ELL teacher places as semi-finalist in Norwegian Cruise Line Giving Joy contest

Madelyn Shapiro

Wilson English Language Learner (ELL) teacher Yaqueline Clauss recently participated in a “Giving Joy” contest put on by Norwegian Cruise Line to celebrate teachers. Educators in the US could nominate themselves or others, with the top 15 nominees winning a free cruise, and one grand prize winner receiving $15,000 for their school.

In the contest, Clauss was selected as one of 60 semi-finalists who made it through the initial voting process. She then had to submit an application with her photo, essay, and evidence of work done during the competition to be judged for moving on to the next round. Unfortunately, she was not selected as a finalist.

Clauss grew up in Colombia, and has been teaching for 18 years. She joined DCPS in 2015, where she worked at Coolidge Senior High School for two years before transferring to Wilson this school year.

When Clauss heard about the Giving Joy contest, she immediately connected the message to her experiences both as a student and as an educator. “When I was in high school, I had wonderful teachers who really motivated me to pursue a career in teaching,” Clauss explained. “I particularly remember my English teacher because of her transparent love of teaching, enthusiasm, love for her subject and a genuine interest in children.”

As a teacher, Clauss aims to bring joy to all of her students at Wilson. Clauss teaches three different courses for ELL students. “I really try hard every day to bring joy to my students, be happy, be excited about learning. To show that I really care about them as people, not just teaching them the content.”

Clauss also wanted to be a role model for her students by demonstrating her perseverance in the contest. “I wanted them to see that I’m a hard working person, that I’m a high achiever, that I set up goals for myself,” Clauss said. “More importantly than winning is the message that you pass to people.”

After deciding to nominate herself for the contest, Clauss set to work trying to get as many votes as possible. She emailed principles in the area, had announcements made, and put flyers up all over Wilson. Additionally, she encouraged her students to help ask people for votes, in the hopes that it would teach them communication skills and persistence. “I told my students, this is how you engage people. It might be difficult, they might be shy because they’re just learning english, or be shy about asking people to help.”

Clauss also hoped to bring more unity to Wilson. “My motivation was to find one reason, one little reason, for people to be united… it’s about telling people that every person who is part of this community should have everybody’s support.”

The method used to select the teachers by the contest frustrated Clauss, as she felt that putting the emphasis of the competition on likes rather than professional achievement made it a popularity contest. Teachers who could pay for ads on Facebook also had an advantage. After she was selected as one of the 60 semi-finalists, Clauss had to submit her photo, essay, and evidence of the work that she had done for the contest. These were supposed to be looked at cumulatively to decide the 30 finalists, however the 30 entries with the most votes were selected.

Despite her complaints about the judging of the contest, Clauss was ultimately glad that she participated. “Many of the people I spoke with during the contest reminded me about the importance of listening to each other, staying positive, and trusting one’s ability to succeed,” said Clauss. “I was not afraid to fail and was able to keep my enthusiasm until the end. To me, that is [a] success.”