Thursday, April 29, 2010

An ESL Teacher's Tale - Part 1

Day 1 - Part 1

The night before my first class I set the alarm for an early wake-up, knowing that I need to prepare myself with coffee and a big breakfast. But as it turns out, I never needed to set the alarm since anxiety wakes me up an hour before the alarm does. Thoughts of "Who are these students? What am I suppose to teach? and How am I suppose to keep these kids happy?" flood my brain. The previous conversation I had with my boss left me with all this guesswork. The only lasting impression from that conversation was - 'make the children happy and we will be happy.' Pouring myself the second cup of coffee, I begin to relax. I have teaching credentials, I like kids, and if I've learned anything about the modern world it is 'be adaptable.' After jotting down a few notes outlining my plans for the day, I pack up my laptop, gulp down the last swig of warm joe and head to work.


Kids are everywhere. They sound louder than they should. Could be that they are louder, or it could be that the noise is a result of me not understanding a word of their native language. A few kids speak to me using very passable English, I'm impressed with the ease they alternate between the two languages. One moment they are 'screaming' at each other in their native language, the next they are conversing with me in that funny, insightful way that all kids do. My spirits lift, now all I have to do is find the course books for my new beginner class.


The secretary points me in the direction of a big wooden bookshelf. The contents look promising, a virtual rainbow of teaching material at my finger tips, rows of red, green, blue, and yellow books in an assortment of sizes. The books are numbered in sequence for me, Book 1, Book 2, Book 3...and they all have names that make me want to start training for a marathon. After a few awkward minutes of dropping as many books as I manage to neatly put back on the shelf, the secretary comes over and hands me three books. "You will use these," she says. "Thank you" I say, "Is there a desk or place where I can sit down and look at these?" She points at a large table in the corner where older students are either studying, eating, or sleeping. I inadvertently clean a section of the table with my clean shirt sleeve, then decide to use it as my space to prepare for class.


My preparation doesn't last long. I don't understand what I suppose to do with these books. The main text book is full of scenes with people having conversations using thought bubbles. I quickly flip through the book until my eyes land on the question "What is your social security number?" Huh? I think to myself while trying to get the secretary's attention. "Excuse me, how old are my students?" I ask. "Anywhere between 4 and 8," she answers. "Do you have a social security number?" I ask. "What is that?" she replies, "Like an ID number?" Nodding, I quickly open the next book in my pile. The phonics book has the entire alphabet within its' cover, but each letter is associated with random words like "angel", "aardvark", and "ankle" for the letter 'A'. I can make this work, I say to myself.

(to be cont...)

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