Never Say Never
I taught for ten years in middle and high school English classrooms. Then I published my first book and stopped teaching altogether. I wanted to focus solely on my writing career. So I was pleased to take on the writing end of a photojournalism project about refugees in Austin.
With my photographer friend, Ashley St. Clair, I began observing refugees at iACT’s ESL classes. We went once, sometimes twice a week to their English classes. We assisted students with whatever lesson they were working on that morning. Sometimes one of the teachers would ask Ashley or I to teach a portion of the lesson.
I said I’d never teach again, but somehow I didn’t mind guest teaching those mornings at ESL. Moreover, I began to enjoy the chance to flex those pedagogy muscles. I found myself daydreaming all week about ways I would like to teach this or that particular lesson. After a month I realized that, in fact, I wanted to teach again, but not just any students… I wanted to teach English to refugees.
When a position opened for permanent teacher with iACT, I quickly applied. Now I find myself back in the classroom. But teaching is different for me this time. For one, teaching refugees is the classroom management jackpot. They are adult learners who are voracious to learn the English language. There are no disciple problems and certainly none of the teenage angst that permeates a middle school classroom.
Instead, teaching refugees is about building trust. I make sure to show them that first I care about them as human beings, only then can I show them how to use and apply the English language. I try to filter every lesson through the lens of practicality. What English do refugees need to build a life in an entirely foreign culture?
As refugees, my new students come with tragedy. And as their teacher I bare this burden with sensitivity. I must. I wouldn’t be a conscientious teacher if I didn’t.
At the same time, I try everyday to show them hope. Hope for their futures here in Austin, Texas. I say to them in English every day, “Your English is improving because you work at it. Well done. Keep learning.”
I once said I’d never teach again. But that was before I’d ever seen a classroom of refugees: pencils ready, books open, eyes wide and hearts open to begin a new life in Austin.
Never Say Never