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Achievement Profile: Michael Krauss
Fostering Trust and Respect in the Classroom

Michael Krauss teaches ESL at Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Oregon. In this recent interview with ESL MiniConference Online, he shares insights gleaned from two decades of teaching experience. Mr. Krauss's comments on classroom dynamics and professionalism are particularly interesting.

Some Michael Krauss links:

Lewis & Clark College
Culture Capsules (student-produced Web project)
Hatchet: A Student Survival Guide (student-produced Web project)
ESL Independent Study Lab (Web resources)
Three-Week Teacher-Training Course (Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education)
Michael Krauss's Home Page (
E-mail Michael Krauss (

An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Michael Krauss:

Michael Krauss

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

My main ESL activity is classroom teaching, fifteen hours per week, to students whose goal is to attend Lewis & Clark College or other U.S. colleges and universities. We have a content-based curriculum, so I am teaching a Computer Applications course and have taught courses on Law & Society, Controversial Issues, Diversity and Civil Rights, Science, Portland and the Northwest, etc.

My favorite projects have to do with CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning), and I really enjoy creating computer-enhanced resources with and for ESL students. One example is the ESL Independent Study Lab, which contains over 150 Web resources, organized by language level and skill area, and is designed to be used by English language learners who have access to the Internet.

Student-produced Web projects are a real "kick" for me and two of my pet projects are "Culture Capsules," and "Hatchet: A Student Survival Guide,"

Another facet of my work is training teachers to utilize computer resources, and especially the Internet, in their teaching. I created a 3-week online course for the Graduate School of Education here at Lewis & Clark, and for several years have really enjoyed meeting and mentoring teachers online. The course materials are available for teachers to use for their professional development or with students in the classroom.

In the coming weeks, I plan to begin a new collaborative project that will feature students using "click 'n build" Web sites to create online puzzles and games designed to teach others about topics of their choosing. I think the students will learn a lot about the Internet and get to practice their English at the same time.

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

I was a "not so satisfied" attorney working for legal services back in the 70's. Part of my job was working with migrant farmworkers in eastern Oregon. I decided to take a leave of absence to live and study in Mexico to upgrade my Spanish language skills. While there, I began teaching EFL and met a teacher who was in a Master's program at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt. Upon my return to the U.S., I enrolled at S.I.T., ultimately majoring in teaching ESL and Spanish, received my M.A.T. in 1981, and have been teaching ESL ever since.

In 1985, when I was hired to teach at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, the college had formed a relationship with Apple Computer, which made Macs available on campus. (Remember those early days when you needed a floppy "system" disk just to boot your Mac!) The teacher I replaced had been doing innovative work with ESL students using the campus mainframe computer. When I realized how motivated the students were to use computers while working on their language skills, I became hooked on learning about CALL and have been using technology in my teaching ever since.

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?

As I mentioned, I lived in Mexico and studied Spanish intensively for about three months. I've never forgotten what it was like for me to study a new language, the highs and lows. I remember very well one particular teacher who was *so* patient with me while I tried to learn particular Spanish grammatical patterns. I try to recall those experiences when I teach ESL, especially when I am working with low-level language learners.

The students I have worked with have mainly come from Asia and the Middle East. Although not always true, the Asian students are often more reticent to speak, while the Arabs prefer oral to written expression. I try to capitalize on these tendencies to meld students into effective working groups, each helping and learning from the others. Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is to respect students' need to reflect before participating. Especially with the Asian students, I try to design activities that respect their need to process information and perhaps defer to others, before feeling ready to participate orally.

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

1. Never forget the challenges and risk-taking required for students to learn a second language. Foster an atmosphere of trust and respect in your classroom that enables students to take those necessary risks.

2. Know that the impact you have on students will extend far beyond the classroom hours you spend with them. You'll be amazed how some students will look back, seeing the time they spent with you as a watershed in their lives, and considering you an important figure in their personal growth and development.

3. Keep your sense of humor. A smile or laugh is universal. Don't take your job, your students or yourself so seriously that the spontaneity and joy of teaching is left by the wayside.

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

ESL/EFL teachers still battle for wages and employment benefits commensurate with their professional training and experience. Employers largely still prefer to hire ESL professionals on a part-time basis, and even in the higher education field, when one is hired for a full-time position, it is rarely tenure track. Unfortunately, the mentality of many is still, "if you can speak English, you can teach English." ESL teachers must work collectively to raise the consciousness of the public as to the importance of our work and the professional knowledge and skills required to effectively practice our profession.

Interviewed by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online

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