By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Stuyvesant Town resident Linda Farhood-Karasavva began teaching English in the 1970s, she spent more of her time speaking Arabic.
Farhood-Karasavva, who was recently given the Distinguished Teaching Award by the Schools of Public Engagement at the New School, currently teaches writing for the university’s English as a second language (ESL) program but she began her career in Morocco when she joined the Peace Corps in 1976, communicating primarily in Arabic.
She knew she wanted to be a teacher when she went to college, but the slight detour in the volunteer program worked out in her favor.
“That’s where I got my training and then it was the easiest job for me to get when I got back,” she said of her service.
After being on the waiting list for 10 years, Farhood-Karasavva got her long-awaited apartment in Stuyvesant Town after she returned from Morocco.
Farhood-Karasavva received the recent award at the New School’s commencement, which was held on May 20 at the Javits Center.
The ESL program is broken into four different disciplines — writing, grammar, oral skills and reading — and each skill has six levels. Most of the students are non-native English speakers but have completed university and are working towards post-graduate degrees in the arts.
“The kids are headed for Mannes or Parsons to study music or fashion so they don’t think they need to be able to write well,” Farhood-Karasavva said.
The student who recommended her for the award is working towards a master’s degree in curatorial studies and most of her students are working on their language skills so they can get into the program they want to pursue.
Farhood-Karasavva is responsible for level 4 writing and she tries to keep her classes active.
“Writing can be very tedious,” she admitted. “We could just be sitting there and writing but I have to come up with things to make the class fun. It’s about their comfort zone.”
She also thinks of herself as more than just a teacher and tries to connect with her students because many of them are so new, not just to the city but also to the customs and traditions in the U.S.
“The kids can get very lonely and sometimes have culture shock so you want them to know you’re behind them,” she said. “I’m not a person that just imparts information. The foreign students approach me more because it’s hard for them in New York. They’re not with their families and many of them come from countries where they’ve never lived alone. I try to get the kids to be friendly with each other and have activities outside of school.”
While Farhood-Karasavva conceded that writing itself is a difficult subject to teach, she feels that some of the biggest challenges come from navigating the potential culture clashes that can pop up in the classroom.
“Sometimes you have to worry if the students come from countries that don’t like each other,” she said. “It’s about classroom management.”
Farhood-Karasavva said she was especially glad to receive the award because an ESL teacher had never won it before, so she appreciated the recognition for her program.
“It’s nice that our program is on the map now. I’m sure I was competing against people who wrote books,” she said. “I’m probably going to retire in the next year or two so it’s nice to end on this.”