HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - Mary Brewer has translated her early love of languages into a life's work, lifting hundreds of English as a Second Language students a bit closer to a full, assimilated education during her more than 25 years in the Hastings public schools.
Beginning as a young part-time English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor in 1984, Brewer quickly became a full-time ESL teacher traveling among three of the district’s schools working with children in grades K-12. For the past 18 years, she has been assigned full-time to Hillside Elementary School.
"I have always loved learning languages. I approach them as a series of puzzles to be figured out - 'what does that mean? How does that grammar work?' " Brewer said. "After many years of living in and learning/using the language of other countries, I found myself back in the U.S., wanting to stay challenged in that way. I was lucky to discover that teaching others to figure out another language was just as exciting as doing it myself - and maybe more so, since for my students it means survival and success."
Brewers' dedication to her "art" and profession was recognized by her peers and the district when school began this September. Superintendent Roy Montesano recognized Brewer in his address to the faculty and staff.
“Although this is just my second year in Hastings, I have heard many great stories regarding Mary’s dedication to the students and district. Mary brings fresh insights into the classroom every day and ignites a quest for learning in all the students she has worked with in Hastings,” Montesano said.
In addition to being an ESL teacher, Brewer was a Reading Recovery and Early Literacy teacher for more than a decade; and for the past four years, she also has provided English Language Arts support as part of the Response to Intervention team at Hillside.
"Mary Brewer is an incredible asset and resource to the Hillside community. Her expertise and experience in English Language Arts as well as English as a Second Language has provided the opportunity for our children to meet their potential and beyond,” said Hillside School Principal Laura Sullivan.
Remaining motivated as a teacher hasn’t been difficult for Brewer, who has studied more than 10 languages.
“As the curriculum gets more and more complex, it is my job to make it more accessible to all of my students by figuring out the gaps and ways to bridge them," she said. "I love working with classroom teachers to examine the language demands of the curriculum and find ways to modify it for students who struggle,” she explained.
Brewer says that because of her own fascination with foreign languages, she fell in love with teaching children how to unlock the mysteries of English, and the printed word, “I love the a ha! Now I get it, moments.”
Brewer earned a B.A. in linguistics from the University of Rochester and a M.A. in linguistics form SUNY-Buffalo, where she also began work toward a PhD in theoretical historical morphology. Her studies have taken her to the Universitaet zu Koeln, in Cologne, Germany. She trained as a Reading Recovery teacher through the Southern Westchester BOCES, and has New York State Certification in Reading and English as a Second Language.
A quarter century of teaching has brought great changes for Brewer and her students.
"Now, we not only have Common Core Learning Standards and a NYS curriculum that all ELLs (English Language Learners) are expected to master, but New York is also developing 'New Language Arts Progressions' which establish expectations all different proficiency levels in each grade," she said.
Brewer said a huge amount of collaboration with classroom teachers and support from the administration is necessary to deal with the complexity of the material that mirrors the complexity of the world that all of our students are growing up in.
"I discovered that teaching young children to read is often a matter of unlocking the mysteries of print so there are many parallels with teaching English as a Second Language: through close and constant observation, find out what is confusing, and then try to make it clear."
Brewer has made a challenging career as simple as translating her love of language to children with a hunger to learn.