Tag Archives: “ESL Teacher”

Teaching English is hard, even for the English Teacher

23 Mar

I teach a two hour block on Tuesdays of relatively advanced students. Having a two hour time slot has its challenges. We have time, yet I want to squeeze in as much as possible to make it worth their while. It never works that way.

I’ve been on this homonym kick lately (you remember those, right?). At the level of this particular class, where they can have a basic conversation at least, they’re more aware of English. Which means they’re more aware of its idiosyncrasies. Which means my 30 minute homonym lesson becomes a one hour and fifteen minute homonym lesson.

I got to the center today willing myself to keep it short and move on.,

I began with a basic: to, too, two

This reminded someone of the number four and its counterpart, for. I wrote on the board, “for, four”.

Have you ever tried explaining the meaning of “for”? They started throwing out examples for “for”. Like, “for example”, “for sure”, “I have something for you”. The dictionary didn’t help much; it had about ten different explanations for “for”. And it told me for is a preposition and a conjunction, which is great, except that is a whole other lesson, two in fact.

I went back to my list and we made it through “band” and “banned” without incident. Well, except for the minor set back of using the past tense of banned in a present tense sentence like, “It is banned to smoke here”. Again, several grammar lessons packed into that one sentence.

Another student said, “I read in a book the word “bank” and it wasn’t about where you keep your money.” We put up the words and talked about the place you put your money and a river bank.

“Like the picture on the wall?” he asked.

I said, “No, that’s a cliff. See how high it is? And that body of water is the sea, not a river.” I added “body of water”, “cliff”, “sea”, “ocean”, “shore” to the board. Tangent number three.

Just when I thought we could move on, a student said, “Bank means trust.” I said, “I don’t think so.” He said, “Yes, for example, I bank on the Day Worker’s Center to give me work.” Oh. Teacher gets taught.

So you can see why a simple English lesson is never simple. Even for the English teacher.

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Day Workers and ESL Teacher Learn a Lesson about Stereotypes

30 Jan

Last week, near the end of a two hour class, the students were grammar-ed out. I still had fifteen minutes before the end of class and I found myself telling my students about my upcoming trip to Pakistan.

A flood of questions followed. Would I be wearing a…they gestured to their faces, making a window around their eyes.

A burqua, no.

Would I be wearing a…they circled their head with their hands.

A hijab, no.

I drew on the board my wardrobe options, the traditional shalwar kameez, a baggy pant and shirt outfit. I tried explaining that the burqua and hijab are traditional outfits worn by Muslims, and that I wasn’t one.

This prompted another student to ask, are you uncomfortable with our questions? I smiled. No, I explained. Are you offended by them? No, I said. I like talking about these things, they help me create awareness and understanding.

He was thoughtful. You know, he said, when people see us they make assumptions. He didn’t elaborate, he didn’t have to. That’s why I talk about it, I said. To break those stereotypes. He nodded. He liked this.

In the very next breath, another student joked, will you bring me back seven wives.

And there we have it. Those cultural stereotypes, our way of seeing a whole group of people in this very “lowest common denominator” way seems to be the norm these days. We jump to those stereotyped images right away. Which was why at the same time as someone lamented on being stereotyped as day worker, someone else jumped to another culture’s stereotype.

My own preconceived notions are broken every day that I volunteer at the Day Worker’s Center. I now see not a group but individuals, individuals who, through the resources offered to them at the Center, are doing their best to make the most of things. Ruben can always be found scribbling furiously into his notebook words that have similar meanings: slink, crawl, creep, snake. It is my job to explain (or more often mime) the subtle differences. Mauricio very shyly shows me pictures of himself dressed up in a suit and tie, playing guitar with his church band on the weekends. And Ana’s toddler, Anavaleria, chants the ABCs right along with the rest of the class, her voice often rising confidently above other people’s.

I knew working at the Center would allow me to give back to my community. I didn’t expect it to give back to me as profoundly as it does.