Do Whatever Works!

I am a diehard educator. I love teaching and my first priority is ESL—English as a second language. Over the years, I have perfected my techniques and evolved in my ability to communicate with others. I am proud of my hands-on experience that goes way beyond the Skype chats that foreign students use nowadays to learn English. It is okay for an introduction to the experience, but really reaching a student takes more time and effort than a forty minute session once a week.

I strongly believe you have to get to know your student so you can focus on his or her special interests. New learners are often hesitant to speak another language at first due to the potential embarrassment of a poor accent and making mistakes. It takes time for some people to loosen up. If you can get the person to talk about what they know and love, you will go a long way toward faster absorption of the unfamiliar material. This works in a classroom as much as one-on-one tutoring. Remember, a loose attitude also loosens the tongue. They used to say alcohol, but in the educational setting, this will certainly not apply.

If you spend enough time, a student will soon reveal personal interests and issues so you have a good jumping off point for more advanced conversations. I had one student in particular that I struggled with for many weeks before finally discovering his “secret.” It wasn’t something shameful or illegal at all; he simply liked shredding paper. He might purloin a piece here and there from a fellow student or a family member. If he found a full trash can, he was would be in heaven.

I got the picture and brought in a cheap, compact shredder from to the classroom so my student could shred to his heart’s content while we talked. He would tell me what he thought was written or printed on the paper and often made up stories about the people who had thrown the used paper away. It got to be pretty funny at times. Sometimes animals got involved, like the old student excuse for tardiness, “my dog ate my homework.” No matter the truth or falsity of his talk, it is an ideal way to learn a language and he progressed very fast. He loved that I would save the students’ completed worksheets and exams just for him.

Other students had their own quirks. One student enjoyed having a snack to help him relax during our ESL conversations. Then there was this young girl who couldn’t sit still for more than ten minutes, so we conducted our sessions while walking in the nearby park. Another oddity was one student’s need to speak over his cell phone and to demand texts to define words he didn’t know. In the teaching profession, we say “do whatever works!” I sure would like to hear what other teachers have experienced when living in a foreign land.