In Focus: Sara Cuniglio
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and when did you decide to pursue teaching?
I am originally from Cali, Colombia and came to this country at the age of 5. I was an English as a Second Language student myself for three years. My teacher, JoAnne Russo had quite an impact on me and my family, thus motivating me--as an adult--to serve as a similar source of support for English language learners in my community. Although my initial plan after college was to pursue a career in International Affairs, my passion for languages and cultures, as well as for teaching, took me in a different direction.
What about Hofstra drew you to apply? Why the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program?
It took me a year after graduating college to decide on TESOL. During that year, I was working as a paralegal while preparing to apply to Law schools. At nights, I was teaching Spanish at an Adult Education program. This experience took me back to my late teen years when I taught ESOL at a different Adult Ed program. I realized that I felt most fulfilled at the times when I was in front of a classroom and that I wanted to follow the example that my parents had set for me as key figures in the Latino community. They were committed to selling life insurance, teaching bilingual social studies, teaching ESOL night classes, representing Latinos in Immigration and other various cases, and helping them achieve the American dream, purchasing a home. My parents had, in many ways, been the reason that so many Latinos in our community had been able to get ahead, despite the many barriers they encountered. I wanted to continue that legacy and TESOL was the perfect arena with which to do so.
While researching schools for a Master’s in TESOL, I came across Hofstra, which felt like the right fight and did not require the GRE. This option seemed quite attractive to me at a time when I felt I had "wasted" a full year heading in the wrong direction and would only lose an extra semester of valuable time if I were to have to study for a new exam to then be able to apply to a Master’s program.
Tell us about a faculty member or several professors that you consider mentors.
The Hofstra faculty member that I felt mentored and supported me the most was Dr. Tatiana Gordon. Besides the fact that her unique immigrant experience drives her philosophy as an ESOL teacher, it is evident from afar how passionate she is about what she does. She taught me that an ESOL teacher teaches everything and that our students depend on us for this. Dr. Gordon is personable and is always available for her students, regardless of her busy schedule and responsibilities as the program director.
How did Hofstra help to coordinate your field experiences? Did you enjoy this portion of the program?
I was fortunate to have my first field experience at a middle school, so that I was able to use an Internship Certificate for the remainder of my fieldwork at the middle/high level upon finding a tenure-track position in ESOL. I did truly enjoy the student teaching AND observations portion of the program. It is so different from what we learn in the classroom, and really complements what we are taught.
Were you able to take on a teaching position during your time in the M.S.Ed. program?
I was a full-time leave replacement, teacher, and tutor during my time there.
What is your advice for students interested in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages?
My advice for people interested in TESOL is: It is the best job in the world, if you are indeed passionate about this student population. As with any job or career, do not go into it unless it is what you really love. I know people who choose this field to be a more competitive candidate or because they think it will be easier than teaching a mainsteam content area. I can attest to the fact that it is by no means easier. It is absolutely different and does not compare, but has its many challenges as well. For those thinking about pursuing TESOL because it is their passion, it is the most rewarding career, with the most motivated and appreciative students and families (in general). You will love every day that you are in the program because every subject taught sheds light on what this population needs from you and what background the students come from. You feel very well prepared once the time comes to step into the classroom and to work with these youngsters who are yearning to receive what you have to teach and what you have to offer to them AND to their families.