April 2021 Featured Educator: Lisa Mendoza 

April 6, 2021

Lisa Mendoza, this month’s Featured Educator, was inspired to pursue a career in teaching because of her experience as an English language learner (ELL).

“I love working with ELL students and their families,” Lisa said. “It often reminds me of my experience translating for my parents and learning in two languages.”

Lisa grew up speaking Spanish as her first language in a school district near the one she teaches in now.

“I have so much respect for my students as they navigate learning more than one language,” she said.

Lisa is an English as a Second Language teacher in Whiting, Indiana. Since 2012, she’s been teaching students in grades 6-12 at Whiting Middle School and Whiting High School. For a few years before that, she worked with students across the entire K-12 spectrum, spending her time at the elementary school, as well.

“I am responsible for approximately 66 ELLs at the middle and high schools,” Lisa said. “Our student population is around 75 percent Latino, with Spanish being the most frequently spoken second language. Some of the other languages students speak are Tagalog, Arabic, Slovak and Polish.”

Whiting is a small urban city in the northwestern tip of Indiana, just across the border from Illinois that Lisa said is heavily influenced by the families of her students and the unique perspectives they bring to the community.

“Families of multilingual learners bring so many opportunities to our schools and communities to help us all learn and grow,” she said. “They challenge us to expand our views and shift our ways of thinking.”

In the classroom, Lisa does her part by honoring student identity, culture and personal growth. Since language development takes time, she said she makes sure to magnify personal growth.

That’s why she encourages students to take risks in low pressure settings before gradually building up to formal academic settings. To get there, Lisa works with her fellow content area teachers.

“I love collaborating with other teachers and learning from them,” Lisa said. “Equitable access to content learning requires every teacher working together with an ELL to make adjustments in their instruction.”

Even though it can be difficult for Lisa to find opportunities to meet and plan with content area teachers – since her students span two schools and seven grade levels – she said that WIDA tools like the WIDA English Language Development (ELD) Standards Framework and WIDA Can Do Descriptors help her bridge that gap.

“The Can Do Descriptors encourage collaboration between content area teachers and me,” Lisa said. “And the WIDA ELD Standards (sic) help us to integrate content and language, which is helpful across grade levels and disciplines.”

For Lisa, collaboration is key to providing consistency. At the end of the day, she wants her students to know that they are supported in every classroom.

"My work with students expands beyond teaching them English,” Lisa said. “That's why it’s so important to me that they are supported in the other content areas.”

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