poster presentation

The need for ESL teachers has become more necessary
than ever with the arrival of immigrants and refugees with
little to no English language proficiency. The population of
working age adults who do not speak English well or at all
grew from 4.8% of the population in 1980, to 6.1% in 1990,
to 8.1% in 2000 (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2013).
Unfortunately, most mainstream classroom teachers have
had little or no preparation for providing the types of
assistance that such learners need to successfully learn
academic content and skills through English while
developing proficiency in English (Lucas, Villegas,
Freedson-Gonzalez 361). At present, the majority of
teachers have had little or no professional development
for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) (National
Center for Educational Statistics, 2002); few have taken a
course focused on issues related to ELLs (Menken &
Antunez, 2001); and most do not have the experiential
knowledge that comes from being proficient in a second
language (Zehler et al., 2003) (Lucas, Villegas, FreedsonGonzalez 361). While research has shown challenges
involved in teaching ELLs, specifically for young children,
few have examined the specific and unique challenges
teachers experience in teaching English to adult leaners.
Therefore, in collaboration with the American Civic
Association and the Binghamton Adult Education
program, this study explores adult English learners’
teachers’ perception of teaching adult ESL classes.
Background: The American Civic Association (ACA) was
founded in 1939, in response to the large number of
European immigrants arriving into the Binghamton area for
factory work. As such, the mission of the center is “to
encourage the spirit of brotherhood among nations and
peoples” by providing “citizenship education, assisting
persons seeking to settle and work in the US, promoting
racial and political understanding” to enable community
integration of refugees and immigrants. ACA resettles
about twenty-five families in the Binghamton area each
year. ACA assists newly arrived refugees with services such
as clean, affordable and safe housing, facilitating medical
treatment, school registration for families with children,
and community orientation (
Binghamton Adult Education (BAE): As one of their services,
BAE offers ESL classes to non-native English speakers, with
the primary purpose of helping them “to acquire the basic
knowledge and skills they need to function effectively as
parents, workers, and citizens” (US Department of
Education, 2012). The program is funded by the Federal
Government through New York State. Also, the program is
required to be affiliated with a school system (Binghamton
School District). Teachers in the program can start as
volunteers, especially for the Level 1 class. Placement of
students in the classes is determined by their performance
on the Oral English Proficiency Test, which is administered
by the coordinator of the BAE program. As such, teachers
only get the students assigned to their classes. There is no
time limit on how long a student can be in the program –
they are allowed to stay as long as they think they need to
or leave if they want to. The classes are free and open to
Students in the course, Refugee & Immigrant Health
(henceforth referred to as RIH), offered through the
Africana Studies Department, collaborated with the
ACA and BAE on this study. Under the supervision of the
course instructor, students sat-in on the ESL classes, to
observe and assist ESL adult learners as needed. ESL
classes lasted an average of three hours (9-12 noon)
and are offered Monday – Friday, along with evening
classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6-8pm. Students sat in
each of the 4 classes offered:
Level 1: Immigrants and Refugees that have zero English
language use (the class curriculum involves teaching
them alphabets and letters)
Level 2: Some level of English (class content involves
putting words together to form sentences)
Level 3: Advanced level with class curriculum of English
comprehension and conversations
Level 4: American Civics (content focuses on American
history, system of government, society structure and
citizenship expectations).
Data Collection: Participants completed a short
demographic survey about their age, gender, classes
taught, length of time teaching ESL, and languages
spoken beside English. Data was also collected through
participant observation, detailed field notes and semiformal interviews. As stated above, students in the
Refugee & Immigrant Health course observed the ESL
classes and also participated by assisting participants in
the classes as needed. Following the classes, students
approached the teachers. Those who consented to
participate following the explanation of the purpose of
the project, were interviewed about their experience of
teaching English language to adult learners. Interviews
were conducted in English language. RIH students kept
detailed field journals of their observations, and audiotaped interviews, if participants agreed. It should be
noted that not all teachers agreed to be audio-taped,
though they agreed to be interviewed. Interviews were
guided by three general questions: 1) Why did you
decide to teach adult learners English Language? 2)
What is your experience in teaching English language to
adult learners? 3) What do you think is the most
challenging aspect of teaching adult learners English
language? In addition, probes were used as needed to
elaborate on issues. Interviews lasted an average of 35
Data Analysis: Demographic data was analyzed using
simple frequencies. Qualitative data was analyzed using
deductive approach, in which the analysis was guided
by the interview questions. RIH students met in groups in
class to discuss their experiences. Students generated
“codes” or themes from their field notes and audio
recordings. A matrix table was created to note how
often a specific theme or themes emerged. A theme
was considered salient or important based on how often
it occurred or it is considered an ‘outlier’, that is, it
occurred only once, but it’s central to participants’
description of their experiences.
Table 1 below showed the demographic profile of the adult
English language teachers. Four teachers participated in
the study (2 Males & 2 Females). Average age was 61
(Males = 73; Female = 49), with an average of 3 years of
teaching English to adult learners.
Results cont.
 “It does take patience and takes kind of knowing
where they are at and giving them room to be
where they are at. It’s fun when you are able to
learn bits and pieces about them and it’s definitely
fun to see them learn and grow.” (Female)
 Challenges of Teaching English to Adult Learners
Participants discussed various challenges they
experience in teaching the English language. From the
challenges of lack of motivation on the part of some
students, to the frustrations students’ experience
because they are not progressing as quickly as they
thought they would, and lack of speaking English
outside of the classroom:
 “It isn’t so much ESL as much as the atmosphere of
this classroom. Because it isn’t like a college course.
If they don’t want to do a thing then they don’t
have to. For some it is a social outlet. They are upset
when we have vacation; if they had their way we
would have school 6 days a week every week.”
In line with the discussion guide questions, three major
themes emerged from the data analysis. Participants
discussed why they decided to teach English to adult
learners; their experience of teaching English to adults with
zero to some level of comprehension and use of English
language; and the challenges that come with such a
 “Some are very motivated and some only come
because it is a requirement…There is a particular
group that really are not very motivated. Other
particular groups are highly motivated. For example
the Italians… we knew that they just wanted to talk
and we would have a wonderful time talking. The
Germans wanted homework and regiment. Of
course there are individuals.” (Female)
 Reason for Teaching English Language to Adult Learners
 “What makes a big difference [in student learning
the language] is what they do at home. For
example, we have students here, husband and wife
team, and they go home and they speak Russian. I
talk to his wife and I said, “why don’t you speak
English at home? It will help both of you. She said, “I
don’t like the way he [the husband] speaks English.”
All the teachers described their passion for teaching, and
the fact that they enjoy teaching adult learners:
 “I love teaching. I enjoy it. I think my personality is perfect
for it… We have fun.” (Male)
 “I love helping people. The reading class in particular. I
thought needed to meet for adults who couldn’t read at
all in their native language or English obviously. So I felt
really passionate about that.” (Female)
 “I love to teach. From the youngest age I have been
fascinated by other cultures. I have also learned a great
respect for other cultures. “ (Female)
 “They have to get their mind rollover from thinking in
their language to thinking in English, and when they
go home, and speak in Russian or Chinese or
whatever, they are not letting their brain rollover.”
 Experience of Teaching Adult Learners English Language
Participants discussed the fact that they teach “life skills”
not just English language. Teachers talked about taking
students shopping; teaching them how to use the bus
 “Life skills is what we talk about. Things that they are
going to run into everyday. Reading the bus schedule.
How to write a check, ok?” (Male)
 “I had to take some students shopping at Wegmans, and
show them how to check out.” (Male)
 “Some students progress quickly through the classes if
they’ve been through a formal education system in their
home country.” (Male)
As shown in the findings from the study, teachers
reported their love of teaching as the motivating factor
in their decision to teach adult learners. Participants also
reported challenges they face, such as some students
being more motivated than others, while some have
high expectations of themselves, and transfer that to the
teachers by expecting classes everyday. By the same
token, it is obvious from the findings that adult English
learners’ teachers goes beyond just teaching students
English, but also helping them to navigate and
negotiate everyday living in America.

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