Teaching Practice: Great Privilege and Responsibility
My friends and I live in a predominantly Indian neighborhood in a suburban Midwest town in the United States. Most of our neighbors are Indian nationals who are in the US temporarily on corporate-sponsored work visas, families where one or both parents work outside the home during the day while their children attend local American public schools. One of my friends, a high school math teacher, was asked by her neighbor to tutor two elementary school-aged children in English, her son in first grade, and her daughter in third grade.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Rob Q. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Teaming up to help one another accommodate this request amidst our busy schedules, my friends and I negotiated a tutoring schedule that worked for everyone. For my part, I was eager for this opportunity to put the EFL principles and strategies I was learning in the ITTT online course into practice. I seized upon this opportunity for practical experience that I had been craving as preparation for moving overseas to teach English, especially in a team environment with mentoring input from a local ESL professional. Though semi professional and somewhat informal, my initial experiences in this ongoing endeavor have been humbling and very rewarding.
My first one-on-one session with Daksha, the young first-grader, was illuminating. I had planned a “straight arrow” ESA format for our introductory session by which I hoped to assess his English proficiency.
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Starting with conversation (Engage), I asked Daksha which travel experience with his family was his favorite. As I elicited what modes of travel he and his family had used, I laid out corresponding flashcards depicting an airplane, a car, and a helicopter from a stack I had prepared in advance. I pointed out how the flashcards could be used to tell his story and then I elicited descriptions from Daksha as he read aloud each card as we went through the rest of the stack together.
After we read through all the cards, Daksha sorted them into separate categories for modes of transportation, destinations, and vacation activities (Study).
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Once sorted, I demonstrated how to tell a simple story about one of my travel experiences by laying out flashcards in a particular order then asked Daksha to build a story of his own in the same way (Activate). Rather than use the flashcards, Daksha wanted to write his story out in sentences on a piece of notebook paper. I acceded to his request, amending this part of my planned lesson for the opportunity to assess his productive writing skill. After Daksha wrote out his travel story and reread it to me, I assigned him the task of sharing this story with his parents and with his older sister as homework, anticipating that he would discuss how his storytelling went at the next session with one of my co-tutors as a way of reviewing what we had covered together in our first session about building sentences.
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Reading For Pleasure
With time left in our session together, Daksha wanted to read “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss to me, one of his favorite stories. Happy to oblige, I noticed that Daksha retold the “Green Eggs and Ham” story more often by cadenced memory than by reading the printed words, even skipping whole lines occasionally in his rush and enthusiasm.
After this first tutoring session, I with Daksha and my friend the high school math teacher as co-tutor with his slightly older sister, we debriefed altogether with the rest of our tutoring team. Upon reflection, I saw that I had greatly underestimated Daksha’s initial English proficiency and what it would be like tutoring a first grader. The lesson I had planned provided so little challenge for him that he practically flew through our activities. Fortunately, it seemed that Daksha enjoyed excelling at the tasks we accomplished together without getting bored or distracted. I think that some of my untested expectations had been to maximize his student talk time and so planned to focus more on conversational English than reading and writing. But after this first session, perhaps because he has daily immersion in conversational English both at home and in his American elementary school, I concluded that our tutoring time would be better spent working with Daksha on more challenging reading and writing.
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I recounted this initial experience to my mentor, the ESL professional, and she recommended that we ask Daksha’s parents or teachers where they would like to focus his English tutoring. My mentor advised that technical vocabulary is often very helpful for young students of English as a second language and can prepare them to excel when they encounter non-conversational English in the course of their studies, like in math and the sciences.
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I greatly appreciated this introductory experience made possible in tutoring Daksha. It was therapeutically humbling, I am only just starting and have a lot of learning and practice ahead of me. It was also affirming that even semi-professional and informal tutoring, like teaching, is a privilege and a responsibility. It is very rewarding to see a student’s joy in excelling at the subtle and complicated task of language acquisition while at the same time sobering to realize the influence a teacher has for good or ill toward that goal.
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