Profiles From a Distance: Jordan shows creativity in serving ESOL students
Photos and Story by Amy Bader
Portland Community College’s ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Program serves Portland’s immigrant and refugee populations, helping them develop skills to succeed and thrive academically, socially and professionally.
PCC’s ESOL faculty are known for their incredible dedication, culturally responsive practices and care, and ESOL instructor Davida Jordan is no exception. Jordan has been supporting students at PCC for 13 years in Adult Basic Education and ESOL.
Moving to online learning as result of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant barriers for PCC’s ESOL students, many of whom do not have access to technology and have limited English proficiency to navigate virtual platforms. Jordan and the ESOL team have not let that get in their way, and they continue to find creative solutions to put students at the center of their work.
What inspired you to teach ESOL?
Davida Jordan: A love of learning and school drew me to teaching. I have always loved languages, traveling, and learning about other cultures, so ESOL was the perfect way for me to continue on that path. I studied French and Spanish in France and in Mexico as a college student, and I often draw upon my memories and experiences during those times as I teach now: the confusion, the discovery, the frustration, the accomplishment, the wonder! It is such a gift to be able to learn about another culture and country through language.
Is there anything unique to your own teaching style that you apply in your classes?
Jordan: I try to bring music and humor into my classroom; these are two of the most important things in my life, and I’ve found them to also create a relaxing environment for students. We can learn so much more when we are relaxed and enjoying ourselves. The more welcoming I am and the more warmth I bring into my classroom, the more the students can let their guard down, trust me and learn!
Sustainability is one of my guiding life values, and I bring that into the classroom as well, not as a discrete unit, per se, but just through my way of being in the world. I like to prompt conversations about the environment and remind people about our connection as human beings on our one, shared planet. I hope I can encourage my students and colleagues to ride their bikes or maybe try eating a plant-based diet.
What are some creative solutions you and your team have come up during remote learning?
Jordan: One of the students I had been tutoring is blind, and I have recently transitioned to tutoring him successfully using the Google Meet platform. We have also received incredible support from Disability Services, who has provided a note-taker to attend our sessions. There is a true sense of cooperation and collaboration to ensure our students have what they need to succeed. For example, I have been accessing content from my fellow ESOL instructor Tim Krause’s amazing website ESOL News Oregon and creating audio files of the articles that I can use with this student and others. I share the audio files with Tim when I am finished, and he adds them to the website for other instructors and English language learners to access.
I also started in a new role that was created to help connect ESOL students to technology, either by helping them access the equipment they need, or by teaching them the skills they need to navigate virtual learning. I love problem solving to remove barriers, and it has been such a wonderful opportunity to encourage students who didn’t think they would be able to continue their studies online.
What have you learned as a result of this experience? Are there any silver linings?
Jordan: We had so many tools available to us that we had never used to their full capacity. For example, there is a lot we can do with D2L, Brightspace, and Zoom that we never explored before because we simply didn’t need to. Now we are being forced to become more resourceful and experiment. That is exciting.
Another silver lining for me has been learning about my own limits.
I recently saw a post online suggesting that we should call our current situation “Live from Work” instead of “Work from Home.” It is easy to get caught in the “living from work” habit because there is an endless amount of work that can be done to serve our students and community. I am learning how to set healthy limits and making it a priority to take care of my basic needs, like eating healthy food, exercising, getting enough sleep, connecting with my loved ones, and spending time alone instead of working 24/7. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t show up fully to take care of others.
Is there anything special you have been doing for self-care or to keep your spirits up during the pandemic?
Jordan: I have been doing a lot of exercise online, indulged in my love of candles, and have been putting small jars of fresh flowers in different rooms of my house to add color and beauty. My family has instituted a new movie night routine, and my husband and I have been getting our kids all caught up on movie classics of the 1980s and 1990s (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Teen Wolf,” “Happy Gilmore,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Fletch,” to name a few)!
Have you had conversations about the current racial justice movement with your students?
Jordan: This is definitely an ongoing conversation, and I try to make my classroom a place where students feel safe to speak honestly and to ask questions. That is the best place to start, and the conversation can grow organically from there. Some of my colleagues have done a lot of great work putting together materials for students to talk about Black Lives Matter, the protests, and police brutality. For example, when we talk about the protests that are happening, students are able to share experiences they have had in their countries of origin, and this can lead to interesting conversations about the differences between politics and police, racism, and imagery and messages in the news. We don’t try to keep our lives and experiences out of the classroom, but we integrate it in our learning and try to create trust and a safe place where we can learn and grow together.
Are there any things your team is doing to support English-language learners in the community?
Jordan: Yes! So many of our ESOL teachers don’t just teach English at PCC; they volunteer and teach citizenship classes, they tutor in the community, and they create Open Educational Resources to provide free text books and materials for students.
I serve as the President of ORTESOL (Oregon Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages), which is an affiliate of TESOL International. In this role, I engage with ESOL instructors throughout the state to learn more about their teaching practices and the different types of English-language learners in Oregon, so that we can collaborate and share resources and best practices as educators. We collaborate with community-based organizations, which are doing exceptional work to support immigrants and refugees, and we have special interest groups that focus on different areas connected to ESOL: refugees and immigrants, K-12, higher education, and advocacy. Working remotely, it has actually been easier to connect with some of our colleagues across the state, and we continue share resources and ideas on how to approach teaching in this new environment.
Are there any new opportunities to look forward to in the ESOL Department?
Jordan: Yes! I am the faculty advisor of the Southeast Campus ESOL Club, and I’m happy to announce the return of the ESOL Club on Zoom! The purpose of the club is for students to practice English, make friends, and have fun. It is open to anyone, and we encourage as many native English speakers to join as possible to give students a chance to practice and connect. We will meet every Friday, from 11 am to noon. Please join us! Contact me (email@example.com) for more information.
Thank you, Davida!