Ruthie Wiles, English as a Second Language (ESL) Paducah Tilghman High School
Making Paducah Home to Students from Abroad
Ruthie Wiles is the veteran teacher among this group. For the last two decades, she has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). Her career in ESL shortly after moving to Paducah and starting a job as a substitute teacher. She as assigned to tutor a child from China who spoke no English. Just two weeks after she started tutoring this young lady, two more students arrived from China….then two more…and soon she found herself teaching seven students, all Chinese. She spoke Mandarin. They spoke no English. The following school year she was hired full-time and had 10 students from China in her classroom.
Over the years, she has taught English at Paducah Tilghman High School to an eclectic mix of nationalities. “Today I have mainly Hispanic students from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico as well as students from China, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. I have had students from Palestine, Russia, Japan, India, Iran, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Columbia, and Brazil, and worked with Foreign Exchange Students from Spain, France, Belgium, Mongolia, Thailand, as well as Brazil and Columbia. I do not speak any of those languages, although when people ask, I like to joke and say ‘Sure, I speak them all.’ This is not true, of course. Just English. But then English is what I am teaching. When I have a lot of students speaking many languages, it gets interesting and fun. They have to speak English to each other if they want to communicate because that is the only language they have in common. It is so much fun to watch them!”
Ms. Wiles dedication to her students extends far beyond an English classroom. Over the years she has helped students with other subjects like cooking, sewing, art, math, science, social studies, and computers. She set a goal for herself to learn with them so she’d know how to help them. At one point her classroom had a sewing machine set up in it. She took her students shopping for fabric and helped them learn to read a pattern.
She’s taken her students to art shows, the Quilt Show, a working farm in the fall, visits to the pumpkin patch for Halloween, and other cultural event that allows them to see the world we live in here in Paducah, ensuring they feel a part of it. Ms. Wiles does not allow language barriers to prevent her students from experiencing high school any differently than their peers. She encourages them to join sports teams, go to games, and join extracurricular activities. This not only helps them feel part of this community but also gives them greater opportunities to use their developing English skills.
“I never thought I would love teaching ELLs so much. They are very special people. These students want to learn and most are very aggressive about it. My greatest reward is seeing one of my students succeed in learning English but also succeeding in life. Many have gone to college or technical schools. They have a great life and now some are married with children. I do not feel that I just teach English; I also teach culture. I do not want to change my students’ culture, but I want them to feel comfortable in ours. We try to embrace each other’s cultures and celebrate holidays like Independence Day in Latin America, Chinese New Year, or the Moon (Autumn) Festival. They made posters for Earth Day since that is a global problem.”
Ms. Wiles believes that teaching English as a Second Language is a calling. “If you are going to be a teacher, you must love teaching kids and seeing them learn. That is a given. You must have a passion for teaching and compassion for your students. You must show them discipline and love at the same time. You are not just teaching a subject matter but skills that they can use. When I taught Math, I taught Geometry and I tried to teach skills like logic that I knew the students would use later in life, no matter what career or job they chose. Most important for any teacher to learn is to be flexible!”