Teaching ELL: It's Much More Than a School Subject

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What keeps you going to work every day?

For Emma,* an ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, it’s the other teachers at her school and the kids in her classroom. Emma has been teaching at a local middle school for seven years now.

In ELL, Emma has the same students across several years, often until they test out of ELL services. That means she gets to know them and their families personally. She knows whose parents lost their jobs and who recently moved for the third time in two years. She knows who has finally reached grade level in math, and she can predict who will do well when they move on to high school. Those relationships are mutually beneficial. She knows how to teach each student better, and the students know how to learn from her. But ELL classes are “not just English but social interaction, doing well in society, having goals, and those kinds of things.”

Sometimes, Emma is as much social worker as teacher. She recalled two 8th-graders, both from countries south of the USA…

Max’s schoolwork reflected his difficult home life, and by 8th grade, he was withdrawn, facing both learning and behavioral challenges. Through the school year, Emma, the school counselors, and his principal worked with him not only on his educational needs but on his social and emotional needs as well. By the end of the year, Max tested out of ELL and he found the courage to talk to his mother about his struggles at home!

Brian was really smart but shy. He didn’t think he needed ELL, and resented being placed there. Brian worked really hard throughout the year and came to value the skills he learned in ELL. Eventually, he made honor roll and received a monthly academic honor. Even during the pandemic, he worked one-on-one with Emma and his math teacher to hone his skills so he would be ready for high school. He, too, tested out of ELL classes and was confident about moving to 9th grade this year!


Those are just a couple of the “success stories” Emma has seen recently. Like all teachers, ELL teachers do far more than teach an academic subject. For 2021, KIN is connecting all 120 ELL classrooms in Knox County with a church or group that is willing to support them. Let us know if your group wants to get involved!

Of course, you can always donate funds to purchase supplies. Thanks in advance!

*Name changed for privacy.

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