Writing these blogs is a good opportunity to re-evaluate my writing style as well as to reflect. In a previous blog, I mentioned that I teach at the Intensive American Language Center (IALC) here on campus. The students, who come from all over the world, range in age 18 - 35. They work extremely hard as the program is truly intense for both students and teachers alike.
I barely get to know their names, which are for the most part very difficult to pronounce, before they move on to the next level. Their efforts are rewarded when they pass level six which means they can enroll as WSU students. That is their goal -- their summit. Well, actually, their goals probably extend to receiving their bachelor and master degrees if not their PhDs. Realistically, most of their summits would probably be attained when they find a good-paying job.
There are real challenges in teaching an English Language Learner (ELL). One of the first obstacles I met was that Asian students rarely open their mouths in class. They expect to learn everything by listening solely to their teachers. Group activities and direct questions scare them which makes it difficult to get any response from them or to have any fun. Several teachers here have found games that are good ice-breakers (ways to loosen them up a bit). When students relax, there is a window -- a teachable moment.
We only share a classroom for two months which is much too short a time really to gain their trust: respect, confidence, or friendship. During that time, from when we first open the books to when they take the final exam, they learn an amazing amount of grammar, write several paragraphs and an essay, and read a high school level novel such as Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, or The Magician's Elephant. They also take a listening and speaking class which I believe is the most important because without it, they wouldn't be able to function in the other classes.
There are also electives available to them: a computer class, a movie or music class, a pronunciation class, and a class whose title is, "I Write Better Now." Most of my students do choose an elective even though they are only pass/fail courses. These ELL students are really motivated and really work hard. They participate in class, they do their homework, they worry that they're not doing enough. I really respect them and feel for them if they have to repeat a level (session).
All in all, this is a very rewarding profession because I am able to watch them improve mightily from level one (where they barely speak English at all) to level six where they can think, write, speak and dream in nearly perfect English. We all applaud them after they get through our program, and we track their progress when they become students at WSU. Most of them thrive, and when we ask them how they are doing, they always reply, "Oh, it's so hard at WSU, so very very hard." I studied at an Italian university when I was a young student, and those were my exact sentiments about that university. I'll save all that for another blog -- my year abroad. It's my opinion that everyone should take a year abroad.