Enjoy our Teacher of the Year Profile series each Thursday in the Statesboro Herald February 23 - June 1. Langston Chapel Elementary School's teacher of the year is Dr. Irina Bowen. This is her story.
My name is Irina Bowen. I have been a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at Langston Chapel Elementary School for 12 years. It is owing to these wonderful people I work with, who make a difference in the lives of our English learners, that these have been the greatest years of my professional life.
Prior to pursuing a teaching career in the United States, I was a lecturer in British and American cultural studies and a TESOL instructor working with college students in Russia. I was also part of an international project at Ghent University Language Centre in Belgium designing teaching materials for English as a foreign language.
My interest in language teaching and research stems from my educational and life experiences. I earned my bachelor's (English and German) from USPU, Russia, master's (Applied Linguistics) from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and doctorate (TESOL) from the University of Exeter, UK.
Embracing diversity and multiculturalism is what education should stand for. My knowledge of cultural diversity is rooted in my familial experiences and my exposure to new cultures through traveling. I have come to understand that a multicultural world is an intricate system of symbols and relationships we may not fully comprehend. However, we should recognize that despite our differences, we are all humans breathing the same air. Accepting and celebrating differences make our world a better place.
Teaching ESOL is a powerful, unpredictable, and most gratifying experience. Students who come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds are children of our American society, a homeland where they were born or a new home they arrived at with their parents in search of hope and opportunity. For these children, school is the land of hope and opportunity. It is the only place that can build a bridge between their heritage experiences and a new culture. It is the only place besides family that can help them develop a stronger sense of self-identity and shape their understanding of the dynamics of life in today's world.
Teaching English to students of other languages, is not just teaching vocabulary and language conventions. It is fostering a powerful thought that language and culture are inseparable where one cannot exist without the other. Learning another language is akin to living a whole new life with its own meaning and logic. Children learning another language opens up new cultural horizons for themselves and explores new communication avenues. Indeed, I want my students to be proficient in English and understand lessons taught in school. But I also want my students to preserve the riches of their cultural heritage and develop bilingual awareness where both languages matter.
I teach ESOL because teaching a language is what I do best. Language acquisition is a miracle that people do not fully understand. When children learn a language, they seek their own ways to approach learning. To the best of my ability, I advocate for my students and empower them to find their own ways in learning.