By Elisabetta Silvestro
City College ESL instructor Ann Fontanella has been awarded Teacher of the Year by TESOL International Association. Students and teachers celebrated the May 6 event at the Downtown campus.
Fontanella has been teaching English as a second language at City College for 16 years and she is deeply admired by students and colleagues.
“I think the TESOL picked exactly the right person,” ESL Department Chair Greg Keech said.
The award honors exceptional English language teachers at all levels. It was presented by TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) International Association and National Geographic Learning.
Any teacher throughout the world with at least three years of experience who didn’t win the award before was eligible to apply for the recognition.
When she found out she was the winner, Fontanella was “very moved, surprised and honored.”
Fontanella was officially awarded in March at the 2014 TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo, where she delivered a presentation about instruction for student engagement and community leadership.
As an American with Italian origins who also lived in Saudi Arabia, Italy and Japan, Fontanella said she has always been surrounded by people who spoke different languages.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Italian with a minor in Spanish and a master’s degree in comparative literature, Fontanella got another master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages from San Francisco State University and started doing what she is still doing today – teaching ESL.
Approximately 100 people between faculty and students attended the event hosted in the conference room of the Downtown campus.
“I’m very thankful that I have Ann as my former teacher,” student Yanhui Li said. Thanks to Fontanella, Li said, she became passionate about learning English and went from noncredit student, to credit student, to volunteer for the Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders), which Fontanella used to coordinate.
More than 10 people spoke about Fontanella’s positive qualities, both as a teacher and as a person, during the two-hour-long event concluded by refreshments.
Bouchra Simmons, president of the Associated Students Council of the Downtown Campus, said Fontanella has a special gift. She doesn’t just teach English, she helps students find their way in life.
“Teaching is not about credentials, is about connection,” Simmons said.
Maricel Santos, TESOL professor at San Francisco State, attended the event proud of having their graduate achieving this recognition.
“(Fontanella) dignifies this profession,” Santos said. “She shows you what is possible with language.”
City College’s ESL instructor Kathleen Berkov said Fontanella is an inspiration for the students and for all the teachers.
“She finds the joy in impacting other people’s lives for the good,” Berkov said.
Some attendees sang and danced, while Fontanella’s students put together a video in which many of them talked about how she helped them achieve their objectives and even changed their lives.
“We wanted to do something special for her because she did something special for us every day,” student Olga Tsibulina said.
Fontanella described the event as “beautiful and moving.”
“This award is the result of all of that you’ve given me,” she said.