After graduating with a bachelor's degree in education, Eaman Mah struggled to find a teaching job in a tough economy. On a whim, she answered an ad in the Edmonton Journal looking for people to teach English in Japan. "At the time, I didn't even know what EAL was."
She got the job, thinking she would go to Japan and teach for a year, but loved the experience so much, she stayed for five. When she returned to Canada, she realized that she could teach English as an Additional Language (EAL) to immigrants and refugees.
Mah's classroom is where many of her students embark on new beginnings. By the time they arrive in her classroom, adult EAL learners have left behind jobs, family, friends and everyday comforts to come to Canada.
Mah helps her students increase their self-confidence and reach their goals. "Welcoming immigrants and empowering them with competent English skills will strengthen the economy and enrich our communities," she says.
Here she shares her love of teaching, her most memorable moment as a teacher and the one thing everyone should know about learning a new language.
MacEwan University’s Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize outstanding faculty members who have shown extraordinary commitment to teaching and have inspired their students and colleagues. Watch for the 2021 award winners' profiles throughout August: Dr. Sara Grewal (assistant professor, English), Dr. Cam Macdonell (associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science), Eaman Mah (instructor, English as an Additional Language) and Allan Wesley (assistant professor, Decision Sciences).
Q. What do you love most about teaching?
Reaching the students and helping them be successful. At MacEwan, I teach students with very little experience with English. They've only been in Canada for a couple of years, and some have had to escape a terrible situation in their home country. Once they get settled here, they decide they want to learn English in order to make a better life for themselves.
Teaching EAL is really just about helping them reach a higher goal. And learning English for a lot of immigrants is not only to help themselves — it's to help their children. If they have more education and can function in the language, then they can help with their children's education too.
Q. How do you motivate your students?
Motivating EAL students is different because the students are all immigrants and people struggling to find language skills and competency in a new country. So it's a different experience than it is for undergrads.
Nothing motivates my students like being able to see that what they learn in the classroom is applicable outside of it too. So if I teach them how to write a cover letter as a way of practicing their writing skills, they can also use that lesson to apply for a job. Then they can see how what I'm teaching is applicable to their day-to-day lives in the real world.
Q. What is your most memorable teaching moment?
I wouldn't call it a teaching moment, but when I see the students outside of the classroom three or four years after I've taught them, that really has an impact on me. One time, I brought my grandmother to the hospital and as we were walking in, I heard somebody calling, "Miss Eaman! Miss Eaman! Teacher!" And it was one of my former students. Ten years ago, that same student could barely write a sentence in English. Now she was working as a licensed practical nurse and helping my grandmother. It's really gratifying to see how something I've taught them has helped them improve their lives.
Q. What makes a good EAL teacher?
Compassion and understanding. You need to know that there are going to be a lot of bumps along the way and that there is a steep learning curve for your students. In EAL, it's not about grades — we're building skills. The most important part is that students have increased their proficiency in four areas: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Are they able to understand the clerk at the grocery store? Are they able to respond when asked a question?
In EAL, students can get immediate satisfaction from their experience. Before they joined the class, they may have had trouble asking the bus driver which bus to take and then after the class, they can successfully ask the driver how to get here or there, or when to get off at the right stops.
Q. What is the number one thing people should know about learning a new language?
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you don't make the mistakes, you can never improve. If you're self-conscious about saying something and are scared to make mistakes, you're never going to know what you need to improve. Self-confidence is the main thing I stress in my classroom. It doesn't matter if you make mistakes. Be confident when you're speaking and you will improve.
Announcing the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award recipients
University recognizes inspiring faculty members for their dedication to teaching.
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