Shilling, Karen

April 10, 2003, midnight | 18 years ago

By Lauren Finkel

ESOL teacher: Karen Shilling
Subjects: ESOL level 2 and Basic Reading
Education: Geology major with a masters in International Education
Years at Blair: 13

For most teachers at Montgomery Blair High School, the school day begins at 7:25 in the morning and ends by 3:00 in the afternoon. For teacher Karen Shilling, the amount of time she puts into her student's lives extends far beyond these hours. This is because Shilling is an ESOL (English as a Second Language), a job that requires her to play a large roll in her students' lives. Everyday room 156 is a place where Shilling and her students are continually learning about eachother and the cultures that make each of them unique.

"It is necessary for a teacher to really know who is sitting in her
classroom. Test scores tell almost nothing about a student. I have to meet the student where [he/she] is, and if there are any family, emotional, social problems that [he/she] needs help with; those need to be addressed before anything I say or do will sink in," explains Shilling about the teaching method she has developed as a teacher.

According to Shilling, some of her best memories from when she was in school are in connection with "a teacher that took the time to get to know me personally." This is a method that Shilling continues to apply in her

Following college, Shilling says that she started volunteering at a local
church three nights a week to teach immigrants how to communicate in English.

It was soon after this that she realized she could turn her passion into a
profession. "One day someone told me that I could get paid for doing the same thing. I didn't even know what ESOL was! What a concept, to get paid for something that I love to do, "says Shilling.

After 13 years of teaching in the Montgomery County curriculum, it is a
passion that has yet to wear off. Part of what Shilling says she loves about
teaching is her students. "ESOL is rewarding because [the students] are so appreciative. In other cultures, the teacher is held in high regard, unlike in the United States where students are taught, at an early age, to challenge the teacher. My students really care about me as a person and they let me know it," Shilling says proudly.

Shilling says that many of her students are so serious because they know that the education they receive in high school is the "ticket to their future."
The perseverance in her students is one that has also led Shilling to success.

At the beginning of her career as an ESOL teacher, Shilling had to do a lot
of extra work. "At that time the county was so desperate for ESOL teachers
that they hired me on a special contract- I wasn't certified. I took tons of
graduate courses my first year of teaching, " reflects Shilling.

Shilling said that she is trying to become a National Board Certified
teacher, an arduous endeavor. The application is due on March 15, but she will not find out whether or not she passes until next school year. "I won't know until November if I passed or not, but I love a challenge. I like
anything that forces me to reflect upon my teaching and students to make us all more successful," she says.

Teaching ESOL is a full time job with a lot of unexpected surprises, believes Shilling. "An ESOL teacher is a parent, a social worker, a health-care translator, an advocate and a teacher. I never know what a day will bring," says Shilling, adding, "I love a challenge though."

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