Learning from the Learners
This article originally appeared in The Roanoke Times on Oct. 14, 2017. It can be accessed here.
Mini is a recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate who is interning with Blue Ridge Literacy.
If you had told me a few years ago I would someday be Googling how to say “great job” in Swahili, I might have thought you were crazy, but that is just another day in the life as an English teacher at Blue Ridge Literacy.
Our class is made up of couple dozen learners, who speak nearly as many different languages, and are at all different levels of proficiency. Some are married, some single, some have ten children, some without any, some were teachers or doctors in their home country, and some are just learning to write for the first time.
Considering all these different backgrounds, there is diversity in just about every possible way. I could not have predicted how much I would learn from the learners before I began working here, but this experience has given me the opportunity to see the world through many perspectives I would never have seen otherwise. Though teaching isn’t always easy, coming to class has become my favorite part of every day.
Our mission is primarily to help adult immigrants learn English, but in reality it encompasses many other tasks too: acting as a support system, helping them adjust to living in a new community, and finding ways to make them feel at home. I feel that I learn much more than I teach most days, or am at least humbled and inspired by how little I know. As much as our job is about teaching, it is also about forming bonds that help us and our community grow as a whole.
Blue Ridge Literacy offers these services for ESOL learners every day of the year, through classes and one-on-one tutor matches. There are also numerous seminars, socials, and parties throughout the year to bring learners closer to the community, and to celebrate the culture they bring to us as well. Each year these learners contribute stories to their annual publication, Writing From the Heart. Here is one letter that a learner from Egypt wrote to her tutor:
To Ms. Sara Geres,
I would like to grab this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to my English language teacher Sara as she played an enormous roll for developing my English language skills. She worked hardly with me and helped me a lot to achieve my linguistic goals through enhancing my reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. She not only advanced my language but went beyond this in supporting me personally to overcome certain obstacles which faced me as a new immigrant to the United States. She treated me like her sister, she didn’t rest until she find an answer to my question.
She invited me to participate in Blue Ridge Literacy language series as an Arabic language teacher and at this event, I met some of the blue ridge literacy teachers, really all of them are very nice.
I appreciate her efforts
Thank you so much,