By Chris Keates, Adult Education Volunteer
I’ve been volunteering at Guadalupe for something like five years, and while I could cover a number of different topics, there are two observations related to my time here that I’d like to talk about:
1) There are things I find consistently enjoyable and fulfilling when it comes to teaching, even years after my first class and teaching similar concepts over and over.
What are these things? Perhaps it’s best for me to describe why I decided to come here in the first place. Right after graduating college, I was of course excited to start my “adult life” – you know, get a job, cook things other than Top Ramen, etc. What caught me by surprise was how suddenly I felt disconnected from the community, like I was turning off that part of my brain where all of the social consciousness stuff resides. Luckily, I recalled one volunteering event that I did for Guadalupe School years earlier (it was actually handing out candy for the Children’s’ Halloween Program or something!), so on a whim I called and made arrangements to start teaching. My first impressions still hold true today.
Specifically, the staff are cool and keep things running smoothly, it’s obvious the instructors truly care about student outcomes and treat us tutors like friends rather than employees, and of course the students are smart, surprising and inspiring in ways that I believe are unique to this community. I could keep going here, but the point is the stuff that drove me to start volunteering many years ago still holds true today, and I would hope that all tutors have their own combination of motivations and attitudes that will keep them coming back as well.
2) It’s okay if you can’t speak the students’ respective languages: despite me not knowing how to speak Spanish, Portuguese, Ukrainian, or Vietnamese I have taught students from these language backgrounds and I would argue that not sharing a common tongue actually forces you to engage students in more creative ways.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I never use the trusty ol’ Spanish to English dictionary when I need to quickly explain a word’s meaning, but when it comes to explaining a concept or rule of the English language, I simply can’t rely on my spotty Spanish skills to get the point across. Above all, do not get frustrated or discouraged. I really believe in reciprocity when it comes to effort, and if the students can see you trying your best to explain something, they will in turn try their best to understand it. I do not think I’m qualified to share any “best practices” when it comes to teaching methodology, but I would encourage tutors in similar situations to try and think of three or four different ways to explain a concept/rule/etc.
Use the whiteboard, speak an example in slow and plain English, pull up a picture of the word on your phone while you’re teaching. Recently, my group wanted to know what “Motown” music was – so beyond a verbal explanation I pulled up some audio samples of that music genre. How else could I have better explained that? Just be creative, and you will feel immensely satisfied when you see your students understanding your lesson.