Friday, September 12, 2014

when a student becomes a teacher

If I found out that there was a video camera in the Literacy room of the public library during my tutoring session today I would die.
Today was my first official volunteering session with my student. She is a middle-aged woman from Mexico with very little knowledge of the English language. Which is where I come in. She wants to learn conversational English and I am doing my best to aid her learning process.
I met her for the first time a week ago and it quickly became apparent that we would have trouble communicating. We sat and smiled at each other and laughed nervously. My Spanish vocabulary is extremely limited, I was proud of myself for saying good morning and her name correctly this morning.
All week I stressed about being able to communicate a new language to someone when I couldn't even communicate with in their native language. I hated professors who taught me French when they knew little English. 
I had a TEACHER book to page through and the whole time I looked through it I felt as if I was about to be caught cheating. How can I teach a language that even I mess up occasionally?
My fear was that I would come across as patronizing. I wanted to suggest we start with the alphabet, but what if she thought that was juvenile? 
To be frank, I was terrified. 
For lack of a better place to start this morning, I picked the first page of the book. The first few pages taught about describing your morning routine, including showering, brushing your teeth, and breakfast. 
This seemed advanced, but we plunged in nonetheless. 
For the first time in my life, I conjugated English words. I brush, you brush, he/she/it brushes, we brush, y'all brush, they brush. 
I struggled to convey the meaning of possessive pronouns: "it's not my book, it's your book."
*blank stare*
"I wash my hands and you wash your hands."
"No comprende"
Frustrated laughter ensues.
We went through all of the verbs and nouns for each activity. Who even puts "floss" in a beginning level book?! 
I vigorously acted out flossing, brushing my teeth, brushing my hair, stepping in and out of the shower, spitting, swishing, and putting away.
It was a hard hour. I used google translate a lot. We laughed when there was nothing we could say in a language the other would understand.
But when my (possessive pronoun use) student struggled pronouncing the word "deodorant" and finally read it correctly in a complete sentence, her laugh of pride nearly made me cry. 
Tutoring ESL is the most rewarding experience of my life to date. I even got to assign HOMEWORK today. Don't you wish you were in A Very Lucky Girl's classroom?

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