Faculty Spotlight – Carol Smithson
15 April 2021
Carol Smithson always loved children and teaching, so no one was surprised when she decided to focus her own education on Preschool and Elementary Education. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and an M.Ed. from Towson University in Maryland. After college, Carol happily spent 35 years teaching kindergarten and first grade in Harford County Public Schools, explaining, “I felt I could make a difference for my students while making things fun.”
Not long after Carol retired from HCPS, her daughter-in-law came across a job posting at Harford she thought her mother-in-law would be perfect for. Carol applied, was promptly hired as an Instructional Aide in 2007, and soon was promoted to an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor in the Adult Development & Literacy Program, where she teaches today.
Carol contributes her success as an ESL instructor to her prior experience. “Teaching students how to read and write proved to be extremely beneficial in teaching English language learners, especially lower-level and non-literate adult learners,” she said. Not only has she taught all levels of ESL, Carol has had the privilege of working and mentoring bilingual ESL aides while they worked at the College. Many of them later secured employment as ESL instructors in Spain, South Korea and Thailand. Several of her mentees are currently working or have worked as ESL aides in the adult literacy program at Harford. When she’s not teaching, Carol has volunteered her time to serve on committees to help choose textbooks for ESL classes and also attends conferences and workshops to improve ESL learning.
ESL students face unique challenges and Carol has played a pivotal role in helping her students achieve their dreams of pursuing college, obtaining viable employment in Harford County, and becoming U.S. citizens. Her philosophy of “living life to the fullest, taking each day as it comes and making lemonade out of lemons” has proven to be a useful approach when working with her students. “ESL students face many life situations, finding work, a place to live, raising families and building confidence to begin a new life in the United States. I teach them how to shop, find places to live, find medical help, adjust to their new surroundings, speak English more often, and adjust to their new lives while learning from their mistakes,” explained Carol.
She is very hands-on when it comes to helping her students assimilate into the community. Prior to the pandemic, Carol organized both community activities and field trips to the local library for students to get their library card, go bargain shopping for food and clothing, treasure hunt at the Historical Society and explore other local attractions where students could learn about Harford County. She arranged for medical professionals from Upper Chesapeake Health to visit her classes to inform students on how to access important medical and dental services in the community. “The most important thing for students is to create a solid foundation not only to speak and understand English, but to feel confident socially and economically. We teach that it is okay to make mistakes because the students learn from them and that helps them become a competent and secure person in their new adopted country,” Carol added.
Carol is one of the most flexible and adaptable instructors in the ESL program. After the College adopted asynchronous learning as a result of the pandemic, she quickly adapted to using Zoom as the online teaching platform. Carol was also successfully able to coach students with limited English proficiency on how to set up their Zoom account as well as helping them adjust to the new teaching platform. This was no small feat since many of our ESL students did not possess digital literacy skills prior to switching to the online format.
Moreover, from the summer 2020 semester through spring 2021 semester, Carol not only taught using Zoom, but also used Microsoft Teams as a teaching platform. She was able to move seamlessly from one teaching platform to the next as well as assist her students to navigate between both online platforms. “Teaching remotely makes it difficult to create the deep bond that’s possible when we’re face-to-face. We’ve spent more time personally tutoring students. We provide more electronic text and more homework to compensate for not being in class. This can be both frustrating and rewarding. I try to encourage the students to do their best work,” said Carol.
In addition, Carol incorporated Burlington English, an online English language learning software program, into her virtual classes. Burlington English has been a wonderful asset for Harford’s ESL students’ progress, and Carol’s willingness to fully embrace it has resulted in increased student engagement and measurable skill gains – a welcomed outcome from the Maryland Department of Labor.
Helping ESL students gain confidence in their ability to converse meaningfully in English is one of the most difficult tasks for ESL teachers; however, Carol has the ability to help English language learners feel comfortable taking risks with English. Because of her warm and nurturing personality, her ESL students are fully engaged in the learning process even in an online environment. “My key accomplishment at Harford is giving students the assurance that we care about their issues and helping them improve their lives,” said Carol. “I would like to think my students consider me helpful, noncritical, approachable, sincere, and understanding. My desire for them is to learn to feel content and successful and learn from their mistakes, and most of all to believe in themselves,” added Carol.
When she has some free time, she likes to spend it with family and friends, read, collect elephants, and most of all, shop. Carol Smithson’s passionate mission to empower Harford’s ESL students to become successful, confident members of our community is why she is featured as this month’s Faculty Spotlight. You and your stellar efforts are deeply appreciated, Carol – keep up the amazing work!