When she heard a meditation on Jeremiah 29:11 in a Wheaton College Graduate School classroom, Beata Keller M.A. ’09 was convicted of her calling to become a teacher of English as a second language.
Words: Eliana Chow ’21
“While I share my own knowledge and experiences as an ESL educator, I also get to participate in really cool conversations and continue to learn so much from other people’s stories.”
The life of Beata (Lasmanowicz) Keller M.A. ’09 has been defined by Spirit-led opportunities born out of definitive roadblocks. As a high school student in Poland, she briefly considered pursuing law at Warsaw University. Although she passed her entrance exam, the sheer number of applicants that year stood between her and her dream. Looking back, she says that was the Lord’s way of redirecting her path. After spending many after-school hours tutoring family friends, younger siblings, and cousins in English language learning, it seemed like a natural pivot to study at Warsaw University’s English Teacher Training College instead.
Upon completing her university degree, she came to a crossroad familiar to many English and teaching majors: Did she want to pursue further study in English literature or American culture? Taking a break to discern the answer to such a pressing question, Keller moved to Illinois in 2004 as an in-home nanny through Au Pair, an international, cultural exchange program that helps language students find host families. Since she was already fluent in English at the time, Keller chose to study Spanish through a local community college.
“By the time I finished the program two years later, I was also fluent in Spanish,” Keller said, who is also fluent in Polish and studied German in high school and college. “Being able to speak Spanish turned out to be really helpful because during my early-career internships, many of my students were Spanish speakers who knew little to no English. I was able to connect with them despite that difference.”
In 2007, Keller applied to the Wheaton College Graduate School in an almost blind leap of faith, after a friend recommended the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) master’s program. When she set foot in Wheaton’s classrooms, it was the first time in her life that she came face-to-face with a religion that was about more than just doing the right thing and memorizing Scripture. She encountered God on a deeper level than she ever had before as her professors prayed before each class and she dove into theology classes to supplement her TESOL training.
Yet she was still uprooted from home and family, and she found herself wrestling with overwhelming questions about what she wanted to do with her life. Amid this emotional and spiritual turmoil, Keller distinctly remembers the moment when a classmate stood up to share a devotional on Jeremiah 29:11, in which God declares to his people, “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to give you a future and a hope.”
“I might have just sat there crying,” Keller recalled. “That verse has shaped my life ever since. When I’m working from home, people on video calls can see that verse on the wall behind me. Sometimes I wish I had a job where I can share my faith more openly, but I hope it comes out in little ways like that. You never know what conversations you’ll have or what seeds you will plant in somebody’s life.”
Ever since that classroom devotional, Keller has been attuned to how the Lord provided both peace and open doors as she built her professional career. Thanks to opportunities for master’s students to work closely with Graduate School faculty at Wheaton, Keller contributed research and writing to Associate Professor of TESOL Emerita Dr. Cheri Pierson’s scholarly article on “Storytelling as a Bridge to Adult Language Learning.” Together, they presented their work at an Illinois educators conference, and the article was later published in an Illinois TESOL Bilingual Education academic newsletter.
“I was honored when Dr. Pierson asked me to present with her,” said Keller. “She was a mentor to me throughout my time at Wheaton, and she exemplified kindness in every conversation we had.”
That was only the first of many opportunities that eventually led Keller to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where she currently serves as an ESL lecturer and program coordinator for the university’s English for International Professionals program at the Tutorium in Intensive English.
In her current work, Keller draws from her personal experiences as an immigrant and a Christian to serve the many adult language learners who filter through her office at UIC. She knows what it feels like to be a stranger in a foreign land, whether that was coming to the States or immersing herself for the first time in an explicitly Christian academic environment like Wheaton. While her role in training international professionals may take up residence behind-the-scenes, she’s grateful to play a part in helping others find their place in a new country and fulfill their responsibilities more effectively.
“When I get an appointment request, I never know who I’m going to meet or what questions they’ll have,” Keller said. “Wheaton’s TESOL degree comes with an emphasis on intercultural studies, which has always been a fascination of mine. In my current job, I get to learn little bits and pieces of other cultures daily, which is rewarding. While I share my own knowledge and experiences as an ESL educator, I also get to participate in really cool conversations and continue to learn so much from other people’s stories.”