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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Marlena Rios

Marlena Rios is a teacher with a BA in Spanish, and a MA in Applied Linguistics (T.E.S.O.L.) from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has been teaching courses in English as a Second Language (ESL) since 2002. At the higher education level, Marlena has given ESL courses at Roosevelt University and the University of Illinois in Chicago. She has also taught ESL courses through the College of DuPage, Waubonsee Community College in Aurora and Harper College at both the academic and adult-education level. Currently Marlena is also an ESL tutor at Saint Therese of Jesus Catholic School in Aurora. She also privately tutors professionals on speech patterns in the English language.  Marlena lives in Aurora with her husband and three children.

Carmen: Marlena, thank you for granting this interview to Profiles in Catholicism.

Marlena: Thank you for the opportunity! I’m very humbled to be interviewed for Profiles in Catholicism.

Carmen: Which is your current church parish? Please explain when and why did you join it?

Marlena: We have belonged to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Aurora, IL since 2004. We love all the ministries in our parish and have participated in Catholic Engaged Encounter, C.R.H.P. (Christ Renews His Parish), and Theology-on-Tap.

Carmen: What was your motivation to continue postsecondary studies on English as a Second Language (ESL)? Why a MA on Applied Linguistics?

Marlena: I studied abroad during my undergraduate years and was placed into an internship downtown San Jose, Costa Rica in a business college - Boston Colegio Universitario where I shadowed an ESL instructor. It opened my eyes to loving and learning about other cultures and languages and guided me to pursue my M.A. in applied linguistics and teaching language. Even though I have enjoyed teaching at the postsecondary level, I love the freedom of teaching part-time because it has allowed me to instruct around my children’s busy schedules, whether it’s an evening class or two in the summer, or morning classes during the school year. 

Carmen: Did the fact that you are bilingual in English and Spanish guide your educational choices?

Marlena: Having studied a second language has certainly helped me understand how my students feel. I was born and raised in Naperville, IL and met my husband, who is originally from Puerto Rico, in college. I can identify with my students and their experiences with moving to a new country, experiencing a new culture, and learning a new language. 

Carmen: Your teaching praxis has followed what I would call a reversed path. You first taught at the postsecondary level and you are teaching now at the elementary level. Considering that our goal as teachers – especially in the XXI century – is college readiness, do you find your career path illuminating?

Marlena: We could call my path a reversed path or a diverse path! I currently teach classes at both the post-secondary level while tutoring at St. Therese of Jesus Catholic School in Aurora. I’m trying to diversify my portfolio because of the uncertainty the conflict with the Illinois state budget generates and the uncertainty public schools face with all the adjustments and cuts they’re facing.

At St. Therese of Jesus Catholic School, the goal is to develop the students’ moral values in conjunction with their academic talents. I play a small role in helping the students who struggle with language and academic vocabulary as a pull-out small group tutor. I work with kids from pre-school to 8th grade! I love being a part of their day while helping them, teaching them, nurturing them and playing games with them!

On the other hand, the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), who provides funding for adult education, is focused on career-readiness and will fund programs that can show achievement through students gaining employment. As an instructor, this is frustrating because I think our goal should be to provide the tools necessary for students to decide how they can best succeed, whether that’s college, vocational training, being supportive parents, and/or successful community members. These students are highly motivated and enthusiastic to learn English. It could mean a better life for their families or their immigrant children!

I have also privately tutored two priests, one from India and one from Vietnam on clear speech pronunciation in the English language. This was an amazing opportunity! Seminary prepares them with language instruction, but sometimes individualized focused attention on American English speech patterns can be helpful. Because I’ve always been a part of a large parish, this was the first time I have ever had a personal interaction and connection to individual priests! We even had them over to our house for dinner and it was so unbelievably interesting to hear about how their lives were so different in India and Vietnam! Another couple I tutored was from China, here on work VISAS. They came to our wedding and sat with my parents at their table! I cherish the relationships that develop through my tutoring work! I cherish the diverse settings in which I can play a small part in helping others! 

Carmen: In what manner does your religious evolution influence your teaching praxis?

Marlena: I feel my faith has prepared me to be a compassionate, kind, and understanding teacher who provides a conduit of American culture to my immigrant students. Our immigrants carry heavy crosses and I strive to try to make their lives a tiny bit easier in whatever way I can. 

Carmen: Imagine for a moment that any of Jesus’ disciples, let us say Mary Magdalene, was granted the opportunity to visit us at this time, what would be, in your opinion, her one advice to teachers?

Marlena: She would probably quote my hero, Blessed Mother Theresa and say “Whatever you do for your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for God. All we do, our prayers, our work, our suffering is for Jesus.” Mary Magdalene would probably say the most important advice for teachers is to love others, value them, and pray for them.

Carmen: Marlena, with permission from our readers, I take advantage of this opportunity to thank you for your service to our students. Your role as a mother and a compassionate teacher is not small by any measure. I saw them flourish under your wise guidance and I appreciate more than words can express our fellowship.

Marlena: Thanks again for this opportunity. I feel extremely blessed in my small role as a mom and a teacher and I love my vocation.

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