NJALL Teacher of the Year 2014
Bloomfield resident Mary O’Connor, a tutor for Literacy Volunteers of America at the Bloomfield Public Library, Has been selected as “Teacher of the Year” by the New Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning, the largest adult education association in the state. O’Connor served as the principal at Marylawn of the Orange Academy in South Orange from 1992 to 2008.
O’Connor Joined LVA in autumn 2009 after having retired from Marylawn, where she had previously taught English.
Ina a telephone interview last week, she said it had been her ambition, as a high school teacher, to someday teach adults. She is doing it now.
But a lot of tutors, she said, are not from educational backgrounds. They could be anything from lawyers or cooks, and they have a hard time teaching at first. And so she tries to help them get started. O’Connor said they have to be told to do something concrete, such as going through a newspaper and circling articles that might be of interest to her students and then bringing the newspaper to the class for use as a study tool.
Part of the reason she is tutoring for LVA is because of what her father had told her about his experience learning English as a second language.
“LVA seemed the right match for me,” she said. “I like teaching immigrants or Americans who got short-changed."
Her father was an immigrant. His name was John Bruno and he came from Sicily. He lived with her on Williamson Street during the last years of his life.
“He learned English back in the ‘20s,” she said. “He went to night school in Brooklyn to become a citizen and he looked back on this fondly. He became a citizen in 1927.”
O’Connor now teaches immigrants herself. They are mostly from South America, though some are from Liberia, Egypt and Israel.
“And a student who is American,” she said. “He just slipped through the cracks.”
This man dropped out of school when he was 16, she said. He is now 64. He would come to Bloomfield Public Library for English lessons all the way from Paterson.
“He was a student for over a year,” she said. “But he had health issues and had to cancel.”
But some people doggedly take o English as a second language. O’Connor saw the improvements of a woman from Ecuador who has been coming to the library for three years for her language lessons.
“She was taking classes because of her children,” O’Connor said. “It always seems to be a goal of these women to be a part of their children’s schools.”
This woman was even able to find employment in a local market because her English had improved.
“She took what she learned and applied it,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor’s students, even though she sees them for only two hours each week, become very important to her.
By Daniel Jackovino –Staff Writer at The Independent Press