A year and a half ago, I was gulped up by a big city.
I had accepted a job in a research laboratory, and while I knew it was the right move for my scientific career, I feared that the city would chew up my humanitarian side and spit me back out, a shell of myself. Without cows and frogsong and little grass flowers, I didn’t know how I was going to nourish the part of me that wanted to write poetry, run barefoot, rock the world in a cradle.
I began searching for opportunities to volunteer in the new city almost as soon as I arrived, and almost as soon as I began searching for opportunities to volunteer, I found NICE (Nashville International Center for Empowerment). NICE is a brilliant organization, built upon a medley of volunteers who are devoted to making foreign refugees at home in a new city. When I learned that NICE offered free ESL classes to refugees, I knew I had found the niche that would help me survive city-life.
So many aspects of being an ESL teacher are rewarding. What follows is just a short list:
- You get a self-esteem boost.
When I moved to Nashville, I went from being a big fish in a little pond to an average fish in a big, unfamiliar pond. But standing in front of my ESL class, I felt different. I didn’t feel like a cog in the wheel. I didn’t feel like just another car in a traffic jam. I felt useful.
Of course, my students were always uplifting too. ESL students are the most grateful population demographic I have ever interacted with. They never failed to make me feel needed and special.
- AND you get humbled.
The paragraph just above ties in here.
My ESL students were, for the most part, refugees from their own countries. Some left because they were unable to support their families, financially, in their home country. Others left because their lives were threatened by violence.
And yet, as I have already mentioned, my students were some of the most grateful people I have ever met. They were also among the most hard-working and the most in-touch with their sense of humor.
I don’t mean to say that all ESL students are the same. Of course not. Some are shy. Some are talkative. Some wear miniskirts. Some wear burkas. Some scowl when they can’t figure out how to conjugate a verb, and others smile and nod.
But I can say that there wasn’t a mean or petty spirit in the bunch–and I don’t know how many other collections of people I could say that about.
- You learn about different cultures.
My students were from Egypt, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, Guatemala, Ghana, Pakistan, Colombia…
They all had stories to tell about their lifestyles, traditions, and beliefs, and they were eager to set the record straight about some common Western misconceptions of their cultures.
- If you want, you can go experience different cultures.
If you’re a native English speaker, life has given you a precious gift. There are doors open to you all over the world. My co-teachers had fabulous stories of teaching in Brazil and Russia, among other countries.
From what I can tell, the most reputable program through which you can be licensed to teach English is CELTA. Many of the ESL jobs in European countries or at private schools across the globe seek teachers who have been certified through CELTA. However, you can get a job without any certification at all, especially in South America.
If you speak English, and you’re feeling stuck in a rut, GO. TEACH. The world needs you, and you need the world.
- You finally understand what a “past participle” is.
Teaching English was fun for me because I love language like a kid loves tinker toys. The mechanics are fascinating to me.
As a native speaker, it’s easy to speak correctly without really appreciating what correct speech entails. When you teach, you have to study and internalize the mechanics of English, so that you can explain them to your students. It’s quite fun!
- You will be able to learn new languages more easily.
At the same time that I began teaching English, I began studying Portuguese (so that I could converse with my Brazilian boyfriend (now husband) in his language). Interestingly, I found that the English lessons I was writing dovetailed nicely with my attempts to learn Portuguese.
English and the romance languages have similar verb tenses; if you are aware of all the verb tenses that exist in English, (past, present, future; past perfect, present perfect, future perfect; past continuous, present continuous, future continuous; past perfect continuous….you get the picture) and what they mean, you sort of have a roadmap for what you need to learn in another language.
Of course, the actual conjugations are different (Portuguese adds “ando, endo, or indo” instead of “ing”) but for most people, memorizing conjugations isn’t the hardest part of learning a new language. The hardest part of learning a new language is understanding how all those grammatical tricks fit together into fluent, meaningful expression.
Last night was a sad night for me: my last day with my ESL class. I only have one more month in the states before I set sail for Brazil, and I am channeling that time into publishing Eleanor.
I will always be grateful to this beautiful group, who, week after week, uplifted my heart and helped me put my trifling problems into perspective.
Love to all ESL teachers and students out there!