Mary Seeber

English and History Teacher
 

 

About Me

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado, surrounded by rolling wheat fields and wild prairie. When that changed, we moved up to the mountains where my sister and I adopted two horses, which had formerly just been living wild and loose on their own. They in turn, gave us a taste of independence as we trail rode on our own in the beautiful woods, often 8-10 miles from home. We both graduated from Evergreen High School, from CU Boulder, and we both participated in Semester at Sea. Sailing around the world for four months changed our lives forever. Suddenly, we knew what we had been missing! After college, my sister became a DPS teacher, but I backpacked around the world again, wanting to see and know more, to continue meeting people, and to continue having amazing experiences. Eventually, I became bored with just bumming around as a tourist, and decided that I wanted to teach abroad, in order to actually live and contribute in a more vital way somewhere. My first ‘real job’ was teaching ESL at a small Junior College in Kyushu Japan, and the unforgettable experience of living and breathing Japanese language and culture for two years was permanently ingrained in my heart. This inspired me to obtain my Master of Arts in Teaching from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. I consider this small school to be one of the pioneers of “student centered learning,” having been established in the mid 1960’s by many leaders and disciples of what was then a radical methodology in teaching, as well as reflective and experiential learning--all of which are particularly effective for teaching and learning ESL.

Returning to Denver, I was soon hired by the University of Colorado, School of Pharmacy to assist with their ESL students and admission processes. A ten hour per week position eventually became a full time career lasting fourteen years, wherein I could actually apply what I had learned at SIT, assessing and teaching hundreds of ESL, bilingual and even native speaking students, mainly via a summer intensive remedial English course which I designed and taught. I experienced many rewarding moments there, making lifelong friendships with some of my former students, nearly all of whom graduated and went on to successful careers as pharmacists (PharmDs). Due to many philosophical differences regarding the current “business model” of higher education, I began to think that I could affect more change and be happier doing it in a public school environment. Instead of trying to teach graduate students high school level ESL reading and writing skills, why not do that in middle/ high school, without all the administrative stress, peer pressure and cultural misunderstandings? So now, here I am at ECA, and I could not be more excited or ready for the change ahead in working with the students here.

Last but not least, I am fortunate enough to be the single parent of a lovely ten year old daughter. We enjoy cooking, hiking, biking, traveling, gardening and reading together. It hasn’t always been easy, but my life is pretty awesome. Hope for a better future is always something I try to inspire in my students!

 

Why I Teach

After seventeen years of teaching ESL, there is no other job I would rather be doing. I feel it is an honor to teach, and to potentially make a permanent and positive impact in the lives of my students. I deeply enjoy fostering language, literacy, critical thinking and writing skills, as a vital part of student lives. English as Second Language is the first step towards intellectual development for many students, and the labyrinthian challenge of figuring out each student’s unique learning needs and interests, has been a labor of love for me. Nothing is more exciting than seeing “the lightbulbs come on” for students who learn to realize, through our mutual hard work, that yes: they can learn the language, they can enjoy reading, they can write well. It’s just a matter of knowing how to do it, and practicing doing that. Basically, students want to learn what it is they need to learn to accomplish their goals and objectives. Tapping this source of intrinsic motivation within students, while simultaneously delivering the ‘course content’ I know they need to acquire, has been the secret of my success toward actually improving students’ speaking, reading, writing and critical thinking skills. In the end, it is soul-satisfying for me to teach students of all ESL proficiency levels, to help them to focus on the experience and process of increasing their oral and written English skills.

Because real language proficiency cannot be attained through simple memorization, addressing student attitudes to learning and fostering self-awareness of their own knowledge/ skill gaps are crucial aspects of my teaching. Students must develop autonomy in their learning, and realize that ultimately, they are responsible for their own learning. These are my primary teaching goals because they lead to actual learning and competency. Whenever possible, I try to “teach and get out of the way” of students’ learning, i.e. provide the freedom, support and time needed to play with, manipulate, and practice using key learning points in a variety of ways. Mistakes are simply and safely viewed as what still needs to be worked on. Nonetheless, since one’s English skills are a very personal matter, I seek to know my students as closely as possible, as far as what their needs are, and what is working and not working for them in the classroom. I care about their learning experiences and needs, and actively seek their input and feedback on the learning process. Last but not least, I strive to keep classroom instruction relevant, comprehensible, and fun, so that students can go home to confidently and competently complete their homework, i.e. reiterate and practice their new skills.

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