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January 2020
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Spotlight on the 2020 TESOL Teacher of the Year: Neda Sahranavard
Interview by Nancy Flores

The 2020 TESOL Teacher of the Year, Neda Sahranavard, is a lecturer and academic coordinator at the University of California, Irvine, Program in Academic English, and an adjunct faculty at South Orange County Community College District.

She has a PhD in English language and literature and has worked with multilingual students for more than 17 years. To help us get to know her, Dr. Sahranavard answered some questions about her personal and professional journey.

Please tell us something about your background. How long have you been living in the United States?

I value the rewarding profession of teaching. My career as an educator for the past 17+ years has also been extremely enjoyable. My passion for the English language, literature, and teaching led me to pursue a BA, MA, and PhD in English language and literature at Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran. I also hold four certifications: TESL, active teaching, basic skills initiative, and online educator.

I have lived in the United States for more than 12 years. I moved to the United States after completing my doctoral coursework and comprehensive exam, then wrote my dissertation while also teaching in the United States. My wide experience teaching at the university and community college levels in the United States and Iran has given me the opportunity to work with students from a range of socioeconomic, ethnic, linguistic, racial, religious, physical, gender, and academic backgrounds.

I actively participate in professional development workshops and activities in my discipline, and I am eager to contribute fully to the development of my discipline by conducting research in language pedagogy, particularly in the area of teaching effectively while using simple but powerful lesson plans.

Neda facilitates small group discussions and learning in her Academic English 23C class in which she trains her graduate students to become successful TAs.

I am currently serving as an academic coordinator and lecturer at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), Program in Academic English. I am also an adjunct faculty at South Orange County Community College District.

I aim to keep the best interests of my students at heart. I believe that responsive and helpful communication are the pillars of teaching effectively. I make my expectations clear from the first day of the class, and model what I expect from my students. I give them challenging opportunities, cultivate enthusiasm, and assist them to stay on track. I create interactive lesson plans that are simple, engaging, relevant, comprehensive, and meaningful. I always teach in context and work to create a seamless progression from one subject to another.

I understand that learning competence varies among students, so I make sure that my lesson plans meet different learning modalities. My goal has always been providing the best assistance to all of my students.

Neda believes in Distinguished Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o’s idea of languages around the world.

How old were you when you decided to become a teacher? What influences and/or factors informed your decision?

I was a teenage mom, and I had two children when I started college. I knew that my time in class was precious since I went home to bathe, feed, and care for my children. I was able to study once they were in bed. When I was in class, I took advantage of and enjoyed every single minute. I was there with all of my heart and soul. I decided then to become a teacher, inspired by key professors who showed me their love of learning and teaching. They were dedicated to the profession and eager to impact their students’ lives. I wanted to be that teacher.

My amazing professors opened my world and would change my life dramatically. They guided me in learning English and embracing English literature. Through them, I explored my potential and became confident of what I was doing with my life. I was able to raise educated children and a build a more successful family. I hope I am the teacher that my own professors showed me.

Your doctorate is in English language and literature. Do you feel that your studies in literature have had an impact on your current profession as an English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) educator, and if so, how?

By training, I am an English language and literature major, but by experience, I am a teacher of English to multilingual students. During my undergraduate and graduate studies, besides literature classes, I also took courses focused on theories and methods of teaching English. These courses fostered my appreciation and concentration in the area of teaching ESOL. My studies in literature had an immense impact on my TESOL career. Literature is about people’s experiences, their challenges and how they figure life out. Studying literature also involves analysis of how one crafts language. My studies led me to find common areas between teaching English and understanding literature and literary theories. This has helped me create bridges between these two disciplines and to conduct interesting and successful classes.

Neda gives feedback to her graduate students as they work on their group project.

My current position at UCI has let me use my background in English literature to design curricula for our program. I combine the pleasure of reading and appreciating literature with promoting my students’ English skills. My colleagues have adapted my teaching approaches, materials, and activities and expressed their appreciation of my teaching techniques.

Furthermore, I have been able to contribute to my profession by using my background in English literature to conduct research in my ESOL classes. To enhance the quality and experience of teaching and learning in my classes, I have designed lesson plans driven from literary theories. I have gathered data to investigate the effectiveness of my philosophy and teaching methods. I am confident that innovative lesson plans have a great effect on our students and I am excited to conduct research and find out more effective teaching practices to facilitate learning.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing teachers today?

In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing teachers today is lack of well-paid and secure teaching positions. ESOL educators are mostly part-timers who need to teach on multiple campuses. We all know that teaching is a profession that requires professional development and dedication. The challenge of being a freeway flyer impedes teachers from being their best. I have experienced the fact that it is not easy to teach effectively while working at several school districts and campuses.

I have also witnessed the challenge of nonnative-English-speakerism. I am very lucky to work in an environment that celebrates diversity, but not all ESOL colleagues are aware of the depth and wealth of knowledge and skills of multilingual educators. I accept as true that having no accent or being a native speaker of English does not guarantee conducting effective and successful teaching. Subjects of marginalization have been the focus of my master’s and doctorate dissertations and I am very aware of the fact that many nonnative English educators are facing the challenge of being marginalized.

Neda holds one-on-one conferences with her students and coworkers in her office.

You have been very active in your local TESOL affiliate CATESOL. What roles can TESOL affiliates play in supporting the professional development of ESOL educators?

I believe that TESOL affiliates play a vital role in supporting ESOL educators in terms of networking and professional development. Local workshops and professional development opportunities are more convenient and less costly for educators to attend. Getting involved with local TESOL affiliates would be a great opportunity for novice teachers to exchange ideas about the best practices in our discipline. Moreover, local TESOL affiliates tailor their workshops to address the specific needs of local educators.

I have presented workshops at CATESOL annual conferences. I also serve as a board member of Orange County CATESOL, where we do our best to provide cost-effective and high-quality workshops for our fellow ESOL educators in Southern California. My goal is to promote, plan, and offer more research-based workshops in Orange County CATESOL.

Nancy Flores is the membership coordinator at TESOL International Association. She has been with the association for 10 years and helps to assist members and manage membership-related projects. Originally from Honduras, Flores is a fluent Spanish speaker and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from George Mason University.

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Table of Contents
TC Homepage
6 Ways to Tackle Your ELT PD in the New Year
Creating Your First ESL Video Lesson
New Year, New Ways to Talk to Strangers
Spotlight on the 2020 TESOL Teacher of the Year
Happy New Year From TESOL: A Year of Growth
Association News
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