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Nancy L. Commins

Clinical Professor Emerita

My Story

I guess I was destined to be a teacher. When I was 11 or 12, I started earning money working with kids as a babysitter and later as hospital day care center aide. In high school, I was a member of Future Teachers of America. I had no real intention of being a teacher at that time, but it was good to have such an affiliation in the yearbook and on my college applications.

In 1971, at the age of 19, I dropped out of college in Washington D.C. where I was an International Studies major - studying the Viet Nam War more than any of my actual classes. I went to live on a very traditional kibbutz in Northern Israel where I studied Hebrew half day and worked half day. On this kibbutz, as in many others, children lived together in communal houses and not with their parents. Because my Hebrew was pretty stable, they often put me to work with the two year olds - a challenge and a delight. Upon return to the States, I came to Colorado where I majored in French. (A too long story explains how I learned even more French than Hebrew in my year in Israel).

A year after graduation, another sojourn out of the country led me to Mexico where I became part of a Mexican cultural theatre group. Every Sunday morning we hosted children's theatre. Thinking I would like to learn to write children's theatre, I decided to return to my hometown of Rochester in upstate New York and pursue a teaching license and Master's Degree in bilingual education. I was the fortunate recipient of a federally funded fellowship that supported me through both my Masters and Doctoral programs.

It didn't take long to realize that my heart was in teaching, not writing - still the case to this day. I began my career as an ESL teacher in an elementary school serving primarily Puerto Rican students. I came to Colorado where I have worked in nearly every capacity related to the education of language minority students. I completed my doctorate at CU Boulder under the guidance of Ofelia Miramontes - an outstanding educator, colleague and dear friend who has since passed away. I am the teacher I am today in many ways because of her influence. I was first on the CU Denver faculty as a tenure track professor from 1987 to 1994. The Fall of 2009 marked my return to the School of Education & Human Development as a part time and now a full time faculty member. Following about 15 years of school district work and independent consulting, I have recommitted my career to teaching in both the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education and Urban Community Teacher Education programs. I spent the 2011-12 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar in Finland where I plan to return on a regular basis. 

My Students at CU Denver

I look forward to every class, knowing that I will learn from my students and grow as a professional. I thrive on the interaction with my students, who are teachers investing their time and energy into improving their ability to work with linguistically diverse populations. Many are also international students who will return to their home countries to teach English as a foreign language. Their enthusiasm for perspectives and methods so different from the way they were taught English is gratifying. Over the years many former students have become colleagues and friends, part of a wide network of dedicated professionals. This is just one of the many things that makes being an educator a joy.

Classes I have taught at CU Denver

  • LLC 5035 Literacy and Language Acquisition Part II
  • LLC 5825 Methods and Materials of Language Teaching
  • LLC 5160 Historical and Legal Foundations of Bilingual Education
  • LLC 5050 Linguistic and Cultural Issues in Linking Assessment and Instruction
  • LLC 6912 Seminar and Practicum

Research interests

  • Bilingual Education
  • Equity
  • School Reform
  • Social justice within Educational settings


I am a voracious reader - primarily of fiction that provides a lens to learn about a culture, time or place different from my own. The best is when this is combined with a good detective story. I also love movies – watching 2 or 3 a day is my idea of relaxing. I have recently rediscovered my bicycle and get out to ride whenever I can. I am greatly looking forward to traveling again with my husband, Ken, now that our son has grown.

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