Excellent Educator: Richfield ESL Teacher Inspires Immigrant Students

RICHFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) — Every week we recognize teachers on WCCO This Morning because we know their job can be challenging. And what’s more challenging than when you don’t speak your students’ language.

There’s one teacher who has stepped up to that challenge every year for more than four decades. Nancy Maker teaches English as a Second Language or ESL at Richfield Middle School.

Her goal: To give her immigrant students the tools they need so they can go to college. That’s what makes her this week’s Excellent Educator.

In any year, Maker never knows who will enroll in her class or what language they’ll be speaking. Maker, a native of Canada, is only fluent in French and English. So when it comes to teaching most of her ESL students, she has to get creative.

“The key to ESL is unless you can get up like a fool and act out everything you’re trying to teach, you can’t teach it,” she said. “If I’m teaching you the proposition ‘into’ I better want to climb into the garbage can.”

Maker will stop at nothing to get these kids to feel comfortable in their new country. Her colleagues notice.

“She has worked with a lot of kids who are new to country and so they’re going through a major transition to life and not sure where life is going to lead them and so she inspired a lot of kids to find a purpose and direction,” said Brian Zambreno, principal of Richfield Middle School.

But she also realizes when it may be someone else’s turn too. That’s why after 44 years of teaching, she’s decided this one will be her last.

“I feel with all the new teaching coming in I might in some way short the students and I would never want that to happen,” she said.

But she’ll retire knowing that her life’s work made a difference.

“When I left Canada, because I was there for my first 20 years, I got a congratulatory award from the prime minister and if this is from my peers this is even better,” she said.

Many of Maker’s students have gone onto community college and even universities thanks to the language skills they’ve learned in her class. And even come back to thank her.

She says she will miss being in the classroom, but tells herself she can always come back and substitute teach.

More from Kim Johnson
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