RHS ESL Teacher, Michelle Land, Elected Vice President of NJTESOL/NJBE
When Randolph High School ESL teacher Michelle Land first began teaching English to students from other countries, she was actually a language student herself living in another country. She had travelled to Norway to be with her then boyfriend (now husband) and was learning Norwegian at the University of Oslo. It was an easy way for Michelle to earn some money as teaching English was in high demand. Little did she know at that time that she would grow to love teaching English as a second/foreign language.
Michelle had been teaching full time in Norwegian schools for several years. It was a unique but rewarding challenge for her to teach English in Norway, even though she could speak Norwegian fluently. This was especially true because some of her students were not native speakers of Norwegian. They were immigrants who had been given the opportunity to come to Norway to escape economic hardships, political or religious persecution. She was trying to teach them their third (or maybe fourth) language, via a language that they did not speak fluently.
Initially, Michelle did not realize the trauma her students had experienced was a barrier to their learning in any language. However, she discovered that once their emotional well-being was addressed and healed, they became eager and willing learners. “The opportunity to help students learn and grow became one of my greatest joys,” Michelle said. “The excitement I felt in each class and the possibilities I could see in each student helped confirm that this was not just a job, but a lifelong career. I hoped that I could bring this enthusiasm and the lessons I had learned in Norway with me to my new job in Randolph.”
In September 2003, Michelle returned to Randolph after 13 years. “In 1990, I had spent one year as a permanent substitute at RHS. Many of the familiar faces were gone, but some, including my mother Barbara Ruggeri, were still there. It felt like coming home,” Michelle said. “Even though I was in a different school from where I had substituted, I was extremely thankful for the opportunity that Joe Lorent had given me, and ready to get to know more about the middle and elementary schools I would be working in. Under Joe’s guidance, and my mentor Noreen Drucker, I began working with students who were similar to the immigrants and refugees I had worked with in Norway. With each new group of students who entered my life, I got to learn more about the world and our small place in it. Each student represents a thread that ties us all together through our mutual experience in the classroom. This enriches my life more than any typical job could ever do.”
Being new to teaching ESL in the United States, there were new teaching standards and state bilingual codes that Michelle needed to dive into. Fortunately, she joined NJTESOL/NJBE (New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/New Jersey Bilingual Educators) early on. It is an association of educators and administrators around the state who support ELLs (English Language Learners) at all levels of public and private education. (See https://njtesol-njbe.org for more information). Michelle’s mentor Noreen Drucker had been elected to the Executive Board of the organization, and had suggested she consider running for her office when her term was over. She decided to run and won the position at that time for two consecutive two year terms. The executive board works hard to support ELLs and the people who work with them at all levels.
“I feel that being part of NJTESOL/NJBE has made me a better educator for my amazing students. NJTESOL/NJBE helps me to be aware of federal and state legislation that affect our district. It also gives me the opportunity to learn new and best practices from others in the field throughout our state and country,” Michelle said. “The professionals in this organization are dedicated, amazing and inspiring individuals that I look up to.”
During her last term on the Executive Board, she was approached about running as Vice-President for the organization. Michelle saw this as an opportunity to add further value. “I was honored to be considered and jumped at the opportunity to run for the office this spring. Luckily, I won the election and am now the Vice President of NJTESOL/NJBE for the next two years,” Michelle said. “The responsibilities of the position are focused on chairing our spring conference, supporting the advocacy positions of the organization, sharing information with our members through social networking, writing articles 4 times a year for our publication, and succeeding to the Presidency in two years.”
Members of the Executive Board have already met virtually since the school year ended in order to make some important decisions about how the organization will move forward during this pandemic. The organization’s members across the state have been asking for guidance and support on how to best address the needs of their ELLs. Michell is working with her organizational team to provide members with every opportunity to serve their districts and students with strategies, resources and support.
“I could never have considered running for any position in NJTESOL/NJBE without the support and guidance I have received here in Randolph. The Randolph Township School District’s ELL population is always evolving. With that evolution, has come excitement, joy, as well as change and challenges,” Michelle said. “Our present supervisor, Paula Paredes-Corbel, with support of school administrators and central office, has guided us through much of our most challenging growing pains. She creates an environment in which our students feel safe and secure. She is always going above and beyond to support her ESL teachers, as well as the staff that work with the ELLs. As a result, several of our ESL and mainstream teachers have been chosen as presenters at the NJTESOL/NJBE annual spring conference. They, in turn, have represented our school district on a state level with their knowledge, experience, and fervor. Randolph can be very proud of the positive impact our district has had on the NJTESOL/NJBE organization.”
Congratulations Michelle on your appointment and for all the work that you do to support students at RHS as well as students around the state.