Meet Justin Wahe: Head English Teacher and Gentle Giant

When Justin Wahe came to work at BridgeEnglish Denver, the term “gentle giant” came to my mind. He is, after all, six feet five, a towering foot and two inches taller than my short five foot three inch frame and by far the tallest person at the school.

While some very tall men can have an intimidating effect on people, Justin, on the other hand, has the most pleasant disposition, nicest smile and greatest attitude around. When I am having a bad day, he always seems to cheer me up. Justin would seriously do anything for us teachers here at BridgeEnglish Denver, not to mention being committed to giving the best education to the students as possible.

Justin has been working at BridgeEnglish Denver for around seven months now and has recently been promoted to Head Teacher. I personally can’t think of a better candidate for this job. He really wants to make a difference and support the teachers as much as he can which all of the teachers, myself included, really appreciate.

AB: Justin, could you tell me a little about your background?

JW: Well, I grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, and then moved to New Mexico, and then to Minnesota before coming to Denver for high school. My family moved around a lot, obviously. After high school, I attended the University of Redlands in California for three years before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. There, I studied creative writing, specifically fiction. I still write quite a bit of fiction and I’m actually trying to finish my first novel right now.

AB: How did you get into teaching ESL and why?

JW: I spent a lot of time in graduate school, (University of Colorado, Denver) studying all kinds of literature, writing, rhetoric and I finally landed in the applied linguistics department. I fell in love with the theory part of cognitive linguistics, and then moved towards teaching. I then got my CELTA certificate and realized how many opportunities ESL offers.

AB: What was your previous experience teaching ESL?

JW: I taught ESL, accent training, GRE, GMAT and promotion style language to a group of Russian and Eastern European software engineers at a company here in Denver for three and a half years. Then, last year, I started working at Bridge. I really like working at Bridge. It is great to be around people from all over the world everyday and the faculty and staff are great people.

AB: What do you like about teaching ESL, favorite part, most challenging part?

JW: I love teaching ESL. I love the energy of a classroom, seeing the spark from students suddenly understanding something. I love learning the ins and outs of grammar and working on the best ways to explain that information.  My favorite part is when a student learns something and it really makes a difference in their speech. They change the way they speak, the way they write and, in short, the way they can use English. We are really changing people’s lives by giving them an improved knowledge of English. They are able to interact with a whole new group of people, to move their careers forward, and to gain a university education. The most challenging part of teaching ESL is motivating students who become unmotivated. Some of our students get tired after working on their English for so many years. They want to move forward in their university education or to simply enjoy their vacation. They also feel that no matter what they do, they simply won’t get any better. Providing these students with the impetus and the encouragement that they need to move forward is a tremendously difficult task.

AB: Describe your new position as Head Teacher. What are your goals with this position?

JW: As Head Teacher, I am essentially responsible for quality control. I want to give the teachers at Bridge the best resources and support I can. I want to make sure that our pedagogical entry books, our lesson plans and our lessons are as good as I and everyone else can make them. I will observe and encourage and help our teachers in every way I can. My first goal is to put together a teacher’s guidebook of different guidelines that will help at every step of the teaching process. Secondly, I hope to create a few binders of supplemental material so that, if teachers need help with a specific grammar point, that help will be available to them.

AB: Wow! That would be great! Finally, is there anything else you would like to add?

JW: I really believe strongly in the team we have at our school. There are a lot of really talented teachers here and I think that, if we all work together and share what we know, we will all gain a true wealth of information. I want to help the teachers here be the absolute best they can be. Our students deserve our best efforts.

AB: Thanks for everything, Justin!