In the three years Ethan Hoffman has been teaching math, his students have come from at least 30 countries, speaking a combined 20 or more languages.
Hoffman, recognized Monday as the district’s Teacher of the Year, works in Indianapolis Public Schools newcomer program. His students are new to the country — many of them refugees or teenagers who come to the U.S. without their parents — and are just learning English.
“Some of the most basic instructions can be complicated when it’s in a new language,” Hoffman said. “Learning to support all my students through visuals and with patience has been the key.”
Even with the role’s challenges, Hoffman is able to make math comprehensible to all the school’s students, said Arturo Rodriguez, principal of the newcomer program, which is housed in Northwest Middle School.
“The kids don’t call his class algebra. They call it Hoffman,” Rodriguez said. “He’s an awesome teacher. We can’t see how we can run the program without him.”
Chosen from among 10 finalists, Hoffman is also in the running for Indiana Teacher of the Year. He will take over the role from Alexandria Stewart, a middle school teacher at the Center for Inquiry at School 70 and the district’s previous Teacher of the Year.
In addition to his classroom role, Hoffman will represent teachers from across the district and have a platform to advocate for issues he values — specifically supporting immigrant and refugee students in Indianapolis.
The newcomer program, now in its third year, serves some 370 students — a sixfold increase from the beginning of the school year, according to Rodriguez. Once students are more fluent in English, they transition to other schools.
“I think it’s an amazing testament that our Teacher of the Year is someone who’s supporting our students who are coming with a lot of needs, who are learning what it means to be in the United States,” said the district’s interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson. “He’s working really hard and making some great impact on the kids he serves.”
Hoffman, 24, began teaching at newcomer three years ago straight out of graduate school. A native of Wisconsin, he earned his master’s degree in teaching at Marian University.