Neighborhood Opportunity Network

Supporting one another in a time of crisis

A, B, C, D, E, F, G…

Posted by meganmoriarty on April 22, 2010

Maria, Gavin, Teresa, Hilda, Trancito and Carlos practicing their ABC's

Three weeks ago at Tuesdays Together, we pulled a group of the “regulars” out of the mutual support circle to begin exploring what would be a good next step for them as a group. While they all seem to really benefit from the mutual support time, we were sensing some of them wanted more. But we weren’t sure what that “more” should be. So we asked and they answered.

I was expecting a few different ideas, but their resounding response was: WE WANT TO LEARN ENGLISH!

They had different reasons for wanting to learn more English:

  • being able to advance professionally
  • feeling more comfortable in public spaces
  • finally passing the U.S. citizenship test
  • being able to communicate with their neighbors
  • wanting to feel like they could stick up for themselves better

But they all wanted to start yesterday!

The next week we spent our time together thinking through how to solve some of the obvious challenges: no teacher, no books…The group nominated Alpha (a native English speaker) to start teaching the class and he graciously agreed. And then Julio (a native Spanish speaker that has learned a lot of English) stepped up to be his partner and translator. We decided to start with one class for one month and then evaluate.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday — two of our regulars were working late (David and Martin) and one was caring for a sick child (Elizabeth) so they couldn’t make it and some new faces joined our conversation. Thank goodness for Hector and Maria! They jumped right in to get the new folks caught up on our conversation to date. There were lots of questions about how to begin with people starting from different levels and there being no books. I started to get worried these details would seem too overwhelming and some of my friends might get frustrated.

At that point, I stepped out of the room to check on-line how much a certain book would cost. When I got back, I saw Alpha and Julio starting a lesson on the ABC’s! Just like that, they had decided to worry about the structure of the class later and to instead focus on learning something useful that night. As Carlos A. said last week: “I want to walk out that door knowing one more thing than I walked in with. I don’t care if it’s only one word, but I want to learn something now!”

The group quickly rearranged the tables, passed out paper and pens to everyone and started writing and learning. The most amazing thing was that  those that knew the alphabet started helping those that didn’t — everyone assumed the role of teacher. And when Carlos A. fessed up that even after hearing the letters spoken he couldn’t remember how to pronounce them, Carlos J. shared his phonetic version. Then, Martha P. suggested they all practice spelling their names, since that was something she admitted to never feeling comfortable doing. That led to small groups practicing spelling all kinds of words.

I’ve taught English in the U.S. and overseas and I’ve never been a part of such a powerful mutual learning experience. Rarely do classmates have enough trust with each other and their teachers to: admit they don’t understand — like Carlos A. bravely did — or make suggestions about what would be the most helpful thing to practice — like Martha P. did. In the end, we still don’t have books, but everyone left the room that night feeling like they had learned something useful and it was their neighbors that had taught them.

2 Responses to “A, B, C, D, E, F, G…”

  1. […] We had a good mix of old and new friends, with 15 neighbors joining Julio, Alpha and Gavin in the English class after the welcome circle led by […]

  2. […] the usual dinner, welcome and introductions, we split up into three groups: the workforce circle; the ESOL class; and the mutual support […]

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