A Fourth-Generation Teacher’s Reflections of Teaching

caroline hazelton teach abroad writerWho is Caroline Hazelton? Ever since I met Caroline, she has evolved into much more than just a great teacher. From our initial introduction in class, I knew she was one of a kind. Caroline is more than just a teacher. In addition, she is a colleague, a classmate, a daughter, a mother, and a wife. Caroline is that person you meet who uplifts you when you think you can’t do something but really deep down — you can. This interview reveals her reflections on teaching.

Caroline is the guardian angel who once looked at me and smiled as I could barely say two words in Spanish, and encouraged me to pursue my passion. She is what every student deserves in a teacher. Although she’s too humble to admit it, teaching is in her DNA. There are specific individuals in your life who have the innate ability to see potential in others and encourage them to fulfill their dreams. Caroline is that professional and mentor. 

Who is Caroline Hazelton?

When she’s not teaching adult ESOL learners in the evening, she’s a non-stop, can’t-stop, won’t-stop, busy-on-the-go mom and wife. Caroline is a biological mother to two young girls and a foster parent to a special population called unaccompanied refugee minors. As we spoke on the phone, it became more apparent that years later, she’s a teacher at home to her beautiful children and from six to nine in the evening she dedicates her time to her profession of teaching too. Caroline will continue to build a legacy so her children see a world where we all have access to equal education and diversity is considered something meaningful and beautiful. 

Caroline discusses her educational background in a candid interview, revealing her reflections on teaching. Her responses are measured and thoughtful. Caroline continues to inspire from afar and serve as a role model for future generations in the classroom.  

Reflections of Teaching From a Fourth-Generation Teacher

How much did having teachers as parents and grandparents influence your thoughts regarding what you wanted to be when you grew up?”

I don’t know that it influenced what I wanted to be. Instead, I wanted to be something different. Teaching seemed to be an ordinary thing to do for someone with an education, especially for a woman. All of the women in my family are teachers, except for my sister who escaped to law school!

Now I definitely saw the downsides. I saw my mom come home exhausted, cook dinner, deal with us kids, and then dive straight into grading papers before getting ready for the next day. She cautioned me with the honest challenges teachers face, although she did tell me “you’ll be a very good one and it scares me.” 

reflections of teaching photo of modern classroom desk

But when I took Spanish and fell in love with learning second languages, I realized I wanted to devote my life to helping people acquire language and discover new cultures. I spent a summer in Houston serving immigrant families and teaching ESL to stay-at-home moms. After that, I knew that my fascination with language acquisition was meant to help immigrants and others pave a new life for themselves and escape poverty. But yet, this belief that education can help one escape all kinds of hardship, including poverty does stem from my grandmother and great-grandmother, both teachers.

In Our Blood

See, my grandmother’s mother was a teacher. Even though she dropped out of school as a little girl during the Great Depression to perform child labor to pay the family taxes, her mom insisted she had to keep up with her education so she wouldn’t fall behind. So when she had the chance to go to college, it was to teach — so other kids could find their way out of the kind of poverty she knew. My grandfather had a similar story. And they spent their lives teaching children in our rural, low-income community. 

I think it hit me on lunch duty. One of my co-workers found out who my grandmother was and started crying. Apparently, he had grown up very poor. But my grandmother (his teacher) made sure he and his whole family had Christmas presents. She also taught him to love to learn — and that he could do things through learning. Through her inspiration, this little boy worked hard in school, put himself through college, and ended up becoming a teacher himself. He now inspires other kids and helps them out of poverty through his passion for teaching carpentry.

I have since left my hometown and now live in urban South Florida. Right now I teach English to adult immigrants and refugees. They are full of hope and dreams for a better life for themselves and their children. And just like my grandmother, I firmly believe education is the way to this.

What direct experience do you have of your parents’ and grandparents’ teaching style?”

They grew up in the days where corporal punishment, aka “paddling” was allowed in school! Can you imagine?? The town I was raised in wasn’t far from this. So you can picture my surprise when my first teaching assignment was in a progressive independent school that taught mindfulness and meditation! But as I’ve started thinking about some reflections on teaching, I’ve come to respect all styles of teaching children the way they should go.

I teach different ages and subjects than my family did. Nonetheless, I pass on the same love of learning down to my own children. I read to them daily and choose educational toys and activities over electronics, plus getting outside and exploring nature.

How much advice did you receive from teacher relatives when you announced you wanted to work in education?”

Caroline Hazelton's mom

My mom warned me that I was going to enter an emotionally-draining, never-ending “to-do” lists career. On year eight, while I’m sharing some of my reflections on teaching, I have to agree that she’s right. But, it is so worth it. My grandmother, on the other hand, would have cheered on anything that I did! 

My mom encouraged me and told me I had the “teaching gift” and “all of the traits to be a good one.” She was a huge source of support my first year when I had such a learning curve — I could call her up and we would “talk teacher.” I even enjoy talking to my aunt, a retired teacher about parent/teacher challenges that she dealt with and how they could best be solved. When “teacher talk” begins… my husband and dad go running.

To what extent did you talk about your early teaching career with your parents and grandparents?”

My grandmother passed away during my first year in college, but I talked to my mom constantly during the first year of teaching. She helped me realize how I could nail a lesson, build solid communication with parents, or strengthen a relationship with my students. She taught me how to own being the rookie and take advice from other teachers without doubting myself. Even now, she gives me wisdom.

What would you tell your children if they indicated they wanted to follow in the family footsteps?”

It is underpaid and you’ll need to learn how to manage stress without turning to junk food (my first-year rookie mistake). Despite that, the joy of the classroom, the relationships you build, and the delight in where your teaching will take your students is worth every moment. But you’ll need to do it because you love it, not because it’s what women in our family do. The burnout is real and kids need teachers who love teaching their subject. Otherwise, school will be largely a waste of time. This is probably one of my most important reflections of teaching that I’ve come to.

reflections of teaching, photo of a school library

Describe a childhood memory that has still resonated with you and influences your teaching.”

My mom had this beautiful Barbie house at home when I was about five.  Naturally, my then four-year-old sister and I thought it was for us! But… it wasn’t. It was for her first-graders. The school was in a very poor neighborhood. The chance to play with a nice toy was something the kids would only get in school. We watched that year as she’d collect toy after toy for her kids in need. Through that example, she taught me to be a selfless adult, giving things I don’t really need to those less fortunate. 

reflections of teaching photo of child playing with cars

Who were your heroes and role models growing up as a child?”

My dad, because he loves learning and seems to know something about everything. I could talk to him about any subject. I loved his mother (also a teacher!) and how she managed to teach part-time while also being a mom to her kids. Additionally, I loved my third-grade advanced class teacher Mrs. Sullivan because she pushed me like no other teacher had.

What dreams and goals did you have for your life in high school? And how about after college?”

I wanted to help people and especially those from around the world because I find diversity fascinating. I definitely wanted a family, an intelligent husband, and to see the world. Although I literally had no idea of how things would happen, I assumed by the time that I was 17 that I’d spend a year or so doing Christian, humanitarian, and missionary work overseas, then teach Spanish and ESL. And, yes, my dreams came true!

How do you switch on switched-off learners?”

By involving different types of instruction (large group, small group, one-on-one), different forms of activities for visual and auditory learners and feedback. Asking students to do different tasks that require different levels of thinking. Being willing to go off script and change your plans when a lesson or activity clearly isn’t working out. I also try to plan real-life examples in my language classes and incorporate relaxing activities like music, games or free conversation into my lessons every day.

reflections of teaching, photo of wooden block letters

To what degree do you plan lessons and to what extent do you improvise them?”

What I make sure of is that I always have a plan. I schedule extra activities in case things end shorter than expected or if some sort of technology doesn’t work. I also tend to have a set routine so my time is managed well and students know what to expect. But, if I discover an area that students have a lot of questions about or are really interested in, I’m willing to change my plans so we have more time for these things. 

Caroline has a plethora of ESL teaching resources to utilize in your classroom. Be sure to check them out in our upcoming articles from her. It’s always a pleasure to discover her latest developments. Make sure to catch her first interview with Leesa for more reflections of teaching from a fourth-generation teacher.

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States with Caroline Hazelton

Caroline Hazelton is from Jacksonville, Florida. When she isn’t teaching ESOL, lecturing part-time at a university located in South Florida or teaching online classes, Caroline is a wife and mom to two beautiful daughters.

She is one of the best presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Caroline and I met at Florida State University’s College of Education where oftentimes we were asked to engage and interact in meaningful dialogue with our classmates. We studied education, so we pretty much had presentations every other week, and Caroline always had stellar presentations. I remember her specifically as being one of the best presenters in our class. She has a passion not only for Pedagogy and Foreign and Second-Language Curriculum, but for life. Caroline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She is a fourth-generation teacher and once up in front of a classroom, she draws you in with her love of language.

Meet Caroline, the language enthusiast:

What do you like most about teaching international students?

“When you teach international students, you see brilliant thinkers from other parts of the world who possess different talents, perspectives, and attitudes. They also arrive with their own academic strengths and passions from their desired degree programs. Every university student is already a thinker and a learner, or else they wouldn’t be there. And what’s more they can see things very differently from Americans which can be challenging but stimulating. For example, last year at another school, a Chinese student told me that World War II was tragic but helpful. As an American and as a granddaughter of veterans, I could not get my head around the concept of  WWII being “helpful.” But from his perspective, China had benefited from the territory inherited from the war.

Teaching ESOL – teaching languages and cultures to people is my passion. There is something about watching a student  embrace a language. I subscribe to the linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of  “universal grammar” which asserts that humans have an innate ability to learn languages. It is fascinating to watch someone partake in a process that is more often reserved for small children.

teaching foreign language to US students

It is also amazing to watch a new identity form. Humans tend to isolate themselves into groups that look the same, act the same, and share the same culture. Yet when we learn a new language, we adopt its culture. We cannot simply stay in our own culture with people just like ourselves because we now have the ability to communicate with those who are different from us. I do not want to see people hiding away with clones of themselves. I want to see them mingling with others, celebrating their cultural and linguistic identities. As you learn more about another language, you can relate to another culture and begin to develop multiple “identities.” When we do, we can relate to more people. This makes the world a little smaller and more unified.”

What did you like most about teaching a foreign language to US students?

“Teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds meant that these students were discovering a world that had been hidden within their own. Now that they were able to begin understanding, they could now be a part of it. I saw this when I taught university students all the way down to my elementary school students. Spanish is everywhere in the United States. I would have students who could communicate with friends, family, co-workers, or clients and would come to class and tell me about it. Students would find that they could now listen to more music. This was because we would listen to and translate music in Spanish in class. Spanish is simply everywhere in the United States.

Teaching ESOL in the United States

I see myself in my students. As I was learning, I didn’t abandon my first language when I learned another, but in fact, gained a new identity. Of course, my second-language identity is a whole different component than my first. But, teaching Spanish in the United States has helped my students find their own “second identities.” I can help them connect to another world within their own.”

What did you find was the most challenging part of teaching both groups of students?

“It’s important to realize that anytime you are speaking a second language, no matter how much you know of it, you will still struggle to express yourself. Your mind might blank on a word. You might have complex thoughts, but all of your cerebral energy is going to simply put the words out there. Some students are able to be bold and learn despite this insecurity, but this really upsets some. Teachers can ease this anxiety by creating a warm, welcoming classroom environment so students feel comfortable taking risks. I’m happy to say that on my university course evaluations this was something students mentioned. The relaxed environment I strived to create made them feel okay with failing.

student studying in library books

In teaching ESOL, I find it’s very important to show students what you do as a teacher when you stumble on a word or have some other kind of miscommunication. Even in our first language, there are already enough miscommunications. These can range from different intended meanings, different references, body language, etc. which we have to resolve in daily life. Being open about our own mistakes encourages students. In other words, showing students that failure is okay is both a challenge and extremely important.”

What did both sets of students have in common? What was the difference?

“Both groups are trying to communicate in their second language and learn it better. The difference is that with international students, there is more at stake in learning English. In the United States, many students are studying Spanish as a foreign language for a required credit. Most students learning Spanish just need to pass a foreign-language requirement and continue with their studies. For international students in intensive English programs, they usually cannot pursue their degree studies, face visa issues, etc. if they do not pass their English courses. They are actually trying to live in a culture where the language and culture they are learning is dominant. This is actually helpful when teaching ESOL. My Spanish learners were not in that situation. In other words, language-learning issues remain the same, but the motivation levels and stake factors do not.”

students studying in front of computer

Where are you currently working? What are the challenges that your international students encounter?

“Recently, I got hired as an adjunct lecturer on an intensive English program at a reputable university. I am also teaching ESOL – English as a foreign language – online with a well-known language and travel company. Since my experience here is limited, I will reflect on my experiences with international students as a whole.

International students struggle with differences in classroom etiquette. For example, in Chinese culture, students are expected to recite while American students are expected to critique. An American student abroad might come across as loud, opinionated, or arrogant in cultures similar to the Chinese. Likewise, certain cultures are more tolerant of issues such as plagiarism. In the US, plagiarism is grounds for expulsion from the university. It’s important to consider subtle misunderstandings due to language and culture when teaching ESOL. Each language carries certain “attitudes” with it derived from its surrounding culture. Chinese- and Korean-speaking students carry a need for “respectful language” that doesn’t necessarily exist in English. This is different when compared to Brazilian and Portuguese students, who might carry more of a “friendly” attitude. Students aren’t even aware of these minor differences until they begin their second language/culture-immersion experience.”

What challenges do you have working with international students?

“First, there are always misunderstandings due to differences in language, especially when teaching ESOL. To be honest, there are times I cannot understand what a student is trying to communicate due to accent or vocabulary. While I have to be kind, I do have to let the student know I cannot understand them. This is the only way they will be able to improve their language skills. Usually, it is just a grammatical or syntax issue, or possibly a pronunciation error that we can fix together. When handled correctly, you can help students save face for when they are communicating with someone not as “linguistically patient” as their teacher.

Secondly, and I hate to mention this, but any time you are teaching, especially teaching ESOL, you have to make sure to be on the lookout for how your gender plays a role. This is especially true of cultures where gender and sexuality vary from that of your own where you know “what to do/not to do.” I have had students who seemed to develop crushes on me at different schools. You are their teacher, you are their hero, and sometimes you are of a different culture. This can be attractive to some. As a result, I have to watch how I dress. I also have to know who/when/how I am interacting with my students, and when to let my bosses know if necessary. This is true of any school though, and not just of international students. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the world we live in.”

caroline hazelton teaching ESOL miami

 

What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultures?

“Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!”

quote where the magic happens

What is one example of something you have done differently or some way you have changed as a result of your experiences?

“As a result of my experiences, I try to process headlines from an international perspective. Having regularly communicated with other cultures, it has shown me that one country’s interpretation of events may not be how another country sees it. I try to read Al Jazeera English in addition to The Washington Post and The Atlantic. I will watch Despierta America on Univision in the mornings to see what’s on the mind of Hispanics before watching CBS in the evenings. Once I meet people from the countries I see on the news, I chat with them about what I see. It helps me determine if the reporting I see is my country’s perspective or if there’s some truth to it.”

Caroline is unique because she has taught pretty much every type of learner in each age group. Because she is a self-taught second-language learner, she brings a set of skills to the classroom other than the basics. Her ability to connect culture and fear caused by misunderstandings is what motivates her each and every day when teaching ESOL. We look forward to hearing more from her about her new teaching position in the upcoming months.