“Teacher, thank you so much for this English class. I need to learn English,” a student tells me after she kisses my cheek at the end of class. There are other students in line behind her, waiting to do and say the same. I tell them all, “Your welcome,” politely and almost out of habit, but at the same time, my head argues, “No. Thank YOU.”
I spent four weeks teaching Adult Conversation and Children’s Basic English in General Teran. The Spanish language was so overwhelming to me at first that it was a nice break to have a couple hours of my day dedicated to my native language. I had fifteen students in the adult class and nine children in the other class. I was shocked at the number of students we had managed to entice with the classes after advertising for only one week. And from Day One, they did not lose their enthusiasm to learn English.
The first day of class I had my adult students write a letter to me in English, explaining why they wanted to learn the language. Rosey and Claribel had cousins that lived in California that they wanted to visit. Mirsha was moving to Texas after her marriage and needed to be able to speak fluently for her citizenship test. Jaime was an English teacher who wanted to perfect his pronunciation. Alejandro and Alfredo had to know English in order to continue with graduate school. Other students explained that if they knew English, they would never be wanting for jobs. No matter their answers, all the students made it very clear to me that to know this language meant the key to their life goals.
The atmosphere was laid-back. It seems in Mexico that people are not as concerned with time frames as I am. I very rarely could start class less than fifteen minutes after the designated time. At first this frustrated me. But I began to understand that time is not as important as the efforts. My students, though ridiculously tardy at times, were dedicated to the point of staying in class late nearly every day to ask questions or just converse with one another in English.
Their generosity toward me is something that I cannot begin to describe in any language. It was in the Mexican candy one student brought for me to try. It was in the book that another student gave to me after I had told them I couldn’t find any books there in English. It was in their smiles. In their attitudes toward me after class, which I had not expected at all. Several students approached me to let me know that they were my friends and that if there was anything I needed, I had only to ask.
The school that I taught in was relatively poor. They had only four computers in the building. No air conditioning. No buses—teachers picked up students that could not walk to school. My classroom was a hot room, open to the unrelenting sun even in the evenings. We left the windows and the doors open and we sweated. There was one fan, but its main use was to keep the gnats away. My students never complained, though (well, not about the conditions, but the work was a different story. Speeches and letters and groups—oh my!)
It was shocking to me to understand how much I had taken for granted. From simple air conditioning to being brought up in the most in-demand of all languages. My students taught me how to appreciate what I do have and to work for what I wanted. I never thought that I could learn so much by teaching, especially about my own language.
“Teacher, my English is so much better. Thanks for your help.”
And my heart’s language is so much clearer. Muchas gracias, clase.