The first language is caring

Courtesy photo Lindsay Adam

Lindsay Adam honored as Teacher of the Year

Learning geometry,

European history, microbiology or trying

to remember all the 19th century Romantic

poets is a challenge for any high school

student. Imagine trying to comprehend those

subjects after moving to the United States

from another country without the ability to

speak English.

Everything is new and unfamiliar – school,

the culture, the geography and the language.

Homesickness, isolation and the financial

uncertainty families face as they try to put

down roots can add to the stress.

Teachers in English language learning

(ELL) programs play a crucial role in helping

young people adapt to their new home. Over

five years, Sublette County School District

No. 1 ELL Coordinator Lindsay Adam put

in countless hours teaching students English,

providing academic support and helping her

students navigate their new lives.

On May 8, the district recognized Adam’s

dedication and named her 2021 Teacher of

the Year.

“Lindsay embodies the district’s standard

of performance,” said Superintendent Jay

Harnack. “We are extremely proud to have

her represent our district in the statewide

competition for Wyoming Teacher of the


Adam said the award came as a shock. In

addition to teaching, Adam and her wife are

foster parents. The challenge of supporting

young people at home and in the classroom

during the pandemic is “one of the hardest

things I’ve ever done,” she said.

“I have spent a lot of time these past few

months feeling like none of the kids in my

life are getting everything they truly need,”

she said. “So yeah, this award has been

unexpected and very surprising. It’s an honor

and validating for myself, but really makes

me feel like my students are important. I

know they’re important, but they don’t always

know that.”

Learning on a continuum

Adam works with about 50 students at the

high school, middle school and elementary

school. The job is more than simply teaching

students how to speak, read and write in


Federal and state statutes require districts

to provide a full education for English

language learners, so Adam’s students attend

regular classes in addition to time spent

learning English. Part of Adam’s role is

providing academic support to ELL students

Courtesy photo

in all academic subjects. She also works with

teachers to tailor learning plans for students

learning English.

One moment, Adam is “altering

assignments on the fly so that they’re a

little more simple linguistically.” The next

moment, she is sitting down with a student

and communicating with Google Translate.

“I try to model English as well as I can,”

she said. “I’m always talking and moving

with my arms and using gestures or pointing

at diagrams and pictures. I’m usually not

doing that to teach English. I’m usually

working through geometry with them, or

photosynthesis in biology.”

Adam’s ELL students come from different

cultures and countries, from Mexico to the

Phillipines, China and Peru. Some ELL

students received a rigorous education in the

country where they were born, while others

may have “undiagnosed learning disabilities,”

Adam said.

Becoming “proficient” enough to pass the

state standardized tests in ELL takes years.

“Research shows that it takes five to seven

years to go from zero to proficient. And that’s

with really good instruction in the content and

the support that I provide.”

The time commitment can be frustrating at

times for both the students and their teachers.

Adam helps all involved in the process realize

that learning English is on a “continuum.”

“If a student is good at reading and writing

in their first language, they move up the first

couple of months on that continuum really

fast. It’s really cool to watch them all of a

sudden be able to communicate, ‘I need to go

to my locker because I don’t have my book.’

That’s a major milestone. It takes a year to

get to that point. Then to get from there to

‘the three main causes of the Cold War are...’

That’s a long slog that I don’t think a lot of

people understand.”


Adam did not initially set out to be an

ELL teacher. After majoring in history and

Spanish, she landed a job at a bulk software

leasing company in Seattle. Adam quickly

found that office work was not for her. When

a supervisor left, Adam moved into a training


“All of a sudden, I loved my job. I realized

it was because I was teaching.”

Adam went back to school at the University

of Washington and became a Spanish teacher.

Adam hoped to return to Idaho where she

grew up, but a better position opened in Big

Piney. After six years at Big Piney High

School, Adam was “ready for students who

needed me a lot more and the challenge of

teaching ELL.”

Teaching ELL requires the ability to

connect with the students. Adam traveled and

lived abroad in countries from Guatemala

to South Korea. Crossing the globe helped

Adam realize that her students come to

America for a variety of reasons and that

their homelands are “beautiful places” that

“they really miss.”

On top of the stress of moving to a new

country, ELL students sometimes have to

deal with anti-immigrant attitudes. Adam

said teachers and students at Pinedale High

School are overwhelmingly “welcoming and

kind.” Yet there are people that can make life

difficult for her students.

“On top of their new life being so hard

and isolating, they’re not always welcome,”

she said. “You have a 12-year-old kid under

immense family pressure to learn English

and do well in school and then they have to

face bigotry.”

Adam expects her students to work hard,

but she creates an environment where they

feel accepted and comfortable. This can

involve introducing students that grew up in

tropical regions to snow.

“We took the kids tubing at White Pine.

They were so scared, they were pretty sure

I was trying to kill them. But we just had so

much fun.”

Adam credits her wife for reminding her

that relationships matter.

“I have two classes I have to be in, but the

rest of my day is time to figure out who are

the kids that need help, who are their parents,

getting to know everyone and helping their

teachers help the students. I remember telling

my wife, ‘Who am I to come in and tell

teachers how to change the way they’re doing

things in their class? I don’t feel like I’m the

expert. My wife said, ‘You are not the expert

on teaching, but you are the expert on these

kids. You will get to know them, and you will

know what they need, and you will advocate

for them.’ I practice that every day.”


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