My friend Maria Smith from undergrad is off to teach English in Haiti, and asked me to put together some of my activities and lesson ideas. Granted, Maria probably doesn’t need help. She is a full time French teacher by day and a law student by night. She is a passionate human rights activist, and finds time to attend conferences and educate others. Maria is an awesome example of a woman who is working hard to give back, and I couldn’t be more proud to know her. This post, which was originally emailed to her, is also dedicated to her.
Buen viaje y buena suerte, Maria. This trip will change you!
1. Be Active
It’s hard enough as is to learn another language, so make it fun and active. When students are enjoying themselves, they are more likely to let concepts sink in. Get them moving. Utilize activities that get your kids out of their desks! Not all students are kinesthetic learners, but being active during a lesson will help keep them engaged, focus, and less likely to become glassy-eyed and slip into confusion.
Some good ideas include:
-Art activities (i.e. tracing each other and labeling body parts or clothing vocabulary)
-Telephone (Playing telephone forces students to not only speak new words, but learn to process them when heard. Plus it’s fun, and they think they are doing something silly, when they are really learning. You can start easy with one new vocab word, and if they get discouraged switch back to their native language for a bit. Then if they get really good, you can introduce phrases and short sentences.)
2. Be Open and Flexible
Teaching in impoverished areas can mean a few things: little to no resources, things not happening as they should (i.e. a lot of lateness, cancellations, etc). Also, the children or adults you work with have a lot on their plate. Poverty affects all aspects of one’s life, money only being a small part. For example, many of your students will lack proper nutrition, which is important for focus in class. You will find that a lot of your students will need that extra patience from you, as it is understandably hard to work or learn something new on say, an empty stomach.
Learn to take the disadvantages of your surroundings and make them work for you. This is easier said than done. For example, say you have no books or writing utensils. This is common, but not the end of the world. This is a great chance to get your students up and active in one of the activities mentioned before. Take your students outside, walk them around the class, use the outdoors and work on vocabulary. Make your students tell you what “Tree” is in English. That day you might not get as much done as you planned, but you still did SOMETHING.
That leads me to the third and final fundamental (And the most important!)
3. Never underestimate the power of what you are doing
This is not to say that you are some sort of higher being, coming into a place and fixing everything. That’s a bad attitude to get stuck in.
What I really mean, is that it’s important to recognize that there are going to be days where you feel like you haven’t taught your kids as much as you would have liked, your students are not responding well to a lesson, or you are simply going to see and hear things that will make you sad, angry, or frustrated—sometimes all at once.
Never give up.
Every interaction with a human being is important. You may not teach students to speak fluent English in a summer, or even a year. But you CAN be a good role model, and you can push them to believe that they are important, loved, and capable. The world is full of hurt, danger, and unfortunate circumstance. But that’s no excuse to throw your arms up in defeat. If anything, it’s an excuse to reach out.
Give a child knowledge—be it in English or their own language—and you give them legs. Give them your patience and your belief in them, and you give them the strength to walk forward.
The unofficial fundamental may surprise you:
4. Be ready to learn.
You may teach these kids, but they will teach you so much more. They will push you to your limits until you break them and set yourself new ones. They will give you perspective, and upon returning home, you will never be the same person.
The gift of knowledge is reciprocal. Always believe every bit counts. Always believe in the ripple effect. Always believe in people. Always believe there is more to learn.