Teaching a new language brings with it a few challenges, but Latifa Ali has navigated those waters, helped convert learning online and monitored her students’ progress even after the class is over, earning her the 2021 Adjunct Professor of the Year Award.

Since 2013, Ali primarily has taught English as a Second Language (ESL) but also instructs critical thinking, citizenship and career awareness within Adult Basic Education. In 2018, she started building curriculum for her classes to go online based on the needs of her students. Many are from other countries and couldn’t always make it to campus because of a lack of transportation or no child care. Ali worked tirelessly with Anthony Marcasciano, manager of Instructional Development Services, to transfer her classes online and earn a certificate in Online Teaching Proficiency, which made a difference once COVID-19 forced everyone to work from home. This was, in part, why her nominator recommended her for the honor.

“Latifa connects with her students like no other instructor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she used all forms of communication to reach out to her students to make sure they are able to complete class work and attend class on time. She managed 50 students in one class and taught them how to use Canvas, email and other forms of technology to make ESL possible for these adults,” her nominator explained.

This online format was a helpful model for other instructors. She also helped instructors facilitate Zoom, Webex and Canvas during the pandemic.

In working with students, Ali tends to exhibit flexibility and differentiates learning outcomes. She uses hands-on activities, group work and technology. The activity may change daily but always with the same goal in mind. She also conducts one-on-one Zoom sessions, encourages students to present in front of their peers and exposes them to all resources available at the college. Once they finish her class, they can move on and register for credit classes.

Ali said she has students who are doctors, lawyers, accountants or teachers, so they have the knowledge just not the language. The hardest part of the job is teaching English to those who don’t even know how to read in their native tongue. But Ali knows how to work through it with inspiring results. “It’s wonderful to see an adult for the first time read in any language. It changes their whole life,” she said.

Ali speaks Arabic and is literate in Spanish, which helps connect her to the class. Working with such a varied group of individuals expands her knowledge of the world and other cultures.

“I love my job. I feel like I’ve been all over the world. I learn so much. I feel like I’ve learned more from my students than they learn from me,” she said. Ali assists students with job interviews, transferring college credit courses and applying for scholarships. She has taken them to the college Job Fair and shares information about citizenship, GED and housing opportunities. She also has volunteered to lead conversation classes for English learners. With all the work she does, earning the award was never on her radar.

“I’m flattered and honored to receive this award. I didn’t expect it. It feels really good to be appreciated by your team and all your colleagues. I’m very excited. I’ve always credited my success to Moraine Valley,” Ali said. “Thank you to my colleagues for their support. I’m very grateful for my team and department. They’re just wonderful, and they care about each other and thrive on others’ successes.”