- On 11 October 2017
- Tags TEFL Florence
“What’s it like to live in Los Angeles? Why are you in Italy? Do you miss your family?” (Carly Brahim)
These are just a few of the questions my students have asked me after discovering I grew up in California. I am always excited to answer these questions because they open up opportunities to have conversations with my students that go beyond standard ESL teachings. These conversations allow my students and me to get to know each other’s authentic selves.
Our goal as ESL teachers is to spur conversations amongst students and empower them to test their language abilities. Learning a second language is scary and it can be incredibly intimidating to speak in a foreign language in front of a room of strangers. It takes vulnerability to overcome those moments of fear and hesitation. I have learned that forming genuine relationships with my students from day one is the key to creating a space where my students truly feel comfortable to take risks and grow. Forming genuine relationships develops mutual trust, making risk-taking a little less scary for students.
One time, I had a teenage boy in my beginner class who was reluctant to share more than where he was from with the class. I could sense his shyness, so after the other students were finished sharing, I put the spotlight on me. I remembered how scary and difficult learning a new language can be and empathized with the fear he was likely feeling. I began showing pictures of my life and shared my story about learning Italian with the class. I said a couple of words with the double “r” and “gli” sounds. The boy giggled at my less-than-perfect pronunciation and we shared a brief moment of connection. As the days went on and the trust built, so did his willingness to answer questions; I loved watching his language skills and confidence grow.
As exhibited with my teenage student, language learning can be challenging, frustrating, and intimidating. As ESL teachers, we have the ability to minimize these fears by empathizing with our students and most importantly, creating a safe environment that supports reciprocal learning from all sides.
In my experience at Via Lingua, I’ve had the opportunity to teach students from all over the world – from Poland to Ecuador, to Brazil and Romania – with diverse backgrounds. As an ESL teacher, you will have so many opportunities to learn about your students, their culture, language, and even current political, social, and economic issues ongoing in their countries. Take advantage of these opportunities.
The ESL classroom has become a crossroads for reciprocal learning among the students and myself. Each day my students and I walk away having learned something new and that is a rewarding feeling. No matter what school or classroom you teach in, lean into the fact that you have the opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life. You never know what new fact, custom, recipe, or inspiration you could leave with.
Show empathy. Be curious. Create an environment of empowerment.