I love teaching. There is such joy in seeing people “get something” while they’re studying! It’s thrilling to see the dawn of an awakening in a student.
When I noticed an ad for PRC in a bulletin at mass where I used to be a sign-language interpreter, I put it in my stack of activities to explore after retirement. Years ago, I taught religion classes to children who are deaf using sign language, and getting back to teaching seemed like a good fit for me.
I think I can empathize with ESL students who have children at home who speak English beautifully. My son is deaf, and we learned sign language together when he was very young. We reached a point where he took off, learning more than I could keep up with. I was so proud of him for learning so quickly and being able to communicate with others who spoke American Sign Language… but I was left behind. Sometimes I think my ESL students have a similar experience with their children who have learned English more quickly than they have.
I’ve been in classes before where there is judgement among the students. It’s important in conversation class not to pressure or judge students, and to accept each person where they are. We have such a variety of backgrounds that visit PRC; there are students who have never received an education and students who are doctors in their native country. At PRC, we’re so lucky to work with the students who really want to learn. We aren’t a school or institution requiring them to be present. We’re a place they are choosing to come, and they’re so eager and committed to learning. I have students who have been with us for over 20 years!
So many students stand out in my memory.
An old student of mine just moved away. I smile thinking about when she moved here from Taiwan and her husband brought her to conversation class with him. She had studied English in her native country and hated it! She got married, moved here with her husband, and felt isolated. The first year she came to class, she just sat – observing the other students. Then after a year, she started to participate and opened up. She and her husband came to class for about 10 years. Over the years, I was able to see her get her citizenship – it was thrilling! This student was the seed that grew our weekly conversation class. She started meeting weekly with me for individual tutoring after her school was unable to provide the flexibility needed to travel with her husband. After a time, she brought her Tai Chi teacher along to a session to practice English. In time, she brought friends and others to the group to practice their English. Now students from several Asian countries are represented in this weekly conversation class. At the start, I used to write a lesson for the conversation class. Now, the topic is determined by whichever student arrives first! We’ve talked about books, news, US English phrases and terms, and much more. There have been many people- from many countries- practicing English together in our conversation class. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Latvia, Lithuania, Columbia, Ukraine… 11 countries were represented in our class at one point during a Saturday conversation class!
Over the years, it’s fun to see various personalities in my students…. I had a student who taught himself English by working as a tour driver in different countries. His English was clear and good, but not perfect. He and his wife attended class, and he was so eager to participate in class that I had to ask him to give his wife a chance to speak so she could learn too! I usually wouldn’t do this, but wanted to make sure she could participate too.
Tutoring has taught me to keep my eyes and ears open. It has enriched my life so unbelievably, and my students have taught me about countries I’ll never see. It has taught me new perspectives about the world that I’ve never thought about. To have students tell me things about their country or ruler that provide a new and different perspective about things I hear in the news has been eye-opening.
I wish my students were met with more understanding, tolerance, and appreciation for who they are. I wish we could welcome more people into our building to let them see our students are driven, intelligent people from around the world and that, really, we’re all the same.