English Matters

English Matters Newsletter Fall 2016

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2 they learn. Native speakers of English have gone through pretty much the same system of education, and know what is expected of them. Second-language learners have come from many kinds of educational experiences and must get used to the way things are done in an American university. This is not always easy for the student or the instructor. Are there any obstacles you face when teaching writing to ESL students? The most obvious obstacle in teaching writing to ESL students is, of course, the language issue. Depending on what country the students come from and how much exposure to English they have had, I find that the class is not always at the same skill level. Of course this can be true in a class of native speakers as well. There are always going to be better and weaker students, but at least we all speak the same language. Some ESL students speak almost no English in the course of a day—either in class or at home. Others may have jobs or American friends and are therefore more fluent. Most of my classes have been a mixture of the two. In addition, a lot of my ESL students have done very little writing in their home countries, and what they have done is very different from what we do in an American college. I often have to start, literally, from scratch to get them to compose an essay. Grammar problems abound and often impede meaning. While many of my students have had English instruction in their countries, it is not always sufficient. What has changed, if anything, in terms of these students and their needs? For me, the biggest change I have seen over the years involves ethnic diversity. When I started at Queens and for many years after, I enjoyed a wonderful mélange of students from all over the world—from Ghana, Israel, Finland, Nepal—a real mix. In the last few years, that diversity has disappeared, and of 16 students in a class, it is not unusual to find that 14 are Linda Farhood-Karasavva What do you enjoy most about teaching at Queens College? I have been at QC for about 36 years and have been very happy here. The English Department has always been supportive of its adjuncts, and I feel appreciated and noticed. The best part, however, is the students. Our ESL population faces many challenges at the college, and I am always impressed by how hard they work and the effort they put into acclimating themselves into a new culture. I love that our students are not entitled and that they come from working- class families that really respect education. The campus is beautiful and, unlike many adjuncts at other CUNY campuses, I have my own office with a computer and a telephone! You've worked with ESL students for a number of years. How does their engagement in learning the material compare to that of native English speakers? Obviously there are huge differences between teaching ESL students and native speakers in the writing classroom. My native speakers and I are basically on the same page culturally. We share a common language, lexicon, and many similar experiences. I can teach in a framework we all understand. ESL students come from many diverse countries, and it is definitely a juggling act to try to understand and respect all of their differences. It is important to be sensitive to the way these students express their ideas, the way they dress, and the way from the same country. This affects not only the dynamics of the class, but the lessons I teach and the way I teach them. The students are weaker than in the past, and many are not really ready for college composition. This saddens me, as Queens College is so well-known for its diversity. What is the most important idea you want students to learn about writing in your class? Writing is important—it will be a factor in most jobs that the students get in the future. They need to know how to express themselves and to be clear and precise. Most of all, I try to impress upon my students that good writing equals good thinking. The two go hand in hand. Bette Weidman What has been your favorite class to teach at Queens? And why? There are two of them. One is the traditional American Lit- erature elective, Transcendental- ism, in which we read Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Whitman, and others. Why? About twenty years ago, I had the most memora- ble class of students in that subject, with one of whom I am still in frequent con- tact. I also value the opportunity to teach the class I introduced to the department, "Native American Indian Literature." Why? Because reading these native au- thors clarifies the events of the long 19th century and promotes understanding of history and social justice. How has the college and the major changed since you first joined the department? The major has changed several times in the almost fifty years of my teaching career. When I came to QC in 1968 there was no American Literature major, and Interviews with Our Seasoned Faculty FACULTY NEWS

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