Who is Caroline Hazelton? Ever since I met Caroline, she has evolved into much more than just a great teacher. From our initial introduction in class, I knew she was one of a kind. Caroline is more than just a teacher. In addition, she is a colleague, a classmate, a daughter, a mother, and a wife. Caroline is that person you meet who uplifts you when you think you can’t do something but really deep down — you can. This interview reveals her reflections on teaching.
Caroline is the guardian angel who once looked at me and smiled as I could barely say two words in Spanish, and encouraged me to pursue my passion. She is what every student deserves in a teacher. Although she’s too humble to admit it, teaching is in her DNA. There are specific individuals in your life who have the innate ability to see potential in others and encourage them to fulfill their dreams. Caroline is that professional and mentor.
Who is Caroline Hazelton?
When she’s not teaching adult ESOL learners in the evening, she’s a non-stop, can’t-stop, won’t-stop, busy-on-the-go mom and wife. Caroline is a biological mother to two young girls and a foster parent to a special population called unaccompanied refugee minors. As we spoke on the phone, it became more apparent that years later, she’s a teacher at home to her beautiful children and from six to nine in the evening she dedicates her time to her profession of teaching too. Caroline will continue to build a legacy so her children see a world where we all have access to equal education and diversity is considered something meaningful and beautiful.
Caroline discusses her educational background in a candid interview, revealing her reflections on teaching. Her responses are measured and thoughtful. Caroline continues to inspire from afar and serve as a role model for future generations in the classroom.
Reflections of Teaching From a Fourth-Generation Teacher
How much did having teachers as parents and grandparents influence your thoughts regarding what you wanted to be when you grew up?”
I don’t know that it influenced what I wanted to be. Instead, I wanted to be something different. Teaching seemed to be an ordinary thing to do for someone with an education, especially for a woman. All of the women in my family are teachers, except for my sister who escaped to law school!
Now I definitely saw the downsides. I saw my mom come home exhausted, cook dinner, deal with us kids, and then dive straight into grading papers before getting ready for the next day. She cautioned me with the honest challenges teachers face, although she did tell me “you’ll be a very good one and it scares me.”
But when I took Spanish and fell in love with learning second languages, I realized I wanted to devote my life to helping people acquire language and discover new cultures. I spent a summer in Houston serving immigrant families and teaching ESL to stay-at-home moms. After that, I knew that my fascination with language acquisition was meant to help immigrants and others pave a new life for themselves and escape poverty. But yet, this belief that education can help one escape all kinds of hardship, including poverty does stem from my grandmother and great-grandmother, both teachers.
In Our Blood
See, my grandmother’s mother was a teacher. Even though she dropped out of school as a little girl during the Great Depression to perform child labor to pay the family taxes, her mom insisted she had to keep up with her education so she wouldn’t fall behind. So when she had the chance to go to college, it was to teach — so other kids could find their way out of the kind of poverty she knew. My grandfather had a similar story. And they spent their lives teaching children in our rural, low-income community.
I think it hit me on lunch duty. One of my co-workers found out who my grandmother was and started crying. Apparently, he had grown up very poor. But my grandmother (his teacher) made sure he and his whole family had Christmas presents. She also taught him to love to learn — and that he could do things through learning. Through her inspiration, this little boy worked hard in school, put himself through college, and ended up becoming a teacher himself. He now inspires other kids and helps them out of poverty through his passion for teaching carpentry.
I have since left my hometown and now live in urban South Florida. Right now I teach English to adult immigrants and refugees. They are full of hope and dreams for a better life for themselves and their children. And just like my grandmother, I firmly believe education is the way to this.
What direct experience do you have of your parents’ and grandparents’ teaching style?”
They grew up in the days where corporal punishment, aka “paddling” was allowed in school! Can you imagine?? The town I was raised in wasn’t far from this. So you can picture my surprise when my first teaching assignment was in a progressive independent school that taught mindfulness and meditation! But as I’ve started thinking about some reflections on teaching, I’ve come to respect all styles of teaching children the way they should go.
I teach different ages and subjects than my family did. Nonetheless, I pass on the same love of learning down to my own children. I read to them daily and choose educational toys and activities over electronics, plus getting outside and exploring nature.
How much advice did you receive from teacher relatives when you announced you wanted to work in education?”
My mom warned me that I was going to enter an emotionally-draining, never-ending “to-do” lists career. On year eight, while I’m sharing some of my reflections on teaching, I have to agree that she’s right. But, it is so worth it. My grandmother, on the other hand, would have cheered on anything that I did!
My mom encouraged me and told me I had the “teaching gift” and “all of the traits to be a good one.” She was a huge source of support my first year when I had such a learning curve — I could call her up and we would “talk teacher.” I even enjoy talking to my aunt, a retired teacher about parent/teacher challenges that she dealt with and how they could best be solved. When “teacher talk” begins… my husband and dad go running.
To what extent did you talk about your early teaching career with your parents and grandparents?”
My grandmother passed away during my first year in college, but I talked to my mom constantly during the first year of teaching. She helped me realize how I could nail a lesson, build solid communication with parents, or strengthen a relationship with my students. She taught me how to own being the rookie and take advice from other teachers without doubting myself. Even now, she gives me wisdom.
What would you tell your children if they indicated they wanted to follow in the family footsteps?”
It is underpaid and you’ll need to learn how to manage stress without turning to junk food (my first-year rookie mistake). Despite that, the joy of the classroom, the relationships you build, and the delight in where your teaching will take your students is worth every moment. But you’ll need to do it because you love it, not because it’s what women in our family do. The burnout is real and kids need teachers who love teaching their subject. Otherwise, school will be largely a waste of time. This is probably one of my most important reflections of teaching that I’ve come to.
Describe a childhood memory that has still resonated with you and influences your teaching.”
My mom had this beautiful Barbie house at home when I was about five. Naturally, my then four-year-old sister and I thought it was for us! But… it wasn’t. It was for her first-graders. The school was in a very poor neighborhood. The chance to play with a nice toy was something the kids would only get in school. We watched that year as she’d collect toy after toy for her kids in need. Through that example, she taught me to be a selfless adult, giving things I don’t really need to those less fortunate.
Who were your heroes and role models growing up as a child?”
My dad, because he loves learning and seems to know something about everything. I could talk to him about any subject. I loved his mother (also a teacher!) and how she managed to teach part-time while also being a mom to her kids. Additionally, I loved my third-grade advanced class teacher Mrs. Sullivan because she pushed me like no other teacher had.
What dreams and goals did you have for your life in high school? And how about after college?”
I wanted to help people and especially those from around the world because I find diversity fascinating. I definitely wanted a family, an intelligent husband, and to see the world. Although I literally had no idea of how things would happen, I assumed by the time that I was 17 that I’d spend a year or so doing Christian, humanitarian, and missionary work overseas, then teach Spanish and ESL. And, yes, my dreams came true!
How do you switch on switched-off learners?”
By involving different types of instruction (large group, small group, one-on-one), different forms of activities for visual and auditory learners and feedback. Asking students to do different tasks that require different levels of thinking. Being willing to go off script and change your plans when a lesson or activity clearly isn’t working out. I also try to plan real-life examples in my language classes and incorporate relaxing activities like music, games or free conversation into my lessons every day.
To what degree do you plan lessons and to what extent do you improvise them?”
What I make sure of is that I always have a plan. I schedule extra activities in case things end shorter than expected or if some sort of technology doesn’t work. I also tend to have a set routine so my time is managed well and students know what to expect. But, if I discover an area that students have a lot of questions about or are really interested in, I’m willing to change my plans so we have more time for these things.
Caroline has a plethora of ESL teaching resources to utilize in your classroom. Be sure to check them out in our upcoming articles from her. It’s always a pleasure to discover her latest developments. Make sure to catch her first interview with Leesa for more reflections of teaching from a fourth-generation teacher.