Imagine moving to a new country as a young child where you do not understand the language, being placed in the country's school system, and being expected to learn the same lessons as the other children in your class. Sound difficult? "It was extremely difficult," shared Maria Diaz-Ponce, a sophomore in the College of Education's elementary education program. At 11 years old, Diaz-Ponce and her family moved from Michoacan, Mexico to Pikeville, North Carolina where she was placed in a sixth grade class in her new hometown. Her knowledge of the English language was so limited that she had another student (who was bilingual) write in English on a card, 'Can I use the restroom?' and 'Can I go and drink water?' Diaz-Ponce would raise these cards so her teachers would be aware of her needs and excuse her from the classroom.
During this difficult time in Diaz-Ponce's childhood she found support and encouragement in her ESL teacher, Miss Cloete. According to Diaz-Ponce, "[Miss Cloete] had to start by teaching me the basics like my ABCs." In addition to providing encouragement, her ESL teacher challenged her to learn English through unorthodox teaching methods. According to Diaz-Ponce, 'other teachers would send Miss Cloete my homework so she could translate it for me. Instead of reading my homework to me she would have me look up each and every word in the dictionary." With a chuckle, she adds, "I hated it at the time but in the end it would help me [learn English]!' Under the tutelage of Miss Cloete, Diaz-Ponce learned English within a year and decided that she, "wanted to be just like Miss Cloete and become an ESL teacher in an elementary school".
Diaz-Ponce's goals of furthering her education and becoming a teacher were viewed with uncertainty from her family. "In our background education is not very important," she shared. Her parents's formal education ended with the first grade and both left school so they could work and help their families. "If I stayed in Mexico I would have probably stopped attending school after sixth grade," she shared. However, her parents wanted her to have a better future so they chose to move to the United States. Despite her parents' support for her to complete high school, that support began to waiver when she chose to go to college. "My Dad didn't want me to go to college because I'm a woman. His perspective was, why? You will get married and have kids and take care of the house." According to Diaz-Ponce, her father didn't prohibit her from attending college, he just didn't have faith in her academic abilities because he didn't know a lot of women who furthered their education. In the end, her father was one of the driving forces behind her desire to complete her Associates degree and transfer to East Carolina to complete her Bachelor's degree.
Not only is the educational path Diaz-Ponce followed unique, so is her opinion on the most significant problem teachers are confronted with today. Without hesitation she shared, "Diversity. Many teachers are unaware of the challenges [ESL] students face. In some cultures, education is not valued. Families view it as the teacher's job to teach and children do not receive educational support at home. Parents aren't checking to see if their children are doing their homework. [If families do want to help their children] they may not speak English and are therefore unable to help." As an ESL teacher, Diaz-Ponce hopes to help educate fellow teachers about the struggles ESL students face. She also wants to make a difference in the lives of her ESL students and families because she has faced similar adversities and flourished. The College of Education is very proud of you, Maria y te deseamos lo mejor!