Interview with Overbrook High School ESL Teacher Mrs. Horner


Sumera Jahan, Staff writer

Mrs. Horner is the only ESL teacher at Overbrook High School. She has many students from different cultures who speak such languages as Bangla, Spanish, and French. Interviewing her and hearing her opinions on how she helps students who are not native English speakers on a daily basis was a wonderful experience for me. 

Where did you grow up?   

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and then in 8th grade I moved to Marlton, New Jersey.  

What was your major in college?

My original major was History and Education, then I changed my major to Spanish And Education. So that was my original major.

 How long have you been an ESL teacher in Overbrook?

I have been an ESL teacher at Overbrook for three years. But I have been a teacher at Overbrook for nine years. At the beginning I was only teaching Spanish. But I always worked with ESL students as a Spanish to English translator.   

What is your favorite aspect of being an ESL teacher?

My favorite thing about being an ESL teacher is meeting the students and being able to help them. And I like the relationship that I have with my ESL students because it’s different from the regular students who grew up here.

Can you share what is your perfect working atmosphere?

The perfect atmosphere for me I think is where I’m at. I really like the support I get from the administration and the principal. And I really like how everybody is kind of working to help the ESL students and to make them feel comfortable and try to help them to do better and be successful.

What do you think the most difficult components of teaching are?

The most difficult component of ESL is everybody on a different level. So there are some high students and some low students and they all get mixed together, so it’s really difficult because I know some of the high students are bored all the time and they want something harder and I know the lower level students are confused. And I think it is also difficult to try to figure out how to teach science and math, and try to help the science, math and history teachers teach the ESL students because they’re learning so many things at the same time.  

How do you deal with the situation when you and your student can’t understand each other?

I try my best to use google translate. I know that’s not a great thing. But if I’m multitasking I have to stop and focus when I can’t understand. So I stop and really listen. That helps and also google helps a lot even though sometimes it says things funny. It does help definitely when there’s an emergency or something going on.

What are your strategies for dealing with groups of students who speak different languages from each other?

So my strategy for that is trying to do everything in both English and Spanish. I also try to pair the students who speak  the same language. So that at least if they need to go back to their native language, they have somebody to do that with.   

How do you communicate with ESL students’ families?

Text messages. I know that sounds bad but sometimes it is the easiest way to send a text message because it’s easier to translate a text message then it is voice. So there’s an app called REMID, that can translate to any language, so that helps because I can translate to the languages that I don’t speak. And I think parents are more likely to respond to a text message than a phone call because they don’t know who it is and they don’t know if the person is going to understand them.    

In your opinion, does culture matter when it comes to teaching?

Yes. I think it matters a lot. I think that we don’t realize even with Christmas right now, all of our students don’t celebrate Christmas, but so many teachers are ready for Christmas because that’s the majority holiday. So I think it’s really important that we also do other holidays, like Passover, Hanukkah, and Eid. Because we don’t do enough in school in general for those holidays. And Ramadan we don’t really focus on that fact that is happening because the majority of the people don’t fast. Even with Diwali, like Ms. Nieves did the Multicultural Club thing for that, I thought that was really important because we don’t do enough with that. And I think culture is important too because in some cultures students aren’t allowed to say no to a teacher, even if they don’t want to do what the teacher says. And it’s important for us to realize that some students aren’t gonna say no or some students are gonna think what we’re doing is weird because it’s not normal for their culture.      

What do you anticipate this school year?

I hope we have a fun school year and I anticipate that many of the students will get better English skills. I think last year was kind of a flop year. Because everybody was at home so not everyone was speaking, reading, or writing in English as much as they normally would. So I think that, this year everybody will be learning more English, doing better and I look forward to helping everyone.