“Are you a teacher?” she asked?
“No,” I replied.
“Are you a nurse?”
I shook my head. “No.”
The look of dread on my student’s face when she heard my answer was priceless! I’m sure she wondered how I could ever help. She’d requested a tutor to help her pass the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) test. She had already taken the test twice and failed both times. You are allowed to take it three times, but if you fail the third time, then you have to repeat a training class costing $1000—which was money she did not have.
She was a single mom from Somalia with two children, and she not only needed help with her English language skills, she also needed help with the nursing skills part of the test. No wonder she was apprehensive about me! What she didn’t realize is that I was as committed as she was. It was exceedingly important to me that we succeed. This was us, not just her.
We worked together, sometimes as often as six hours a week. We met at a room in the library, and I learned about nursing assistant skills right along with her. We learned the physiology of the human body. We learned all about working in someone’s home. We practiced social skills, helping her get past the language barrier. The CNA test gives no concessions for English as a second language.
I tried to make our sessions as fun as I could, while understanding she had to pass the test. I’m willing to take off a professional layer so the other person can feel more comfortable. We laughed a lot! For example, I would play the patient. I’d lie on the floor and make her roll me over. Or I would have her pretend to make the bed with me in it, which needs to be done in a specific way to ensure the patient’s safety.
We worked together for many months. She passed with flying colors—she got almost one hundred percent! And she was able to get jobs. It really was a wonderful experience. A unique, special outcome.
I’ve also worked in the open classroom at PRC. Clients sit at tables and we work with whomever needs help. For me, that morphed into an ESL chat group, which was really fun. The purpose of the group was simply to practice conversational English. I had people from several different countries, all with different native languages.
“Hey, tell me…when you go to the grocery store, what confuses you?” I might say to get them talking. I’ll focus on day-to-day experiences and just integrating into our culture. I’m very physical in my explanations about things. I talk with my hands; I act things out. One day, I acted out how scared I am of spiders. Another time I pantomimed how much I like kittens. Sometimes we laugh so hard, we cry. That’s the best!
Watching another person grow is incredibly rewarding. I really enjoy working with people who want to change their life. Volunteering has taught me the immense satisfaction of giving your time and seeing a result.