Worthwhile - You Better Believe It!
Most of my friends are a little envious of me. No, unfortunately it’s not because of my looks or my money, it’s because I am constantly telling them how much I love my job and find meaning in what I do. What a privilege it is in this day and age to be able to enjoy your work. The rewards of teaching adults and in my case, teaching immigrants English are too numerous to count. Some rewards are expected but then there are those that are totally unexpected.
Almost any ESL teacher will tell you that opening the door of opportunity for men and women through language is intensely gratifying. Seeing them begin to communicate, slowly and hesitantly at first but then confidently and proudly with other English speakers in their lives and in their communities is amazing to see. As English teachers, we are usually the first to experience this transformation. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of someone’s first attempts at forming a question or actually putting two or three sentences together to initiate an English conversation. With a smile and much head nodding, I’ve encouraged them to try, entreated them to continue when they would stumble or make a mistake and then seen the look of pride and accomplishment on their face when they were successful. And gratitude! The wonderful thing about adults is that they are very aware of what they are gaining in this process. Unlike teaching children (which has its own very special rewards), adults are able to appreciate what they are receiving, understand the importance of it, and recognize the blessings and opportunities that it will bring into their lives. My students are the most generous and appreciative people I’ve ever met. In a world where so many people take so much for granted (including myself), its refreshing and very humbling at times to realize that you are impacting people and families in such a powerful and positive way.
My students are all learning English but their reasons for doing so are different. Each one of them has different ideas, different dreams and unique goals in their personal lives, and for them, learning English is the first and most important step in this process. It’s a foundational step and one that they can build on in the future.
There are moments and conversations that have touched me in such a profound way that I doubt and certainly hope I’ll never forget them. I remember a beautiful day during my first year of teaching when I was walking with a student to class. She was young and pretty, married with two little boys. She was telling me in her halting English how much she enjoyed the class and how much it was helping her. She said she was currently working at a restaurant as a dishwasher but that with my help and with her new English skills, she had a dream of becoming a hostess at the restaurant. She said she thought it would be so wonderful to talk to people as they came in and when they left. I was so taken aback and completely humbled by her words. I was aware at that moment of just how valuable a gift language can be to someone. She was a social person and being able to have conversations with customers was very important to her.
Another instance that happened recently was with a long-time student who has struggled with trying to learn English while being illiterate in her first language. This woman has been the most committed, eager, motivated student I’ve probably ever had. She has worked tirelessly for years at learning how to read and write. Although it’s taken her longer and she’s had to work harder than other students, she never gave up. Several months ago she took her citizenship test and passed! What an accomplishment for her, and what a change her education has made in her life and in her self-esteem. She is a strong, confident woman who pushed herself and never gave up – a lesson that she has taught me.
These are just two inspiring stories, there are dozens more, and I know that as I continue to teach, the stories will
continue to inspire me. Does teaching English make a difference, is it worthwhile?
YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT!
About the Author
Kathleen Simmons works for the Literacy Council of Tyler and is the Adult Education Supervisor at the Family Learning Center of Tyler. She currently teaches an ESL beginner class. She’s been in adult education for three and one-half years. She has a B.S. degree from The University of Texas at Tyler. She also has her ESL teaching certification from UT Tyler. She has a 23-year old married daughter.