Many of you are aware that I taught English at the University level when the family lived in Florence, Alabama. Much of that time was spent teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at UNA (University of North Alabama). It started as an adjunct position in 2002, a position I held (some of that time also teaching adjunct at another school) until hired full time in January 2004.
The main reason I applied for the ESL job to begin with was it paid considerably more than the non-ESL classes. As I’d just finished grad school, I was very attracted to the income. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect in the program.
I found that I really enjoyed it. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked teaching composition (ENG 101) as well—I just like teaching writing to be totally honest. In my “American” classes, however, I found that out of 25 students (a full class), about 5 would do really well, 5 would do horrible, and the rest fell somewhere in-between.
With ESL classes, however, we were getting the brightest of the bright from foreign countries. It was (probably still is) very difficult to get into the USA and take classes. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, of course, but in general, the students we got were very smart and very motivated.
They just didn’t speak English.
At the time, UNA had been courting a Japanese organization and they brought in hundreds of kids. This is primarily why I was employed. I learned over the course of time, however, that we have big misconceptions about schools abroad. Often we hear how “good” public schools are as compared to the US. I found that to be completely untrue based on the international students and conversations with them about it.
Americans are lacking in geographical knowledge, however. Many Americans couldn’t find Japan on a map if you asked them. My theory is that the US is so big, that Americans have enough “geography” to worry about in our own country.
That’s my theory, anyway.
This is on my mind because many of the students who came into the US in 2003 and whom I taught are graduating today. Tomorrow, many of them will leave the US for good (well, some of them make pit stops in places like Disney World—ha). It’s my hope that I touched them in some way not just as an English teacher (you can ask them—the most common phrase heard from me their first year was “speak English!”), but as a positive influence in their lives somehow. I dunno how, but it’s my hope. They certainly touched my life.
On that note, I leave you with this clip from the local news channel. They interviewed me and one of the students about the growing ESL program at UNA.
And, if any of my former students happen to read this—Congratulations on graduation! I wish you the very best in life!