You Gotta Learn Before You Teach

It has been a crazy first week here in Gettysburg for the Heston Interns. After everyone moved in at various times over the weekend, we were all bright-eyed and enthusiastic to start our jobs on Monday morning. By the way, Gettysburg did not let us down—it was pouring. ALL. DAY. LONG.
After an orientation day in which we learned about various organizations right here in Gettysburg and how they serve the community, we were able to jump right in to each of our respective projects. For me that meant jumping into GIV Day preparations and preparing material for the ESL classes that Casa de la Cultura conducts every Tuesday and Thursday evening. These are my two main jobs for the summer—GIV Day and Casa de la Cultura. Although they will be two very different experiences, I am equally excited for both.
There’s not much to say about my first week preparing for GIV Day. My work days consisted mainly of writing e-mails, writing e-mails, writing e-mails. I’m not complaining though! It was great to finally begin a project that I have been thinking about for months. My work with Casa de la Cultura, although not as extensive this week, has been very rewarding. We held ESL classes both Tuesday and Thursday this week, yet, it is only week 1 of the summer sessions and not many students know that it has returned. We had two students on Tuesday and three on Thursday.
I had been a little nervous about starting this job, mainly because I’ve never had any experience teaching ESL before. I showed up to the class on Tuesday with a pile of worksheets that I had printed out, but, I was afraid that they wouldn’t be helpful, so I decided not to use them at first. The student that I worked with the most that evening was Luis. Luis was eager to learn and could hold a conversation in English quite well. We began the class by reviewing some worksheets that he had brought—a packet that his tutor had given him before classes ended a month ago. About ten minutes into the packet I could tell that Luis was struggling. Luis had yet to learn verb conjugations and this packet was focusing on irregular verbs in the past perfect tense. He looked at me and said “Can we do something else?” So I pulled out my own worksheets that were based not on verb tenses, but common phrases. We spent another hour focusing on these worksheets and had fluid conversation going the entire time.
Seeing the packet of worksheets that Luis had received earlier in the year made me think about how tutors/teachers and their students should be interacting in these classes. This isn’t your typical class setting where the teachers know all and it’s their way or the highway. These students work fulltime and then go to class voluntarily to learn English so that they will be able to use it practically in their everyday lives. It is our job as tutors to find out what their needs are, why they want to learn English, and what their goals are. In order for us to teach them we must first learn from them.
A goal of mine in the upcoming months is to really get to know the students that attend the ESL classes. Each student has an individual story and different needs. I cannot simply impose a handful of worksheets on them and expect them to be able to suddenly speak English. I need to get to know them and work with them to reach their ultimate goals.
And that’s what I plan on doing! We hope to have a much larger class next Tuesday, so I want to prepare a variety of activities that can incorporate different styles of learning. As I get to know the students I can determine which styles work best for which students. Maybe that can lead to a more integrated, productive class. But what do I know?! I’ve never done this before! I guess I’ll have to keep you posted…

-Emily Hauck