Canonization of Mother Marie Eugenie
Teaching ESL: An AMA Experience, May 12, 2007
As her AMA year comes to an end, Liz Clayton -- who wrote about her first two months as a volunteer in Worcester in a previous website entry -- reflects on her experience as a first-time teacher of English as a Second Language at St. Peter's Church in Worcester, MA.
I came to Worcester knowing only a handful of Spanish vocabulary: about the same speaking level as the average 5 year old who watches Dora the Explorer. After nine months in Worcester I have only learned the word for shark: tiburón. So I was a little unsure that I would be able to teach a class of ESL. But since I wasn’t asked to teach a class of ESL until five minutes before that class began, I didn’t have too much time to be worried about it. I walked in, set my things on the desk, flipped through the book and asked the students uncertainly, “So, do you want to start with the vocabulary?” With pens in hand ready to take notes they just said, “You’re the teacher.” I was completely intimidated. I wanted to correct them: I am not a teacher. I haven’t had any training. I don’t know how to teach English, I only know how to speak it!
I may have had my doubts, but my students didn’t appear to have any. They believed that I could teach them the difficult verb tenses, confusing grammar rules, and mysterious idioms. They greeted me each class with “Good morning Teacher!” and left saying, “Thank you for the class, Teacher.” One of my students even brought me – not just one – but a bagful of apples every time we met. They were so eager and ready to work so hard to learn English and I was so touched by the faith they had in me to help them that I didn’t want to let them down. Before long I found myself enjoying the class and looking forward to Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Not because the past unreal conditional tense was so interesting to talk about, but because I had a front row seat to watching my students as they steadily worked closer to a goal that is so important to them: speaking English fluently. I am honored to have had even a small part in that process.
I am reminded of a quote by St. Philip Neri: “Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.” Working up the nerve to teach a small class of ESL may not seem like a very big triumph but like a lot of things this year it took a certain amount of trust. Trust in myself; that I was capable of more than I thought and more importantly, trust in God; that he truly would fit me for the work he asked of me.