I constantly have moments here where I step back and think, How did I get here?
I had one of those a few weekends ago, leading 18 children off a public bus and into a movie theater, remembering acutely the aphorism about herding cats.
The U.S. Embassy had rented out a theater playing Star Wars in 3D, and our English classroom from Nueva Suyapa had ended up on the list of invites. The Embassy is always throwing cultural events, but for my 18 kids, it was their first time in a theater, and they were going wild.
Maybe I need to back up and explain how these children became mine in the first place.
ASJ holds Youth Impact clubs in communities where children are at the highest risk of joining gangs. One of those communities is my own, and the club is just a block from my house. I stopped in one day and mentioned casually I’d love to volunteer teaching English or whatever they needed.
“Can you start Saturday?,” they asked.
They needed an English teacher for their Saturday morning classes, 8am to noon. Just a dozen or so kids (there were 25). Ages 10-15 (youngest was 8, oldest, 19). Intermediate level (mostly beginners). Of course we have curriculum (not for beginners).
I said yes.
I love teaching, though I’ve never really learned how to do it correctly. I get excited about the things I know and I want others to know them to. I taught English through college, though never to children, but I wondered how different it could be.
It’s pretty different.
“Good morning teacher,” my students chirped at me on the first day. It’s the first thing they learn in school, this little song to the tune of Frere Jacque: Good morning, Teacher, Good morning, Teacher, How are you? How are you?.
It seemed like the line of students just kept coming. They filled all the desks in the classroom until newcomers had to sit on plastic stools with their notebooks in their laps. The students ranged from sweet, dimpled Esteban who has only just turned 9 to shy, self-conscious Ingrid at 19. They range from chatty 15-year-old Edgardo who writes stories about karate masters, to 12-year-old Yosmeli who smiles through the class without understanding much of anything. Teaching them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I sped through my carefully-arranged lesson plan in half the time the first Saturday morning, the last few minutes pulling desperately from whatever songs and games I could think of. It was too early to conjugate verbs, so we played “Simon Says” and “Fruit Basket,” sang “Father Abraham,” “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” We learned lists of animals and wrote little stories and the clock ran slowly until finally it was noon.
I took the volunteer job on a whim, but for the children, English is much more important. Honduras’ economy is so tied into that of the United States that English is almost required of many higher-level jobs. English opens up jobs in tourism, the possibility of studying abroad – worlds that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
I know how much hope these childrens’ parents have for them, how proud they are of the few sentences their children are already able to pronounce. Good morning, teacher. How are you?
I try to make English fun and practical and relevant to their lives. I try to recall the few Paolo Freire articles I read, that one class I took on Teaching Grammar to Speakers of English as a Second Language, and it’s not enough, I feel like I’m talking to the wall, to myself, as the children shift in their seats, confused and bored, until suddenly I stumble into the right thing to say and they laugh.
At the movie theater, they slipped the glasses over their eyes and wriggled in their seats as the opening sequence of Star Wars rolled. Whoever in the embassy thought it was a good idea to give everyone a free, large, sugarry pop was clearly not thinking of the chaperones.
They gasped as the story began, reached their hands out and try to touch the ships that seemed to jut out of the screen. I watched their wonder and it was wonderful.
Thank you, teacher, they said as we left, one by one, and I melted a little bit. "Teacher" is a role I didn’t expect and a role I’m still learning to fill. But this group of kids makes me want to try harder to earn it.