Ms. Sandra Washington-Gayles is making a difference in the field of ESL (English as a Second Language) in New Jersey. Ms. Washington-Gayles is currently in her 20th year with Newark Public Schools where she leads an ESL-designated kindergarten classroom. What drew her to the TESOL program was the fact that a significant portion of the kindergarteners she teaches are also learning English as an additional language. Guided by her strong sense of service to others, Ms. Washington-Gayles decided to pursue an additional NJDOE endorsement in ESL so that she may serve all of her students with equity.
Ms. Washington-Gayles is truly an accomplished educator. She has 23 total years in education. She has experience teaching kindergarten through seventh grade in all the content areas. For the past 13 years, Ms. Washington-Gayles has been collaborating with an ESL specialist teacher to lead the designated ESL-specific kindergarten classroom at her teaching location in Newark Public Schools. She is a national board certified educator and holds a masters in Educational Leadership. Ms. Washington-Gayles is a servant leader in the field of education, participating in New Leaders for New Schools and the national advocacy committee for national board teacher certification.
When reflecting on how she got started in education as a career, Ms. Washington-Gayles recounts that "I've always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was 9 years old -- and it's all that I've ever wanted to do". She adds, "So, I'm living my dream". Ms. Washington-Gayles also notes that her grandmother was an educator for a time: "[My grandmother] would complain about the same things I complain about today. So, you can say that not much has really changed with child development".
Regarding her experience in the TESOL program, Ms. Washington-Gayles notes several aspects of the program that she appreciated. One was the flexibility that the educators showed to graduate students – especially regarding due dates. She notes, "The instructors valued our time as working adults, and as parents as well". Another strength were instructor-recorded videos that provided overviews of dense reading material. This helped the content to be more accessible to students. A final aspect is the accessibility of the instructors outside of classtime for questions and to give support. She comments, "They were willing to meet with us when we were available."
In the kindergarten classroom that she leads, Ms. Washington-Gayles is successfully applying the skills she gained in the TESOL program. She explains that she is using more visuals in the classroom, using songs more frequently, and using more hand gestures – anything, she continues, to keep her students engaged. In addition, she is being more open to the silent period, the quiet time that most language newcomers need to process the language before producing it in speech. As Ms. Washington-Gayles puts it, "You have to allow them to take in the environment. And, at some point, they do open up. But it's at their pace."
When asked what advice she might have for teachers new to working with EL students in K-12 public schools, Ms. Washington-Gayles gave the following words of advice:
- Be patient.
- Engage EL students in small groups. They benefit from being included.
- Pictures speak a million words
- Google translate can help bridge home language and English
- Go watch the short film, The Gift, available here.
Ms. Washington-Gayles, TESOL program alum, represents the best in the field of ESL education and the spirit of the College of Education and Human Services.
About the TESOL Program:
The TESOL teacher certification program at Seton Hall University provides individuals with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to serve English Language Learners (ELLs) in K-12 academic settings. The 15-credit program sequence is an ideal pathway to an additional instructional certificate for practicing teachers.