By day Nicole McFarland is a middle school Language Arts teacher in the Ankeny school district, and by night she has found a new driving force: teaching non-English speakers the fundamentals of grammar, pronunciation and reading.
Nicole has been teaching for 12 years in the K-12 system and for the last 2.5 years has been a DMACC English Language Learner (ELL) adjunct instructor, but her love of teaching dates from her childhood.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “Even when I was little, that was my life goal.”
Two nights a week, Nicole rushes home from parent phone calls, grading or staff meetings in order to be on time for her 6 p.m. ELL class, where she has eager students ready for the evening’s lesson. Her students come from countries in South America, Central America, Asia and Africa, and all have developed a lasting relationship with Nicole.
She says her favorite thing about teaching ELL is getting to know her students, their families, and building relationships that include running into them out in the community.
“I don’t give them much of a choice about practicing their English when they see me out,” she said. “I go up, talk to them and get a hug. I kind of feel like I’m part of their family.”
Teaching English to adults is not always easy and even though they are eager to learn, the new language has many intricacies and nuances, and the skills take years to hone.
“We have so many different ways to say the same thing,” Nicole said. “We have a set of rules for the English language, but half of them only apply half of the time. Even if they were full-time students and that’s all they took, it would take them a long time to master.”
Nicole likes to spread the three-hour classes working on topics such as figurative language, writing and helping translate colloquialisms used in their workplace. She once had a student come to class and ask her what his co-worker meant when he said, “I have to bounce.” She explained that the lingo meant the co-worker was leaving and not that they were literally going to bounce up and down.
Before the fall semester began, Nicole received recognition from DMACC President Rob Denson for graduating from the Adjunct Professional Growth program, which helped to expand her professional tool box and connect her with other adjunct instructors from throughout the DMACC district.
“I would strongly recommend it to anyone that is an adjunct instructor,” Nicole said. “It gave me the support that I never really had, being part of a small center. Now I feel like I’m part of a larger team.”
ELL classes meet at the DMACC VanKirk Academy on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-9 p.m. For more information, call 515-428-8100.