Julia Kelb'16 | January 12, 2021
Ethan Hoffman ’18 cracks a joke during his algebra class, getting five laughs in the back of the room. Proud, Hoffman knows this means his students are not only enjoying the lesson, but they are gaining a deeper understanding of the English language.
The first languages of the students in Hoffman’s algebra and pre-algebra classrooms range from Spanish, to Swahili, to French, and more. Hoffman is an instructor in Indianapolis Public Schools’ (IPS) Newcomer Program, which was initiated in 2016 to better serve immigrant and refugee students in the community.
“There are a lot of ESL (English as a Second Language) students in the district and serving those students who are newest to the country can be difficult, especially in a traditional setting, so starting a new program for them to gain academic skills and English proficiency is the plan,” Hoffman said.
From Green Bay, Wisconsin, Hoffman first chose the financial reputation and actuarial studies route with his math degree, but he quickly realized what he enjoyed even more than studying was helping others understand it. He decided to search for a graduate path that would allow him to transition to teaching, ultimately choosing the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Marian University.
"One thing about the program at Marian is that it allowed you to get into the classroom on day one, so you may not be fully prepared in the sense that you are not going to walk in the door and be a veteran teacher on day one, but you certainly start to gain experience teaching on the first day. It was the quickest way to develop those teaching skills,” Hoffman said.
Since graduating, Hoffman has taught at the Newcomer Program and very quickly earned high honors for his tremendous work. In 2019, Hoffman was named IPS Teacher of the Year.
“It was meaningful because the people who see your work recognize you. It was very encouraging. Since then, I’ve tried to grow and represent well what IPS strives to do for their students,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman devotes much of his time outside of the classroom preparing for lessons and providing additional support for his students.
“One interesting thing about our school is that you can have all of the preparation that you would in a traditional setting, but you want to also create a lot of visuals and additional support on top of that,” Hoffman said. “Ensuring that my students are going to have predictable structure in their lessons is important. It really helps them feel successful and comfortable because of the changes they are experiencing.”
Hoffman was one of the inaugural hires for the Newcomer Program. Over the course of four years, he’s challenged himself to grow in the areas that feel least natural to him.
“Initially as a teacher, you pick out the things that align to your strengths or personality best. That’s great, but over time you are able to critique your performance even more,” Hoffman said. “For a while it was thinking of what a teacher would do, but now it’s morphed from not just what a teacher would do, but what do my students need,” Hoffman said.
Only in his classroom for one year before transitioning to traditional schools in IPS, Hoffman’s greatest hope for his students is that they become advocates for themselves.
“My hope is that they take advantage of opportunities that are before them. I hope they choose to serve their communities—whether that be their families, friends, or whatever group is around them,” Hoffman said. “There’s a lot of joy in seeing kids’ confidence and excitement about learning grow. I think I find purpose creating growth in their lives, and then they begin to push themselves further. That keeps me going.”