Dear Dr. Mooney Messages

The questions usually start the same way, “Dear Dr. Mooney”

  • Dear Dr. Mooney… I was referred to you for a question about my students.”
  • Dear Dr. Mooney… I have three new students in my classroom that don’t speak ANY English at all. What should I do?”

As an assistant professor of bilingual education and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), people frequently reach out to me with questions about working with English Learners (ELs).

My students ask…

  • “Dr. Mooney, will I need to learn my students’ native languages in order to teach them well?”
  • “Won’t my school’s ESL teacher be responsible for the ELs? I won’t need to do anything special, will I?”

Practicing teachers want to know…

  • Dr. Mooney, why do my ELs use English just fine on the playground, but then struggle so much in the classroom?”

Do these questions sound familiar to you?

Current and future educators have plenty of questions about teaching ELs. And it’s all very reasonable. Many do not feel effectively equipped to answer the questions for themselves. Few teacher preparation programs require courses about teaching ELs.

Once in the classroom, educators do not have the margin for professional development beyond what is required by their school districts. As a result, many are often frustrated by their lack of knowledge about ELs’ academic and linguistic needs. 

Plus, teaching is hard work! How do they cope?

  • Some will leave the profession.  Sad but true.
  • Others will continue teaching regardless of their ELs’ needs, and many of their students will make little academic or linguistic progress. 
  • Still others will seek out more knowledge in order to improve their practice. 

Those who strive to improve their practice often feel isolated or alone because help isn’t always accessible. Schools don’t always employ ESL specialists, and finding the right person to contact at the district level can be complicated. Even when ESL specialists are present, they are teachers will full schedules, often working without a planning period. So, time for consultations between classroom teachers and ESL specialists may be quite limited. Sometimes even ESL specialists feel isolated. They may have received little training, but then are expected to know the answers to every teacher or administrator’s question about English learners.

With so many challenges, where do you go for help?

I thought long and hard about this and looked far and wide. Many of the resources I rely upon help but miss out on key parts of what teachers really need.

So, I decided to build an online community where teachers like us can find just-in-time advice. A place where you can get the support you deserve and discover resources to help you become a more effective educator of ELs. And here it is.

Introducing…. Dear Dr. Mooney!

Here, you can read my articles answering questions from teachers just like you. Some articles will provide information you may not even realize you needed. Sometimes, I review resources that I know will be helpful but you may not have had time to find.

In other articles, you can read or watch interviews to learn from experts in the field. Eventually, you’ll find how-to videos where I’ll sit down beside you (virtually!) and show how I would use a resource or strategy to meet ELs’ academic or linguistic needs. 

Sign up to get the latest articles sent directly to your email:

In Discussion Forums, you will be able to give and get support from other teachers who understand how you feel. By reading and responding to questions, or asking your own, you will learn ways to address your own EL teaching challenges. Perhaps more importantly, you will hopefully realize you are not alone. 

Create a free member account to join in the discussion today!


We all know that teaching English learners can be challenging and frustrating. It can also be very rewarding if you have the knowledge and support you need. 

Dear Dr. Mooney was designed with you and your students in mind!

Note:  Excerpts of this article appeared previously in Dear Dr. Mooney
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