ESL Teacher Acts, Sings to Teach ABC's

ESL Teacher Acts, Sings to Teach ABC's

Passing by Victor Yager's classroom, one might think he is teaching choir or drama or possibly trying out for a part in "Dead Poet Society 2," if such a movie were to be released.

Yager, who teaches adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, uses songs, chants and acting to help students visualize what they learn, along with a Twister-size floor map for lessons on countries and places.

"He's the rainbow that shines. He never stops," said Lora Buckman, an adult ESL teacher and second-grade teacher at Meadowland Elementary School. "He integrates all kinds of curriculum in the classroom ... whatever is practical and what his students need."

Yager was recently selected for the Virginia Department of Education's 2002 Virginia Adult Education Excellence in Teaching Award.

By day, Yager is a dual language assessor, while two nights a week the Reston resident teaches ESL classes, along with 15 other ESL teachers. This year, the teachers worked with nearly 700 students in 36 classes in the spring and fall semesters.

"I hold him up as a benchmark for other instructors," said Irene Riordan, coordinator of adult education, who nominated Yager for the award. "He tries to use different methods to get people involved."

YAGER BEGAN TEACHING ESL classes in 1981, six years after he joined Loudoun County Public Schools as a language arts and social studies teacher at Simpson Middle School. While he was teaching fifth grade at Meadowland Elementary School, the principal there encouraged him to become an adult ESL teacher.

In 1983, Yager taught the entire ESL program when it was housed at Guilford Elementary until 1989. That year, he became an assistant principal until 1991, later taking over as the dual language assessor in the late 1990s. The assessor tests in English and the student's primary language to determine the academic progress of students learning English as a second language. Schools, in turn, use the information to design instruction for the students. Yager, who studied French and Spanish, usually works with interpreters to assess students' skills.

Yager speaks in English when he teaches adults, using gestures and talking slowly as needed. He starts off his classes with an interest inventory to find out students' reasons for taking ESL, such as wanting to help their children with homework or learn reading and writing skills to find or advance in a job.

"He's thorough in his lessons and getting the material across to individuals. He's good at diversifying his lessons to meet the needs of students," Riordan said.

Yager uses the New Vistas and other textbooks and some lecturing in the classroom, along with dramatics and cooperative learning methods to encourage students to figure out a task or solve a problem. He may ask them to identify places on a map or to line up according to the order of their birthdays or from shortest to tallest. "They need to use their English skills to figure that out," he said.

YAGER'S OTHER TOOLS include teaching songs and jazz chants, since they have patterns and rhythms that can be easy to learn. "It seems to take down a barrier," he said. "These are diversions related to what they are learning."

Yager encourages students to act out some of their lessons. "It's sort of an aerobics class up front, and 'You are my mirror,' I tell them."

Yager happens to be a member of the Washington Opera as a supernumerary, or an extra, and has performed for several theater groups and community theaters, including the Reston Community Players and the Arlington Players.

"He's a lot of fun in the classroom," Riordan said. "He has a reputation as a crowd-pleaser."

Yager was named Shenandoah University Teacher of the Year in 2000 while working as an ESL teacher at Douglass School in Leesburg. He will be presented with the Department of Education award in July.

"It confirms that the job I like is worthwhile or is helping others," Yager said. "The greatest award is, of course, the students, seeing them learn the language, not necessarily that they thank me, but [that] they are learning English."

"I can't think of anyone more deserving of that award," Buckman said.

Riordan agreed. "He does this because he wants to, not because he has to. It was time to recognize him for his talents," she said.