Second Language as First Nature

ESL Educator Trish Franzen Hopes to Share Her Passion with Students and Other Teachers

February 20, 2013
Trish Frenzen
Trish Frenzen

As it happens, there wasn’t an interaction with any one child during her interning experience that transformed Franzen, but rather the story of her then-supervisor. “The principal that I worked with was an ESL student herself,” she says. “And she told me her story and about how she learned English, and then that really inspired me to want to be the teacher that inspired her. And to see her so successful and running a great school was very inspiring.” That, combined with a chance encounter as a substitute, cemented her path. “Also, in that school, there was a class of ESL students I was lucky enough to sub for one day,” she remembers. “They were just delightful. They were so interested and into the education and engaged in a way that I didn’t always find.”

Though she’s been teaching since 2007, Franzen was finally able to helm an ESL class full-time at the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership, and discovered right away that she’d made the right choice. She also realized that patience was going to be her biggest asset. “They’re motivated,” Franzen says of her students. “Other teachers will think they’re slower or not paying attention, but it’s just that they’re acclimating to their new language, and it’s difficult for them. Sometimes they can really be lost, because they do have a tendency to be quiet and sit in the back and not want to engage all the time, because it’s nerve-wracking. Some of these students are amazingly bright. They’ll come in at kindergarten, not know a word of English, and then January rolls around, and they’re having conversations with their friends and running around on the playground, and it’s just amazing. They can’t ask you if they can go to the bathroom the first day of school, and by the end of the year, they’re speaking, so it’s amazing to watch.”

If there is any challenge, it can be communicating with parents, who are often working multiple jobs and living below the poverty line, and worry about working with a teacher who doesn’t speak their native language. “It’s hard sometimes,” she says. “But whenever I talk to the parents, I’ll bring a translator or I’ll just do my best to send home information in Spanish or Arabic or even Urdu. Even though it’s hard to communicate in the language, if they know you’re there for their child and you’re working as hard as you can to help their child succeed, then there’s a relationship there, even if you can’t call them at home. As long as they sense your compassion and love for their child, then they’re very supportive.”

If there’s one thing Franzen has realized above all in her two years on the job, it’s that no single student stands out more or less than any other. Her field is one that’s truly unique, with an intrinsic set of rewards. “Every child has a story,” she says. “And that’s what I try to understand.” It’s a message she’s eager to share with anyone who’s thinking about embarking upon a single career but hasn’t yet figured out their precise direction. “I finally realized, ‘Oh, I love kids, I love to teach, and I want to share my passion with them,’ she says. “The children are amazing, and they’ll inspire you every day.” She does admit that “some days are better than other days. “It’s a rollercoaster, because you’re on the journey with them, but it’s well worth it.” Not to mention, she laughs, “Summers off are great.”