Monday, June 4, 2012

A Teacher's Year to Cherish

For anyone who questions why the U.S. should adopt a fair and tolerant policy toward immigrants, try teaching ESL, even one class. Get to know an immigrant.

I have been teaching English since I was seventeen years old in various forms and descriptions. I have taught abroad and at home, I’ve taught privately, one-on-one, and in large groups. I’ve taught mothers with babies at family centers. I’ve taught businessmen and doctors, factory workers and dishwashers.

I’ve held classes in my kitchen and on my patio, in church basements and in high tech classrooms, even on living room floors in the Bronx. I’ve taught children and I’ve taught adults. I have taught literally hundreds of people to speak, read, write and understand English.

My students have come from Vietnam, Burma, China, Czech Republic, India, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Tibet, Kazakhstan, Russia, Greece, Brazil, Peru, El Salvador, Thailand, Taiwan, The Philippines, Costa Rica, Japan, Italy, Hungary, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Hong Kong, France, Poland, and from many countries in Africa including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Congo, and Ghana just to name a few.

People who don’t understand the nature of teaching English think I must be brilliant to be able to speak ALL of those languages. They ask me how I learned so many. When I tell them I do not speak all those languages, and I use ONLY English when I teach, they are shocked and confused. But my students understand.

English is our unifying language and whether we speak it through pantomime at the beginning level, or move on to read and discuss literature at the advanced level, it is what binds us and makes us into a community.

After years of teaching children, I have returned to adult ed, teaching advanced ESL. I have never been happier. I love getting up in the morning and I can’t wait to see who will come to class. Sometimes the classes are full and there are not enough chairs. Sometimes, there are only a handful of students, and occasionally there is only one. No matter what the situation, there is always something to take away from the experience. In my classes, we learn more than just grammar and vocabulary.

In my students I have seen appreciation and gratitude, I have seen tears, laughter and I have learned their stories. Many, many stories. Sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes heartwarming. All uniquely individual. All adding to the tapestry that makes up our community. Our country. Our world.

This year, I have had the privilege of teaching people from all walks of life and many cultures, to watch them grow into more confident individuals, getting closer to fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

To my students: It has been an honor and my absolute pleasure to share my story with you, to become friends with you, to watch you make new friends with each other, and to teach you. Because of all of you, I have the best job in the world.

Thank you for giving me such a rewarding reason to get up in the morning.