During the long, tortuously hot Arizona summer months, I tried to keep a low profile, after completing my summer school stint. I quickly became bored out of my mind, so I volunteered with an organization I had previously done some work with as a student teacher, Iskashitaa.org.
Recently, I provided transportation for refugees to local farmer’s markets, who volunteer and acquire donated produce for their families and communities. Along the way, I happened upon an opportunity to teach basic English to a small community of refugees at an apartment complex near my home.
The students, mostly middle-aged, are from countries such as Bhutan, Nepal, Sudan and Mexico. The class sizes have varied from three to six or seven people each Saturday.
It has been an interesting few weeks thus far. I started out with simple sounds and vowel patterns (phonemes), greetings, numbers and colors. I teach with a computer, using presentations I created myself, white board slates, and journals for writing vocabulary. I try to provide visual representations, and role-play between students, giving them opportunities to use English vocabulary in simple, spoken sentences.
But the best part is our discussions. Unlike small children, these students are not afraid to speak about all manner of things, even in a broken mix of English and their home language. We have had many good “bull sessions”, getting to know one another, talking about our families, likes and dislikes, and clarifying misconceptions (which in of itself is a learning experience). I love to draw comparisons between their own languages and English (which is easier with Spanish of course). They teach me something a little each time we get together!
Sometimes they do not let me know if they are coming, and I don’t always know in which apartment I’ll be teaching. For refugees, life in America can be just as unpredictable (if less dangerous) as when they lived in their home country. Work and family obligations can change at a moment’s notice . It can be frustrating, but I have had to learn that this is how it goes.
Today, after a pretty vigorous lesson in a very warm apartment, we were cleaning up the materials, when a student named Uma asked, “How long you teach?” I thought she meant how many years in my career, but she meant how long I would be teaching their little group. After we all had a good laugh at my incomprehension, they told me that they really liked me as their teacher. I felt very honored at this news, because I was wondering if I was doing a good job. As of today, I have only been teaching adults for a month and a half.
Could have I found my true calling? Only time will tell.