Learn English at the Library: A Conversation with ESL Teacher Cris

Earth with flags of various countries and trees

San Jose Public Library offers a variety of ESL (English as a Second Language) and citizenship classes for immigrants and English learners.  Recently, I sat down with Cris Johnson, the Family Learning Center Coordinator at Seven Trees Branch Library, to discuss the classes that she teaches. Cris has been teaching English for over ten years, and has a Master's Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of San Francisco. For Cris, teaching English is more than just a career; it is her passion.

How long have you been an ESL teacher for the library?

I've been teaching ESL since my hire date of Sept. 2007.

Why did you become an ESL teacher?

I was going through a career change and teaching was one of the top career choices in the Meyers Briggs test I took. I decided to give it a try by first getting a program certificate, I was hooked and the rest is history.

What is your favorite thing about teaching English?

There are several favorite moments that I cherish.  First and foremost is see how the students gain self confidence and self-esteem, turning them from shy and soft spoken to assertive and outspoken. Second, I treasure the words and cards and of appreciation that I receive: "you're like a big sister" or "thank you for teaching us", "thanks for your time and patience".  Finally, I value their input during class discussions which becomes a learning moment for me also, they share information about their customs, traditions and culture; what they think about the U.S. and what challenges they encounter when trying to assimilate and become mainstream New Americans.

What kind of classes do you offer?

I offer classes in the 4 skill areas: Reading, Writing, Speaking, & Listening. My classes are about 85% Speaking and Listening, 10% Reading and 5% Writing.  This came about because the students expressed their need to speak like a native speaker and be able to listen well without fear of being embarrassed. Most of the students are quite proficient in grammar and are able to read too and I wanted them to walk away with a tool they can use in their daily life. Speaking well is one such tool.

Who can come to the classes?

The participants must be at least 18 years old and English is a second (or foreign) language for them. Since this is a program offered by the library, any member of the public may attend all the free classes offered. I do recommend that the student attend the correct level i.e. Advance, Advance-Intermediate, High Beginning and Low Beginning. I also give out handouts for each class.  They come from our FLC collection which I recommend to all of the participants.

Anything else you'd like people to know about your classes?

I'd like them to know that the class size is small and therefore everyone has a chance to participate.  I have customized lesson materials, which vary for every skill level.  To enhance the learning experience I also have as a supplement, audio cd's, YouTube learning videos and DVDs. Every session is a stand alone and this is important to students who have conflicting schedules.  They can come at any day or time they are available without missing anything from prior lesson/materials.

Find ESL Classes at the Library:

Or Study English Online:


Should it say "Advanced, Advance-Intermediated," instead of "Advance, Advance-Intermediate?"

At the Hillview branch, Ms. Cris had also hosted a children's reading program that helped inspire confidence in my shy child. I appreciate what she does for our community.

I wish to do conversation with some people from the United States

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