When Jose Torres saw the need for a resource for his adult learners, and couldn't find an appropriate book, he decided to write his own.
Can you start off by telling us where you teach?
I teach for Baltimore City Public Schools and Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) in the United States.
How long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching for over 15 years.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
My day normally begins at 7:30 AM with young students at Curtis Bay Elementary School in Baltimore. Generally, I work with students at the Pre-K level all the way up to 8th grade. My day students are at different proficiency levels, so I differentiate a lot. I try to work with them in small groups, as I group them according to their proficiency levels. Some need more attention with their literacy skills, some auditory, others with reading and writing. So, I cover a wide range listening, speaking, reading and writing activities during the day. In the evenings, I work with adult English Learners at the community college.
With the adult students, I exclusively use my textbook, “I Want To Learn English.” I primarily work on strengthening their phonemic awareness and ultimately their literacy skills. We do a lot of listening, repeating and reading drills in my evening class, which doesn’t end until 9 PM, so my days are very long.
You are a very busy teacher. What do you do in your spare time to relax?
In my spare time I am a musician. I play piano and sing in local rock bands in my city. I remember what a professor once told me in my days as an undergraduate . She gave my class advice, "Find a hobby or recreation you truly love to do outside of teaching. This will help keep you centered and you won't burn yourself out." I have taken this to heart and find my time playing live music as somewhat of a stress relief, but it also helps keep me centered and true to myself. As a side note, all of the music in the intros of the audio components of the textbook were composed by myself and the bands I play in. So, if you listen to the intros to the assessments, all of the music is my own.
What is your biggest challenge as a teacher?
Improving students’ literacy skills when they have had interrupted education or no formal schooling in their home countries always presents the greatest challenges. Finding innovative ways to help students make crucial word/meaning connections is essential because there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to literacy. Students come to class with a wide range of needs, and often I have to tailor instruction to fit their needs.
You took on the tremendous task of writing a textbook. How did you come up with the idea for your textbook “I Want To Learn English”?
I wrote this textbook purely out of necessity. The coordinator at the community college has done his absolute best in finding the best materials for adult ESL students. However, the materials were always lacking something critical in my classes. After I researched extensively to find out why students were not making significant gains in literacy or comprehension scores, I came to the conclusion there was a big assumption on the part of book authors that beginner ESL students already come to class with a strong phonemic awareness. This simply is not the case. So, I infused phonetic components (i.e., vowels, digraphs, consonant blends and diphthongs) with the contextualized instruction and soon I was seeing much improvement in students’ comprehension skills. That’s when I knew I had to write this textbook.
What do you wish you knew before you wrote your textbook?
I wish I had communicated more with people I know in the field of linguistics. I stumbled a bit at first with creating phonics lessons that would be appealing to adults. These types of materials simply do not exist, and so I had to create them from scratch. Perhaps if I had a little guidance from others I would have known not try to teach materials geared for children. I mean, the students were nice about it, but once I tailored the activities to be more appropriate for adult learners (and high school students, too), it was quite obvious I was on to something special and my students responded enthusiastically.
How long did it take you to write your book?
The textbook went through five years of trials, so I was making improvements and adding content the entire time. Technically, it took six years but the second book will take about one year.
Is the second book taking less time because of the lessons learned from writing the first book?
Yes. Also the material that was too high level for first book so I put it off to the side for the second book, so I got a head start.
How has the textbook been received in the ELT community?
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Maryland TESOL even gave me a grant to publish the book and have been very supportive of my efforts with it. Since the textbook comes with a free phone app, giving students and instructors access to the audio components right on their smart phones, it truly sets this textbook in a different category than mainstream textbooks. Mostly, I hear a lot of “This is what I’ve been looking for!” It seems when instructors see the book, they immediately understand what it is meant to do and their minds start racing about how to teach it. It’s really exciting.
When administrators look at it, it is usually followed up with looking at student outcome scores, so they are generally impressed with how the student scores at the BCCC program have surged. So essentially, it has been well received.
Where can teachers purchase your book?
https://www.createspace.com/6179203 (teacher’s manual)
Programs in or around the Maryland, DC, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York areas can contact me directly at:
I have been scheduling training presentations to all size programs to give instructors all the information they need to teach the contents of this textbook.
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
To be frank, the practice I teach students of "trial and error" rings true for me as a teacherpreneur. Since venturing into the business of marketing a textbook, seeing what works and what doesn't is definitely something I practice religiously in the classroom. In much the same way I "tweak" lessons and activities to engage students of various backgrounds, that skill of changing things up almost impromptu has been a valuable tool in my business dealings. Differentiating lessons and differentiating promotions to adjust to different sets of people is what has paid big dividends for me in my "teacherpreneur" ambitions.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
I am completing a reading and writing workbook that corresponds with the level 1 textbook. Also, Level 2 is in the works and is in the trials stage. It should be available by the 2017.
Please visit the website for articles, updates, answer keys, free downloads, and general information about the textbook "I Want To Learn English" https://iwtle.com
The Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/iwanttolearnenglish3
Thanks for much for taking time from your busy day Jose. Best of luck with your future resources.
Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started? Here are some ways:
1. Read more teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca/blog
2. Check out my Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca
3. If you are a TESL Ontario member, watch a free recording of my webinar Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://tutela.ca/GroupFiles?organicgroup=8594&cat=518
4. Sign up for my 4 week online course with iTDi.pro Teacher to Teacherpreneur http://itdi.pro/itdihome/teacherpreneur.php
5. Download 10 Tips to Transition from Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/p/10-tips-to-transition-from-teacher-to-teachepreneur
6. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
7. Set up a private coaching call with me https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/pages/book-a-coaching-session-with-me
Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
Who am I?
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. I'm now a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching for new teachers and coaching teacherpreneurs. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.
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