Claribel Riss (member since May 2015) was chosen as the Touro College Graduate School of Education (GSE) speaker for commencement which takes place Thursday afternoon, June 16 at New York’s Lincoln Center.
Not only has she traveled at least 75 miles from her home in East Stroudsburg, PA. to her job as a teacher at a Bronx middle school for a number of years, but she has also made the trip on Sundays to attend Touro College GSE in New York City, where she earned her second master’s degree this year in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Riss was born in the Dominican Republic. She majored in Spanish, her first language, as an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo. Claribel had taught 11 years when she earned her first master’s degree from Touro College GSE in special education.
Currently a special education and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Riss teaches grades 6 through 8 at New Venture Middle School, a ‘renewal school.’ Despite the challenges she was told to expect working with students who have behavioral issues, she says, “I always go in with an open mind, because children act differently with different adults. I try to give them a fair chance, to get to know them, what kind of learner they are, and how they learn.”
“TESOL is not bilingual education,” she said, adding that today there is much more diversity among learners. “We have students who speak Arabic, or Urdu (the language of Pakistan) and students from Yemen. It’s like going around the world and learning about life and education and feeling enriched.”
Riss’s approach speaks to that diversity. “I like to know where they come from and their cultural background. You have to address the culture. You can’t just say ‘you are in the United States now and get with the program.’”
To become acquainted with her students, Riss interviews their parents and helped develop a survey that addresses “what they know, what their deficits are and how to get to know them,” she said, adding, “I can help students succeed in a country that might be strange to them.”
Riss is so well respected in the education community, she was offered a partial scholarship towards training in administration by her principal. However she declined, “I said no. Administration is not for me; I like being in a classroom.”
Claribel, a mother of two, has been a straight-A student and is graduating with an MS in TESOL with a 3.88 GPA. Her dedication to the teaching profession and her students is evident in all she does.
Dr. Sonna Opstad, Associate Professor of TESOL/Bilingual Education at the GSE, praised Riss as an outstanding student who took extra care in everything she did. “Her attention to detail, high standards, and exceptional insight were evident in every assignment. She contributed to our work in a constructive and thoughtful way. She is truly an inspiration to her colleagues and to me,” she said.
Congratulations from your KDP community, Claribel Riss!