During the past three weeks, I’ve sometimes thought back to when I was in middle school learning a foreign language. After all, the best way to see from someone’s perspective is to step into their shoes. In all three years of middle school, I took introductory French classes, and to be honest, my first two years weren’t that great. I wouldn’t say it was awful, but I was learning the language just to pass the class. After 7th grade, my french teacher moved back to Haiti and our school hired one of the best french teachers in the district. But what made her so special? Being in her class made french feel like an entirely different subject than before. We weren’t learning more french material than other french students at other schools, our curriculum was the same. Yet, my shyness and reluctance to speak slowly dissipated and I felt like I was actually capable of learning the language. My interest in French, along with many of my classmates, sky-rocketed. My teacher was one of the funniest, most goofy, and energetic teachers I’ve had in my life. It wasn’t just her teaching method, but her teaching attitude that drew me into the language. I imagined myself telling a taxi driver directions to my home during a summer abroad or sitting in a Paris cafe sipping on some cafe du lait and planning for my next fashion show. I did want to be a designer back then. I was interested in not only the language but the culture behind the words I spoke. My engagement in her class, even when I wasn’t exactly learning new vocabulary words, allowed me to open up to new opportunities that I wouldn’t have even considered before.
Our program leader, Hsiao-mei, has emphasized and reassured us many times before that our goal is not to teach the students perfect English but to spark their interest and passion in learning the language. Although it has already been three weeks, I’m still trying to digest what this means for me, my partners, and our students. My french teacher had a year to turn us into little francophiles, but we have eight weeks. Yesterday, Hsiao-mei showed us a Zhuhai alumni’s speech regarding her experience with the program. At the time, she was an undergraduate student at NYU. She described the same spark that I felt with my french teacher, even though her time with her teachers was much less than what I had with mine. Not to be dramatic, but I would have cried if I heard her speech in real-time. I think that even if only one of the 100 students I teach will be able to feel more comfortable learning English, then I will be able to leave this program fully content.
Week 3 was great, wonderful, awesome (I also have to work on new phrases to use to let the students know they are doing a good job). This week, we talked about after-school activities, which was already a fun topic for them, and by asking “what do you like to do on the weekends?” we got to know them a bit better. I think my partners and I are getting the hang of the schedule and we are beginning to understand each class individually as well. The students like to watch videos, they like to see their teachers fail at drawing soccer players, and they like to call on their friends to speak. I’m happy to see increased participation across the board and more laughs and giggles during class. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find more things that they enjoy and incorporate them into the lessons. Now the big question is how to pique their interest? I always try to remind myself to keep the energy up during class, to not be the least bit shy or embarrassed, to be extremely enthusiastic and “extra”, and to make sure that the students are engaged and interested. But I’m sure, I’m not always successful. So, how can I be more like my french teacher? I’m sure my partners and I will find the answer in the coming weeks.