In our interview with NU alumna Morgaine Enfiejian-Stewart (’13 & ’15), Morgaine discusses her experience teaching ESL in Guam. She details the differences between life in Western New York and the lifestyle in Guam and reflects on the ways in which her teacher education programs at Niagara helped her to succeed in her new and challenging teaching position. Morgaine explains that NU’s education programs were instrumental in preparing her for success, especially considering the many cultural differences between the U.S. and Guam.
College of Education: Hi, Morgaine. We heard that you recently began an exciting teaching career. Where are you currently working?
Morgaine Enfiejian-Stewart: I am currently working at Agueda Johnston Middle School in Ordot, Guam. I am a sheltered ESL teacher, teaching math and social studies to ESL students from the Micronesian Islands.
COE: What an incredible opportunity! What degree did you earn at NU that enabled you to teach abroad?
MES: I received a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education in May of 2013 and I finished my master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in May of 2015.
COE: What inspired you to teach internationally?
MES: I was recently married someone in the Coast Guard. The spring that I was supposed to finish my Master’s degree, my husband got orders to go to Guam for three years and work on one of the Coast Guard ships here. I had to decide whether to stay in Buffalo alone for three years, or go with him to Guam. To be honest, I had never even heard of Guam, and I had to look it up on a map to see where it was. After a lot of thinking, I decided to head to Guam. I had just finished my master’s degree and I felt the timing was perfect. It was scary and exciting at the same time, but I knew it was a great opportunity for me. Part of the reason I chose to pursue a master’s degree in TESOL was because the degree would enable me to teach internationally.
COE: How is life different in Guam?
MES: When you compare life on Guam to life in Western New York, it’s very different. The island lifestyle is very laidback, and slower than it is in the States. There is a huge sense of community around Guam, and there are always fun things going on in the different communities. Instead of shoveling out my car and hibernating this winter, I have been paddle boarding, hiking and snorkeling, which has been an exciting change.
COE: How is the education system on Guam different from the American education system?
MES: Because Guam is a U.S. territory, the education system here is very similar to the education system of the United States. The main difference is the various mandates that are being passed within the school system. Even when you just look at how the ESL programs are run, there is a marked difference between Guam and the U.S. New York State recently moved toward a co-teaching ESL model that calls for collaboration between general education and ESL teachers in the classroom, and on Guam they are using a sheltered program model that integrates language and content instruction.
COE: Did you find it difficult to adjust to the teaching profession on Guam? If so, what helped you acclimate?
MES: The biggest change was adjusting to the difference in the ESL program models. For a while I was taking things day-by-day while I was getting used to the program. As time went on, I was able to start to plan ahead a lot more as I became more comfortable with the program and the school. I was never afraid to ask questions, and that helped me a lot. If I was ever unsure about something, I always asked someone. It helped me to become much more comfortable at the school and effective in the classroom.
COE: How did NU prepare you for success in your current position?
MES: I felt very prepared going to interviews and starting my new career because of my education at Niagara. Niagara does an excellent job of teaching students the most recent and up-to-date research in education. Education changes all the time, and I really felt like I knew a lot about the current practices in education when I began interviewing. And, when it came to interviewing, I was able to use my portfolio that I created as part of my master’s program to highlight my skills and competencies. All of the assignments that I included in my portfolio were relevant to what I would be doing in the real world as a teacher. I was proud to show my body of work to my potential employers because it was relevant to the job.
COE: What is your favorite part of working with your students?
MES: I love when I see them excited to come to my class. I have been able to make a real connection with my students and get to know each of them. It’s great when they ask me if they can stay after class to help me or if they can do extra work. I want them to feel good about coming to school, and it’s nice to see them motivated to come to class and learn.
COE: What are your biggest challenges as a teacher and how do you try to overcome them?
MES: One of the biggest challenges I have faced is getting students engaged in learning, especially when it comes to math. When I am using a certain strategy and I see that I am losing my students, I remember to adapt my style in order to reach all of the diverse learners in my classroom the best that I can and really get them motivated to learn. I recently made a lot of changes in my math classes in order to scaffold and differentiate activities and I have seen a drastic improvement in my students’ learning. It’s important to recognize that the same strategy isn’t going to work for all students and that teachers need to be able to make adjustments to help all students learn.
COE: What advice can you give to current students pursuing the degree that you received from NU?
MES: My time at Niagara went by so fast. I would tell current students to take advantage of every opportunity to learn at Niagara. Every aspect of the program is designed to prepare you for your future career as a teacher, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment. I love being at work, and a certain topic will come up, and I think to myself, “I learned about this!” Sometimes it can be really scary being the new teacher at a school, especially when you are also a recent graduate, but I felt well-prepared with tools to address every situation I have encountered because of the education I received at Niagara University.