Growing up on a “loma” or hill in Colombia with her linguist parents, Cynthia Miller had an early exposure to a variety of languages and cultures. Her daily life in Dallas is still infused with language and culture both at work as the ESOL faculty member at Eastfield Community College (ECC) and at home where she is raising two children with her husband from Tunisia. After leaving Colombia to attend a university in California, Miller then traveled to South Korea to work as an ESL instructor. She chose this profession so she could get paid for traveling the world. But after meeting her husband and starting a family, Miller decided to settle in the Dallas area and continue her education. She is currently working on her PhD in humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Two years ago Miller was hired to restart the ESOL credit program at ECC. Along with dealing with the challenges of building a new program (advertising its existence, getting new students, hiring new staff), Miller carries a full load of teaching five classes, hires and supervises adjuncts, writes course syllabi, and chooses textbooks for the program. Although her responsibilities keep her busy, she enjoys having a job where she makes “a tangible difference in people's lives,” she says.
“I don't just teach my students to speak English -- I'm helping them to communicate with their children's teachers, to express themselves in the workplace, to make their dream of going to college a reality. Because I've navigated the immigrant path as well, I have insight into cultural differences that they encounter, and I try to help them understand the mysteries they come across.” At home she is unraveling these mysteries for her 5-year-old daughter Leila and 3-year-old son Ali as well. “I want to raise my children to be global citizens -- to be aware, and diverse, and interesting,” Miller says. Being a parent has also developed her compassion for the parents she teaches. She says this understanding of what it means to be a parent allows her to connect with her students and they in turn see her as “more human.”
Having a husband who works from home as a software engineer keeps Miller sane while she’s getting ready in the morning. She says, “If I had to get myself and the children ready and off to school or childcare in the morning, I'd be crazy.” She then adds, “a lot more organized, but crazy.” As for the evenings and weekends, Miller often has to work late at the college or bring papers home to grade. She must also devote time to studying for the two graduate courses she is enrolled in herself. Balancing her professional and personal commitments can be stressful. “When I get stressed I get very grumpy, and I want everything to go my way, so I have to take deep breaths and think about how much better it's going to be for all of us if the kids get to help me make pancakes.”