If you’ve followed this blog at all, or if you just read back a few posts, you’ll notice I was in the middle of starting a new job last year. The job was intended to be a part-time position with the local school system where I would work in what appeared to be a mostly administrative role.
Well, one of the reasons I landed the position is because of one line on my resume. It reads: English Teacher – Wuhan Textile University – Wuhan, China.
This is probably the single reason I am where I am today, and if I’d never gone to China, I likely would never have learned how much I adore teaching adult immigrants.
There. I said it.
I love teaching adult immigrants to speak the English language.
And a job that started out as very much administrative and rather boring at times turned into an interactive teaching position with students from around the world who are inspiring just as much as they are challenging. I never expected to be here, but now that I am, I’ve learned I have a real and true passion for teaching ESL.
For those of you who have no concept of what that looks like, let me just start by saying it looks a lot like trying to teach someone who only has one pronoun to understand three pronouns (going from a gender-neutral pronoun to he/she/it) and teaching too many verb tenses that are incredibly difficult for students of foreign languages to grasp (past continuous, present continuous, present perfect, past perfect, etc.). But that’s just the grammar part.
Teaching ESL well also means teaching the spoken part, and we all know that living in an English speaking nation does not mean we by any means speak with grammatically correct sentences. I teach students to write without a preposition hanging at the end of sentences, but when speaking I tell them we tend to not worry about this. (With whom are you going to the store? – That’s an awfully awkward question to speak, don’t you think?)
Not to mention I actually have a curriculum that comes text-free. In others words, I have a curriculum but strict rules about not using copyrighted material from books to supplement the curriculum in my teaching. Thank you, China, for not giving me decent material or any curriculum to work with! This gives me plenty of room to truly be creative, take the syllabus and branch into all kinds of teaching methods for making sure my students understand what they need to know in order to pass the test.
Did I mention the test? For ESL, that means a written and spoken test. Any of us who took a foreign language in high school or college will remember the grueling repetition of phrases, the attempts to reply back to teachers who ask us questions we don’t understand, and the rote memorization of dictation sentences for dictation tests.
In the world of ESL, the tests are similar but not at all easy to pass. They test on issues that most Americans wouldn’t consider important for immigrants to understand; for example, one section of the test asks students to write checks and address envelopes properly. It’s amazing how difficult this can be for new students, especially ones who come from backgrounds where they’ve had little or no formal education.
Now that I’ve been teaching since August 2014, I’ve realized there are so many amazing areas of ESL that I’d like to explore. Even though it’s challenging and the students can quickly tire of the subject matter, I may have found my sweet spot. And what a place to be!
Have you found your sweet spot? Share with me in the comments if you have!