four levels. I teach five of the eight courses, and three adjuncts teach the other three courses for me. I prepare the materials for my adjuncts’ courses, including the syllabus and all of the tests, and provide practical advice as problems arise. I also do all the long-range planning, curriculum development, materials acquisition, ESL library maintenance, hiring/firing, representation on college committees, budgeting, recruiting, website, and scheduling for the ESL program.
What are your principal projects, and what is on the back burner?
My principal project this semester is preparing for a new course, approved by the State of Kansas last Fall, which will be offered for the first time next Spring. It is called “Intro to Literacy in the Multilingual Classroom,” and its main purpose is to introduce the field of SLA to education students and paraprofessionals at the 200 level (usually a 500 level course). Since my ESL experience is entirely with adults, I am currently reading about various K-12 scenarios.
My whole life ends up being on the back burner, but I would like very much to pick up where I left off studying Spanish. When I accepted this position, I had just completed the 200 level at IU-Bloomington, but there are no 300-level Spanish courses in SWK, and I want my students practicing their English, so I haven’t done anything with my Spanish since then. I have acquired some 300-level books, and would like to brush up before going to Mexico with the DCCC faculty next May for three weeks of language study in Zacatecas.
How did you start your ESL career?
There is a saying in the Intensive English Program at IU-Bloomington that “all roads lead to ESL.” I think what is meant by this is that most ESL teachers are very idealistic people who have always studied what they were truly interested in, then started teaching ESL because it made use of all those creative talents and actually paid the bills! Most of my colleagues had advanced degrees in disciplines like Russian or French Literature, Music performance, East European Studies, African Linguistics, and Theatre, to name a few.
My path was no exception. I graduated from SUNY with a triple major in Music Education, Flute Performance, and French. To make a very long story very short, I started an MA in flute performance, finished two MA’s in French and Applied Linguistics, and started a PhD in African Linguistics. I have been a flute teacher, a church choir director, a French teacher, and an ESL teacher in high schools and colleges in the US and France. At each stage of my career, I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing, but have found a home in community college ESL because it is the only field which is not likely to disappear in the next few years. I also thoroughly enjoy having adult students who really want to learn, and who, for the most part, have not been spoiled by the American system of education.
Who influenced your decision?
I come from a long line of women teachers, and I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t preparing to become a teacher. As a child, I used to line up my dolls and teach them whatever I’d just learned that day in school. In high school, I always wanted to teach whatever subject my favorite teacher taught: French in 9th grade, Math in 10th grade, English Literature in 11th grade, and flute performance in 12th grade. I think I could have been happy teaching any of these subjects.
What were some important formative
experiences in the early stages of your development?
My first classroom teaching experience was teaching French as an Associate Instructor at IU. The position was extremely structured. You had to read the departmental lesson plans to find out when to breath. It was a really good way to start out, because I could focus on the delivery of the material and getting to know the students instead of wondering if my materials and lesson plans were correct. It also gave me confidence because the department set the standards and backed up the teachers in meeting those standards, so I was not the focus of blame if a student had a complaint. Also, my students were tested orally by other teachers in the department, so I knew that their proficiency was not a figment of my imagination. Each position I have since held has given me more and more freedom, and my current position has been wonderfully liberating, but I am really grateful to the IU French department for providing me with such a structured foundation for my language teaching career.
What are the four or five language/culture backgrounds
with which you are most familiar as a teacher?
When I first began teaching ESL, it was at L’Universite de Lille III in France. As both a student of French and a teacher of ESL in France, I think I understand that culture the best. At Indiana University’s IEP, we had mostly Asian students until the Asian financial crisis hit in 1998 and wiped out most of our Asian student population. After that, we had mostly Arab students, with large groups of Angolans and Columbians who came with programs from their countries. With the exception of the Columbians, most were 18 years old. The Arabs were mostly men, mostly from UAE and Saudi Arabia. Now I am teaching mostly immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, a few Vietnamese, a group of Korean nurses, one Bulgarian and one Bosnian. I also have an exchange student from Brazil. The average age of my students is about 25, and there’s a good balance between men and women.
What insights have you
gained in how to meet the needs of English learners
from these cultures and language backgrounds?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t make blanket generalizations; every individual is different. However, the same technique that worked so well with one group can bomb with another. In general:
• Immigrants need more busywork and routine than international students, whose study habits make them more independent and intolerant of spoon-feeding.
• Cultures (Europeans and Asians) which emphasize the written word tend to have greater difficulty with the spoken word, and vice versa.
• Asians tend to hide their true feelings, so watch for signs of frustration or offense. They also get very confused by assignments which are subjective or open-ended.
• Hispanic immigrants are not used to the rigorous analysis required in the study of grammar, but they find it easy to listen for main ideas, since this is how most learned English.
• The men from United Arab Emirates (not the Saudis, who were perfect gentlemen) often needed one seven-week session to figure out that prayer did not constitute a valid reason for missing class, and a woman really did have authority, and no, you couldn’t just get a different grade or get her fired by going to the director after the fact. Armed with that knowledge, I was able to be more understanding of their needs and not feel the need to become a militant feminist in the face of blatant disrespect. It takes a while for both sides to get used to a new culture.
• In general, all groups respond well when they sense you really care, and when you make each person feel a sense of belonging in the classroom regardless of cultural differences. A sense of humor also goes a long way toward settling differences.
Which languages are you most familiar with from the perspective of a language learner yourself?
I have studied French, Spanish and Bambara (spoken mainly in Mali and Burkina Faso). I also very briefly studied ancient Greek.
How has learning these languages helped you be a better language teacher?
The language-learning experiences of the teacher are worth a million methods books, especially if the teacher has gained language proficiency from living in another country, regardless of whether the students speak that language. Where appropriate, weaving little anecdotes from my year in France into my lessons has allowed my students to identify with my experiences and see me as a language learner just like them. Furthermore, the experience I had studying French at IU in a department full of native French speakers, where I, as an American in America, was a minority, has given me some insight into how my students feel in classes with native speakers and the importance of placement into appropriate levels for learners who often already suffer from low self-esteem as immigrants.
I also tend naturally toward those teaching techniques which I have found most useful in my own language development. I frequently bring to mind good language teachers I’ve had (I’ve been quite fortunate in that department) and try to imitate their style when I feel I’m in a rut. In addition, whenever I find myself becoming complacent and impatient in my teaching, I find it useful to drag out my Spanish books and refresh my memory of just how difficult and frustrating it really is to learn a language. Furthermore, I often make reference to Spanish in the classroom (even though it is total immersion in English) because I want to encourage my Hispanic students to make better use of positive transfer from Spanish to English, especially in verb form and usage, but also in rhetorical devices such as transition words and subordination of short sentences into longer ones.
If you had to give three pieces of advice to a
new ESL teacher, what would they be?
1. Work on becoming as proficient in another language as you want your students to be in English, then use that experience as a guidepost for determining what to ask of your students.
2. Create a sense of community in the classroom, where students feel they matter and belong, rather than a sense of competition.
3. The moral imperative for teaching is: “Know why you’re doing what you’re doing.” There are no wrong activities, only wrong reasons for doing them.
Interviewed by Robb Scott
2002 ESL MiniConference Online