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September 19, 2006

respect for english language learners

In my time floundering around teaching adult ESL classes, I learned a couple things: 1) Attending ESL classes is like making regular visits to the gym -- everybody wants to do it, but few darken the doorstep more than a few times, and 2) as with fitness, adults who stick with a plan -- at work, in a class, or at home -- deserve tremendous respect.

It is a tough, uphill climb.

In yesterday's Houston Chronicle, an excellent article explored the challenges faced by adult English language learners.

"Many immigrants don't speak English, but it's not because they are lazy or don't want to learn it or want to make everyone else speak Spanish or Vietnamese. They just have other priorities like providing for their basic needs," says Nelson Reyes, executive director of the Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization.

I've asked myself, why do some succeed while others don't? I think of some I've known to succeed (not all have been my students):

I think of my mother-in-law who learned over the years by watching cartoons with the kids and grandkids, listening to English-language radio and laughing at her mistakes (she still won't say sabana (sheet) in English -- for fear of cursing).

Of Angel who told his boss about my ESL class -- resulting in the boss taking him under his wing -- and teaching him English on the job.

Of Carol who has attended classes on and off for years at her local library -- and is now in the advanced course.

And of Neilys who stuck with my class, faithfully did her homework and used English whenever possible -- she now works as a Wal-Mart cashier interacting with the public every day.

Why did they succeed? Natural ability? Persistence over time? Supportive family and community? Asking questions? Great curriculum? Teacher competence? Fearlessness?

I'm so proud of those who have succeeded, but also concerned about those that haven't. Did I in any way contribute to their discouragement? Did they feel that they couldn't succeed in my class. I confess that I most enjoy teaching those with high literacy levels (some high school or greater). It is hard for me to effectively teach those with lower literacy levels -- not because of an inability to learn, but rather, because of my struggles to teach without relying on text.

Perhaps it is my very framework of teaching that needs to change. Maybe it isn't about transmitting information and more about leading the students on an exploration...

...so where does the teacher go to learn?

Posted by almamia at September 19, 2006 11:00 AM


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