ESL Teacher Dana Neufeld Works Toward a More Inclusive Bay Area

Empowering the local community with a TESOL certificate

English as a Second Language teacher Dana Neufeld had majored in Community Studies at UC Santa Cruz, with a minor in Latin American and Latino Studies. She was offered admission to a master’s and a teaching credential program with a Bilingual, Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development (BCLAD) certificate for teaching bilingual education and had planned to accept.

However, an opportunity to help grow Mariposa Baking Company from the marketing side arose and she jumped at the chance. For nearly a decade, as the Director of Sales and Marketing, she managed that company’s retail, sales and marketing efforts.

But she could not ignore her true calling—to increase English literacy in Spanish-speaking communities—indefinitely.

Dana Neufeld wearing a sun hat and smiling
ESL Teacher Dana Neufeld

Dana’s career is now in bilingual education: working as Assistant Director of the Las Casas ESL Program in Oakland, Calif., and teaching their Introduction to ESL class for absolute beginners. In her day-to-day working with adult low-level English-learners, Dana assesses new students, administers tests and surveys, and manages a database of student records that helps her track student attendance and advancement. She also plans teacher trainings and workshops.

I use the techniques and theories I learned at Extension every single day. I know for a fact that it makes me a better teacher.

How did she realize that this was her passion? With our Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages certificate.

The TESOL Certificate: Career-Change–Friendly

When Dana looked for a path back into teaching, she discovered UC Berkeley Extension’s TESOL program, which fit her needs for a convenient location and the flexibility to study at her own pace.

“I wanted to get my feet wet in the field but didn’t want to commit to a full-time program,” Dana explains. “I also liked the fact that it was a reputable program with the prestige of the UC Berkeley name.”

Working full time and taking classes one at a time, Dana took approximately three years to complete the program. But she’s glad she stuck with it.

“Overall, I enjoyed the program,” Dana reports, “but Methods and Materials for Teaching English as a Second Language and Second-Language Acquisition were the most valuable courses I took. The teachers in these particular courses were inspiring and the teaching methods they used in class were models of what we should be doing with our students in the ESL classroom. Methods and Materials, taught by Carol Lethaby, provided me with current research that shows which teaching methods prove most effective and gave me concrete tools to add to my teaching repertoire. I still occasionally look through my materials from that class!

“Another critical skill that I learned is modeling,” she continues. “By modeling exercises, you give your students more time to understand what's expected of them, to absorb new information and to practice listening. With modeling, you show them rather than tell them what to do. I find that the less talking I do, the better.

Second-Language Acquisition, taught by Dr. Sedique Popal, was extremely engaging and the class material was fascinating. Two of the most important techniques I gained were called i + 1 and lowering the effective filter.

“The idea of i (information) + 1 is to continually push your students to the next level in small, digestible increments,” Dana explains. “Language learning is slow, but must move. Your students need to stay engaged and be challenged, but if you challenge them too much, you will lose them. Understanding what your students have mastered versus what you think they should have mastered are often two different things.

“Lowering the effective filter is ensuring that you create an environment where your students feel safe and comfortable learning. Speaking in a new language requires vulnerability,” Dana points out. “If you can connect with your students on a personal, human level, they will be much more open in the classroom. If you can have fun and be silly yourself, they will see that learning English can and should be fun.”

Volunteering Is the Key

Her advice for students who want to optimize their experience in the TESOL program? Volunteer and get out into the community.

“The program will help you learn what effective teaching should look like, but it’s largely up to you to try it out and put the theory into practice,” says Dana. “While I was a student, I took a volunteer teacher role at Las Casas. I can’t emphasize enough how much that experience enriched my learning during my final courses in the TESOL program.”

Today, Dana continues to work as a volunteer teacher at Las Casas two nights a week. As a Lead Teacher, she is responsible for:

  • creating lesson plans
  • working with her co-teacher to coordinate lessons
  • working with assistant teachers who help in her classroom
  • making recommendations for students to advance to the next level
  • administering tests and evaluations throughout the semester
  • communicating important information regarding attendance and class schedules

She follows a curriculum and uses a textbook for her class, but has the freedom to choose her own supplemental materials and move at the pace that she deems most beneficial to the students. To Dana, acquiring depth of knowledge is more important than covering more material.

Plan Your Path

Dana also suggests that prospective students look ahead.

“Think about how you’d like to use the certificate down the road. Do you want to teach locally? Teach abroad? Transfer to a master’s program? Learn a new skill and volunteer in the classroom?”

Dana’s planning and hard work have paid off, for herself and her students. She is working in a field she loves—that is inclusive and empowers members of her community.

The TESOL certificate has been a wonderful starting point to a new career.

“I am thrilled to be working in the adult ESL field here in the Bay Area,” Dana says proudly. “I love that I’m truly helping empower members of my community through education, which then reverberates in their extended communities. I feel incredibly proud to be on the side of welcoming our diverse neighbors, who are the most hardworking, motivated and appreciative students a teacher could ever ask for. For me, the TESOL certificate has been a wonderful starting point to a new career.

“I use the techniques and theories I learned at Extension every single day,” Dana concludes. “ I feel much more confident about my ability to be an effective teacher after completing the TESOL program. I know for a fact that it makes me a better teacher.”