Value the Mother Tongue

Yin Lam Lee-Johnson by window

Yin Lam Lee-Johnson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Teaching English as a Second Language
School of Education

“My class is full of laughter and lively discussions.”

Yin Lam Lee-Johnson is an assistant professor in the School of Education, where she teaches teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL). We asked her what makes her tick, how she runs a classroom, and how she came to want to improve the way we teach students for whom English isn’t their native tongue.


How would you describe your teaching style?

My class is full of laughter and lively discussions. We use Just Dance for incorporating total physical response in teaching ESL in one class and we create fun games for teaching ESL in another. We highly value the mother tongues and family literacy practices of the teacher candidates and their students in the classroom. My students tell me they feel accepted and respected for who they are, and that’s certainly the value I try to convey to them.

Why is it important to create that lively, respectful atmosphere?

I know that if they experience positive energy in my class, they will model the same atmosphere in their very own classrooms. Every student in my class learns to build a community with me as a facilitator. We co-construct knowledge together, by doing research projects, reviewing teaching videos and critiquing academic articles.

My students tell me they feel valued, respected, and celebrated in my classroom. At the same time, I have very high expectations of them, so we read new publications in top-tier journals and we form discussion groups about important topics in the field. I care about the academic value they receive in my class and I want them to experience the best education ever.


Yin Lam Lee-Johnson at desk

What motivates you?

I was an immigrant child in Hong Kong when my parents moved from mainland China to Hong Kong in 1985. I witnessed how my parents struggled in learning English because of zero English instruction in mainland China at the time. Growing up as an immigrant child, I experienced marginalization and discrimination all my life.

I tried very hard to hide my accent but there were still giveaways because of the socioeconomic gaps between me and my classmates. At that time, I was ashamed of my mom’s strong Mandarin accent and so I did not want her to show up at the parent-teacher meeting.

The schooling system has marginalized minority students through hidden curriculum and the unawareness of their emotion needs. I do not want any immigrant child to experience the same.

Moving to a new country and learning a new language is a traumatic experience. I want to become an advocate and a voice for immigrant children and adults who are living in the USA. I want to motivate classroom teachers to develop empathy and compassion towards English language learners.

How does teaching at Webster help you develop that empathy in students?

Webster values small class size and close relationships between the professors and students. I really enjoy the intellectual conversations that I have with my students. They inspired me in many different ways and I am truly thankful of the opportunity to learn with them.

I fully embrace the Webster spirit and I love building lifelong relationships with my students. I still receive phone calls, cards, and emails from my students who graduated many years ago.

Webster is about global citizenship, and culturally responsive teaching is a key element in my classes. My teaching values diversity, cultural awareness and equity, which resonate with the Webster values.

What is the focus of your scholarship in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages?

My publications and conference presentations focus on telling the lived experiences of international students, immigrants, and refugees in the USA. I have published substantially in TESOL and language education journals.

In the future, I would like to develop a therapeutic pedagogy that stems from education, psychology, and counseling. Many immigrants experienced traumatic experiences and I believe that educators should be equipped with the right discourse skills and counseling strategies to handle the affective domains of learning and the transnational stress.

Yin Lam Lee-Johnson outside Webster Hall

What is your favorite travel destination?

Santorini in Greece: The blue and white houses, sunset, and the beautiful Aegean Sea.

What's always in your suitcase?

Nintendo 3Ds. I love video games and I am investigating how we can have teaching strategies which utilize video games in the classroom.

Besides a personable, fun and lively personality you take to the Webster classroom, what three words best describe you?

Passionate, warm and eager to learn.


 

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