Jacobson Prepares ESOL Students to Teach
When Cathy Jacobson went into teaching, she was drawn to music. But her journey as a teacher would take the junior high chorus teacher in a much different direction than she’d expected.
“My first job was in Albuquerque where I taught a large number of students who spoke English as their second language,” said Jacobson, who is now an instructor and an English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) Consultant in the School of Mathematics. “I began to realize that I was teaching them a third language — music — in their second language — English — and became more interested in the ESOL component of working with these students than in teaching music.”
Jacobson went on to earn her master’s in teaching ESOL from New York University and has worked in this area ever since.
“If an international student doesn’t speak or understand English well, a lot of people think that there’s a quick fix when the reality is that a fix rarely occurs in less than three semesters,” she said. “I’m always so impressed and in awe of these students. I mean, imagine being in their shoes — being able to read and write English fluently but having very little exposure to listening to and speaking English in their country, yet they’re expected to teach in English upon arrival. It’s amazing what these students are able to accomplish.”
Recently, The Whistle had an opportunity to learn more about Jacobson and her time at Tech.
How did you arrive in your current position?
In the late 1970s, I moved to Atlanta and taught at what is now the Language Institute at Georgia Tech. I left to focus on raising my children and returned in 1995 to help the chair of the School of Mathematics at the time with an ESOL assessment, which evolved into a permanent position in the school. In my current position, my responsibilities range from assisting students with their English language intelligibility to coordinating the school’s graduate student summer orientation to working on the editorial staff of our alumni magazine.
What is something you would like for people to know about your job?
Just because students can read English doesn’t mean that they can speak it or understand the spoken word easily. That’s why the primary focus of my job is to support the oral-aural skills of students who will be teaching in some capacity while they are at Tech.
How do you go about keeping your students engaged?
I use audio and video recordings that we review individually. I also try to teach the students about various elements of our culture to help them feel more connected. For example, at Halloween we’ll carve pumpkins or at Thanksgiving I’ll bring in typical holiday foods to share.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
The area with the large trees and grass between Skiles and the Student Center Commons. I love to take my lunch outside and eat it here.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I was working in my first teaching job, fresh out of college, and my students were walking all over me. My principal told me “Don’t smile until Christmas vacation or laugh until Easter.” Great advice.
If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
It would probably be Molly Ivins, because her writing was always so clever and insightful. But I wouldn’t mind getting to know Madeleine Albright — I’ve heard her speak and would like to learn more about her.
Tell us something about yourself that others might not know.
I grew up on a potato and sheep farm in the San Luis Valley in Colorado and was the oldest of eight children. Oh, and I briefly majored in civil engineering in college — but after six weeks I was ready to change to music!
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