Part of our prep for Am.Sam. involves observing English language classes. I’ve been sitting-in on ESL classes in KSU’s Intensive English Program; Wes is observing classes at First Baptist Woodstock (he started tonight).
Last Tuesday, I went to both Grammar and Listening & Speaking for Levels 1 & 2. There were only six students in the classes, most of whom spoke very little English. The Grammar students learned about the difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person (singular and plural) and how the use of each pronoun affects the verb. They also learned about verb tenses in English (like how the simple future differs from the present continuous). Then, in Listening & Speaking, the teacher handed out grocery fliers and asked the students to create sentences using the verb “to buy” followed by the cost of the purchase. I was asked to work with one of the students, a young Saudi boy who eagerly looked up every new word the teacher said using an Arabic-to-English translator app on his iPhone.
He said his sentence and then slowly wrote it in crooked little letters, sometimes struggling to remember the letter to use with a particular sound.
I need to buy tow pags of chips. It cost 2.88$.
“Can I do this?” he asked. “Can I say ‘two dollar, eighty-eight cent? Oh, I say ‘It cost 5 dollar seventy-six cent.’”
“Sure,”I said, “or you can just say ‘each.’ They cost two-eighty-eight each.”
He stared blankly. “Each? What is each?”
Each? How do you explain something like “each?” What should I have said? “Each is an adjective that designates one of two or more distinct items which have a similar relation and often constitute an aggregate.”
Instead, I pointed and fumbled and stuttered until I finally said, “It’s okay, just write ‘five-dollars-and-seventy-six-cents.”
I felt incredibly stupid and useless and bad-teacher-y. First, I introduced a new vocabulary word, and then I failed to explain it. It was a quick exchange but I thought about it for hours.
I never ever ever ever ever in a million years would’ve thought I’d ever want to be a teacher. I mean, I love showing others how to knit or dye or make things they didn’t think they could make. I enjoy leading small-groups and I always liked preparing INN discussions when it was my turn to do so. And okay, okay, I really like tutoring, really. I knew that I wanted to teach in Am. Sam., but I’ve also been dealing with the overwhelming fear that I might not be good at it.
Until I sat in on that ESL class and struggled to define something as simple as “each,” I never knew how challenging teaching could be (you may want to say “duh” here, please refrain). I usually have a plan. I have the discussion all mapped out in my head. I know where the tricky parts are and am ready to explain it five different ways. I’ve never been as blindsided as I have been by the ESL students’ questions. They are all so interested and eager to learn more. It’s wonderful. I love the challenge. And I love the reward. Helping ESL students, just in the few times that I’ve been able to do so, has been incredible.
I didn’t think it was possible to be more stoked about going to Am.Sam., but observing these classes has me counting down the days. I can’t wait to meet my students.
ps. Don’t forget to check out our fundraising auction! More items will be posted soon, including original artwork!