ESL Teachers of The World: Marlys Appleton

ESL Teachers of The World: Marlys Appleton

Name:   Marlys Appleton

Hometown:  NYC for now and the future

Age:  “I’d rather not say!”

Currently Living:  New York City

Job:  ESL private tutor/teacher

What are you doing right now?  

Planning out my week and month of activities.

And what’s your typical day?  

I am a night person, up working late, so (unless I have an early lesson) I make a late breakfast, after a walk outside. Back home, skim newspapers, make calls, do research. If I am scheduled to teach, it is usually in the afternoon or early evening. Sometimes I go out with friends in the evening.

Where are you from?

I am mid-west / west coast born and bred (as we say in USA) but have lived and worked in NYC in the financial markets for many years. College and grad school in Seattle and Cambridge.

ESL certification in NYC.

What were the steps that led you to becoming an ESL teacher?

After a year-long personal sabbatical, I began ESL volunteer teaching at NYCares, a non-profit organization that supports the needs of NYC residents. I worked with new immigrants who were navigating their way through school or work as new-comers to American society. There are also 2 million immigrants in NYC so the demand for English skill is great.

It was at this time I determined to acquire my ESL certification.  I wanted the benefit of specific ESL training. My previous teaching experience includes five years as an adjunct lecturer at New York University, teaching in a technical financial field. I enjoy sharing and teaching so it was natural for me to look at it again. I was also a second-year teaching fellow while in graduate school, teaching macro-economics to other graduate students.

Where do you teach?

I teach privately, one-on-one, mostly adult Korean English learners. In addition to in-person, I also tutor on line via social media such as KakaoTalk and Skype. There are large populations of Korean-language speakers in the USA, specifically in New York, New Jersey, and  cities of San Diego, Los Angeles and Atlanta, among others. Many Koreans have a good basic understanding of English grammar and construction but are looking to improve their speaking fluency and their listening ability. There is interest in idiomatic speaking and building confidence and understanding cultural differences. Business and academic English is also in demand.  I have helped a scholar through the publication process for several articles and coached her on doing a presentation in front of an international congress of peers – that was fun.

In the classroom, I have taught at Fordham University’s Institute of American Language and Culture to speakers of Spanish and Albanian. I have also taught a Lab class in the Queens, NY Library System to speakers of Bangla, Urdu, Punjabi, Albanian, Japanese and Spanish. I am always impressed at how hard the students work.

Why do you teach?  

For the enjoyment and the challenge of teaching English. I can learn from students too. Each class, each student, brings something different to the learning process. I like to see their progress.

If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?  

Probably writing or doing consulting work and some traveling and more reading.

What separates the good teachers from the bad?

I believe it is important to have a sense of empathy towards students and to facilitate agency (sense of self-empowerment) with adult learners. With empathy, a good teacher is able to better understand and therefore better help students achieve their learning goals.  Patience goes with empathy and good assessment skills are important too.

What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while starting out?

In teaching, the greatest lesson is preparation, which allows you flexibility in your delivery of a lesson or concept. The more you know and the deeper your understanding, the better you can serve your learners. I can gauge a student’s understanding by their questions – that tells me whether they’re getting it or not – or if I need to try something else or even what next I need to try.

The hardest lesson in the corporate world, for newcomers, is to understand that it is important to accept the value system of the organization, even if it doesn’t align with your values; if you do not, you cannot advance. Many times, I’ve spoken to young people beginning their business career and this is the most important point I share with them – and they mostly understand what this means.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching ESL?  

Be passionate about teaching and recognize how important English is as a global language. Brush up on your own Second Language, whatever it may be as it is always useful.

Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue outside of teaching?  

I like to visit and enjoy a meal with friends and family. I also enjoy reading sophisticated British and Scandinavian mysteries. Any new play from London I try to see, if possible

I enjoy the cultural activities of NYC: museums, theatre, concerts. Later this week I’m going to the annual Orchid Show at the NY Botanical Garden. The orchid show theme this year is a salute to Singapore, the Garden City.

The Garden is a world-class research institution that interweaves art, history and literature themes into its exhibits. It is 250 acres (100 hectares) of beautiful forests and land and next door to the 200-acre Bronx Zoo. Both represent relaxing oases in the City.

I often visit the NY Historical Society

And the Frick Museum

And the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Another great thing of these places is they all have wonderful dining spaces!

Can you tell us a few tips or tricks to help improve our classes?

I think movement or kinetic activity is very useful in teaching English. Make sure students don’t always pair off with their pals but work with new partners. Create exercises to help learners strive for fluency in some cases and accuracy in others. Only at the most advanced level can you work on both fluency and accuracy simultaneously. Work to keep the material interesting, again at the advanced level.

Don’t be afraid to challenge students, once you have made your assessment of their  capabilities. I am into ‘authentic’ or original curriculum development as it’s more interesting and useful to the learners. My favorite lesson plan approach is backward design.

What websites or books helped you when you first started?  Which do you still use now?

A great text book for ESL teachers if Brown and Lee’s Teaching by Principles, 4th ed. An Interactive approach to Language Pedagogy. It becomes a reference book as it is packed with so much information on language acquisition, the neuroscience of learning, and the myriad methods, approaches, techniques and skills needed to be an effective teacher.

There are many website that allow you to build crossword and other word puzzles which many students enjoy, I’ve discovered.

I also use the apps Quizlet and Kahooti as teaching aids. Beginning students enjoy Kahooti which they can play on their smart phone. Both apps allow sharing of material, including results. It also is something different for the students to do.

What are the go-to tools that you think teachers should buy to improve their class?  I’ve found that a set of mini-whiteboards work wonders for young learners. What about you?

It’s not my original idea, but in the classroom, I use #2 pencils as rewards for students’ work. The students use pencils and erasures as they correct their work. I have a stash of ‘designer’ pencils, purchased when I go to special places such as West Point Academy, Winterthur Museum, MIT, Harvard, etc. and offer them to the students as rewards. Students seem to like getting something different.

For my private students, I often refer them to classic American music, to listen for the pronunciation and clear articulation of speech. For example, I recommend listening to Frank Sinatra’s  “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – he has perfect enunciation and it introduces them to a cultural icon in American music. Another great singer in English (although by birth a Canadian) is KD Lang, also such clear, crisp enunciation. I’ve also recommended the great British vocalist Amy Winehouse, as well. Listening to music recordings is a welcome break from reading I’ve found and something to do outside of class. One Korean student told me he listened to the songs as many as 50 times he found them so helpful!

I have mini-whiteboards but, truthfully, have not yet had the opportunity to use them.

Many of our readers are ESL teachers abroad.  I'm sure they'd love to teach in their home countries as well.  Do you have any advice on finding ESL jobs in your home country?

There is strong demand for ESL instruction and not just in NYC. Our country has become widely diverse and large cities lead that diversity whether it be East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, South, even the Great Plains states. Teaching English to new immigrants and others is a priority of many state and city governments and aligns with US education policy. That being said, the field is competitive: one must have an ESL certification and most places look for teaching experience too. Some who start with just a certificate go on to a Master in either TESOL or Linguistics. Many community colleges and four-year institutions provide ESL classes. At the community college level, there is an emphasis on preparing students for integration into the work force with interest by industry type: health care workers, taxi drivers guild, even the NY Film Academy provides ESL classes to its students. Top research institutions like Rockefeller Research Labs have their own in-house ESL programs offered to their many visiting scholars. I was private tutor to one of their MD/Ph.D. fellows.

Top rated schools such as Columbia University, U of California at Berkeley, The New School (NY) and many others offer ESL Certification or Master’s Programs in TESOL or Linguistics. In today’s competitive market place, an MA degree can be a great differentiator.

In my ESL Certification program, one student had taught in Spain, without any training! However, if you are looking for an ESL position in the US you need to be qualified. The pay is not great as there are many qualified people. Those who make it a career I believe are motivated by their desire to teach, love of language, English and /or linguistics studies.

If one is returning with experience teaching English abroad, that can be leveraged into being qualified here too. If you don’t have your certification, plan on getting it. Your teaching experience will be an asset. You will have to do some research and make decisions about the type of training, further certification or other academic work you want to pursue, depending on your desires and circumstances. There are many certificate programs offered and not all are of high quality. Some of the lesser certificate programs, offered by private schools, may be OK if you’re a young person looking only to teach abroad, but to work domestically are probably not strong enough to differentiate one in a competitive market place.

Do you want to add anything else?

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your audience. I found Steve and Hal on Twitter and am impressed with your robust website and the resources you’ve gathered and offer – keep up the good work!

 카카오 Marlys_A

Skype: marlys.appleton


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