Toolkit: English Language Teacher Katie Miller

Katie Miller is an English language teacher and department chair at Tuscarora High School in Frederick County and past president of Maryland TESOL (Teachers of English as a Second Language). She is a member of the Frederick County Teachers Association.

COLLABORATION Everyone in the building (and beyond) impacts our students, so we can’t work in isolation. Our English language (EL) teachers, community liaison, and counselor meet weekly. We also work alongside content teachers in co-taught classes and push in, as well as provide cultural proficiency strategies in the monthly EL newsletter. In my six years on the board of Maryland TESOL (Teachers of English as a Second Language), I’ve connected with educators across the state. Our neighbors down the hall or down the road are some of our best sources of inspiration and innovation.

STRUCTURE Our students come from all over the world with different educational backgrounds. Many 9th grade newcomers didn’t attend middle school. Structure and routines provide an important anchor. I help them (and me) stay organized and focused with calendar check-ins, weekly talking circles, process charts, color-coded notes, and binders with course packets.

EMPATHY Our English language learners have some unique social-emotional needs. Many came to Maryland under dire circumstances. Culture shock is real and potentially traumatic, no matter how old you are. I’ll never know what it’s like to be wrenched away from my home, family, language, and culture at a young age. What I can offer is an ear to listen, a heart to understand, and a voice to advocate for their needs. We should understand that multilingualism is not a “gift,” because it’s not something “given” to you. Our students work hard
to learn in two (or more) languages and live in a new culture.

LEARNING Don’t all teachers love to learn? Many EL teachers teach subjects such as social studies or STEM, often with little or no training in that subject. An NEA grant enabled me to attend the TESOL International Convention to present and learn about best practices for teaching STEM to English Learners. I never imagined myself teaching algebra and engineering, but here I am years later loving it.

CONVICTION I keep a fortune cookie paper on my fridge that says, “Be bold, brave, and forthright and the bold, brave, and forthright will gather ‘round you.” I became an EL teacher to empower children, not injustice with linguistic or cultural hegemony. Learning a new language is not an intervention or remediation. We’re proud of every student who walks across the stage at graduation, but our true measures of success are the outcomes for those who struggle. Every student who graduates after only three or four short years of learning English is a champion.

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