As you walk into Joan Looker’s classroom, there are chairs scattered in a non-uniform, functional manner. There are little international trinkets all over — a multicolored round wicker basket, painted dolls, posters and, of course, a globe.
This is the English Language Learner (ELL) room at Roosevelt High School — front and center — just as you walk into the building.
“When I was a kid, I always had pen pals from different countries,” says Looker. “I was also in the Peace Corps years ago, and I love to travel.”
And so she landed the perfect career for her — an ELL teacher. She also says she feels she doesn’t have to travel, as the world comes to her through her students.
“I really enjoy meeting each of their parents as well,” she says.
There are many things to like about ninth through 12th grade students. Mostly she enjoys their enthusiasm and idealism.
“They all want to make the world a better place,” Looker says.
Her students come from approximately 40 different countries and speak Nepali, Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese and Swahili, to name a few. The 2013 graduating seniors will honor three Vietnamese students as valedictorians — all from her ELL class.
Looker appreciates the fact that the Roosevelt administration is very welcoming to her students. She loves that her room is placed front and center right as you walk in the front doors and enjoys that her students can use it as a gathering place if need be.
Not only are her days filled with ELL material, she also focuses on motivating her students to continue on to college and to reach for scholarships. She speaks of the American culture and assures her students it’s not the same as what they see on TV and movies. She also watches CNN Student News with her classes and keeps them abreast of current news.
The next big event she is excited about is taking approximately 60 ELL students to Adventureland.
“This will be the first time some of these students will have ever been to an amusement park,” she shares.
The Roosevelt Foundation named Looker 2013 Teacher of the Year. She is retiring in June. She plans to extend her career and work as the student teacher supervisor for Iowa State University.