SCARBOROUGH — It’s been a whirlwind few days for Katherine Schier-Webster, full of training, meetings and classroom preparation for the English as Second Language teacher at Wentworth Intermediate School.
But her classroom at the end of Wentworth’s west wing is nearly ready for kids.
It’s the realization of a years-long dream for Schier-Webster.
“This has been my goal ever since I got my master’s degree,” she said during an interview in her classroom Wednesday. Schier-Webster has been an ESL ed tech in Scarborough for three years. The full teaching position became available this year when Sally Boardman resigned.
As the intermediate school’s ESL instructor, Schier-Webster will be responsible for the reading, writing, listening and speaking skills of about 40 children who are not native English speakers.
Before landing her job in the Scarborough system, she was an ed tech in Lewiston schools, working primarily with Somalian refugees. The things she learned and the experiences she had with those students are an example of why she wanted to study ESL, she said. She wanted to know about other cultures and other people – even if it wasn’t always pretty.
“They told me people in their village had been killed by lions … they told me stories about how friends and family had been shot and killed,” she said. “It was really eye-opening. We expected these kids who had no boundaries … who could run and play and do whatever they want, and then I’m asking them to sit down at a table and listen, learn and function in a classroom when that’s not part of their world at all. They’d be plucked from that village and put in my classroom.”
The situation is different in Scarborough, Schier-Webster said. Many of the children are sons or daughters of educated immigrants who came to Scarborough to work in one of the town’s many medical, research or biotech facilities – mostly from Asia. She estimated that more than 20 languages are spoken throughout the school district.
About half the ESL students in Scarborough are on “monitor status,” meaning they don’t have to be pulled from the classroom to study with Schier-Webster. The other half will have some time with her, either in her classroom or during their regular classes.
Schier-Webster graduated from Cumberland public schools before moving to Atlanta, where she got her first taste of teaching as an after-school instructor at a private school.
A few years and another teaching gig later, she and her husband, Falmouth Spanish teacher Peter Webster, moved back to New England to get their master’s degrees – her husband’s in Spanish from University of New Hampshire and hers in literacy from University of Southern Maine. That was also when she earned the state endorsement to be an ESL instructor.
Schier-Webster said her job will be to focus on the content of the students’ classwork, and on the vocabulary necessary for a new kindergarten through fifth-grade curriculum called “Math in Focus.” It’s the nature of ESL work to be flexible to provide language help that supports the classroom, she said.
And while her job is new, Schier-Webster said it wouldn’t be too much of an adjustment. Not only because she’s been in the school district for several years already, but because she’ll have some students in Wentworth this year who she worked with last year, when they were in second grade. It’ll be nice, she said, to have familiar faces around.
“I’ve learned so much that it’s all in (my head),” Schier-Webster said. “I just need to start practicing it. I’m very excited.”
Katherine Schier-Webster, the new ESL teacher at Wentworth Intermediate School in Scarborough.
• Tuesday, Aug. 30: First day of school for kindergarten and grades 2, 3, 6 and 9.
• Wednesday, Aug. 31: First day of school for all other students.