Before I began working at the Henrico Adult County ESOL classes I felt somewhat confident in my abilities because of the work I did in Mexico, but I also worried that I would not be experienced enough to work with adult learners. I knew that I enjoyed teaching English, but I had never been told that my skills were adequate from an English teacher. Ms. McCabe has told me numerous times that I have a natural ability to teach because of the way I handled myself in the classroom, which has given me more confidence. Instead of giving students the answer when they answered incorrectly I would ask them why they believed that to be the correct answer and gave them a specific portion of the text to refer back to in order to find the correct answer. I was worried that I would not be able to make an impact and my English skills would not be sufficient. I realized once I started that just being there made an impact in a small way and my English skills did not have to be perfect because I had Ms. McCabe to lean on when I was unsure.
I expected to learn more about myself and about the students. I learned that I am capable of teaching even though I swore that I would never teach because my mom is a teacher and my grandpa was a teacher. I learned a lot about the students in small ways too. I learned where they were from and a little about their individual situations. For example, one woman told me how she works on art because she does not have a work visa, but her husband has a job. The people I taught try so hard to learn a language that many Americans take for granted and do not know nearly as well as these students.
This assignment has made me realize I have more options for a choice of career and has given me a broader spectrum of what I can do in a non-profit career. I have realized how something as simple as teaching English and giving people a community they can access to learn something new and meet people from all over the world can make such a difference in someone’s life. Some of the people who go to Henrico for the English classes may have never met the people in their classes if they had not taken the risk or been encouraged by their friends in the program to begin the classes.
A leader does not have to be a figure in the media that everyone knows. A good leader can be the teacher that takes time out of their lives to go help a community learn not just English but other vital information as well, such as how to transfer a degree to the United States in order to get a job. Ms. McCabe and the other teachers help the students in any way possible by just being there for them and being friendly in a world that can often be filled with bias because of the media or preconceived ideas. A leader can be someone who simply takes the time to get to know someone by stepping outside of his or her own comfort zone.
On my second day going to Henrico I had the opportunity to share my experience in Oaxaca, Mexico with the students. I made a PowerPoint and created a crossword puzzle with new vocabulary from the presentation for them. The students had the chance to learn a little about me and my hobbies while learning new vocabulary. The students are always curious to learn new vocabulary and I can certainly relate to that because I know that I need to increase my Spanish vocabulary. In one class we had the opportunity to listen to a woman who is working in South Sudan to eradicate guinea worm, which was very interesting for the students and gave them the chance to learn new vocabulary as well as information about a topic that probably would not come up in daily conversation.
Ms. McCabe has given me a lot of guidance when giving me a task to help out in the classroom, whether it be preparing a presentation, writing on the board a certain way (writing out a word phonetically), or advising me to use a pencil instead of my finger when pointing to something under the projector (because for some cultures it is a phallic symbol). She has provided me with simple ideas and suggestions that I would have never thought of when teaching students from different cultures. Ms. McCabe also asked me to write a paragraph to introduce the topic of Chinese traditional dance because we had a group come in to perform for the students. Then, the class went through the questions I provided about the paragraph. This has given me the chance to learn how to alter my writing based on the intended audience.
The only challenge I have really faced is trying to still be outgoing and energetic when I am tired from a long day of school and work. I overcome this by drinking coffee before I leave and eating a little something to regain my energy and try to mask it as much as possible so it does not affect my ability to help the students. Also, if I did not know how to spell a word or if my grammar was incorrect in class I would simply ask Ms. McCabe to assist me.
The readings and assignments from class have given me a different perspective of what it means to be a leader. My experience has really influenced how I look at myself as a leader and how I fit into different categories as a leader. For example, most people finished their service hours and stopped going back to the site, but I felt the need to continue going. I understand that some people do not have the means of transportation to keep going and they may not have the time. However, I am the type of person that has to finish what I start even if I am unhappy, which is not the case in this situation by any means. I am completely satisfied going to Henrico and continuing my work. I wish I could return to the site in the spring.
This situation did not really change my tolerance for taking risks because I already try to take as many risks as possible. I enjoy putting myself out there in most cases because I will never know what could have been unless I do so. If anything this experience has only encouraged my risk taking tolerance.
In the future at VCU and in Richmond I hope I can encourage people to take small risks, such as introducing themselves to someone because one never knows whom they may meet. Teaching helps with that because you have to go out of your comfort zone working with adults. This can be intimidating because I am only 20 years old and typically I am the one being taught, not the other way around. I encourage people who go to this site in the future to remember that simply speaking to the students in English and not their native language is helpful. I have had the urge to practice my Spanish with the students, but I know that it will benefit them more if they are completely immersed in the language they are trying to learn. Prepare yourself by being open to the new experience and not having preconceived ideas of the types of students you may meet or how the classroom and teacher will work. Each teacher has different methods so just have fun with what you are doing.