Gratitude For Second Language Students

I am grateful for all of the students that I have taught over the years. I have been blessed to teach students from various experiences and age groups. I have taught second-graders all the way to students entering graduate school, both here in America and overseas. I can say that teaching has been one of the great loves of my life. I enjoy sharing ideas and getting feedback from my students. I can say that one group of students has been the most enjoyable to teach. That has been the adult second language students – people who have come to America to work and live and want to learn the English language.

One of the differences between adult students and others that I have taught is that adults want to be in the classroom. While they have different motivations for being there, the reality is that they all chose to educate themselves. I have noticed that there is a large difference between a student that makes a choice to be in a classroom and one who is compelled to occupy a seat. Although elementary and secondary education are necessary– a lack of desire to be in a classroom does have an effect on learning. In adult education, that is an issue that I don’t have to deal with.

Because of that, I can push my students to learn material that they wouldn’t otherwise engage. However, I have to make sure that what I give them is within what I call a “comfortable difficulty.” The best learning takes place when the substance is challenging without being overwhelming. There is an aspect of control here – and control is a facet of motivation. When we feel that we are in control of a situation, we are more likely to do that activity. Part of the role of education is to discover what each student’s threshold of difficulty is for the subject matter and to balance there, so that they are challenged, but not to go so far into the difficulty that they can’t see a way through to the other side and give up in frustration.

Another difference is that the second language students often have greater critical thinking skills, sharpened through their life experiences, a depth and the breadth that younger students have not acquired. Many of these students were professionals in their own countries – I have had accountants, scientists, teachers, and lawyers in my classroom as well as housekeepers, students, retail associates, and homemakers. Yet the limitations of learning a new language had dampened their prospects here. They have a maturity that they have developed through their struggles to thrive in a new environment. The struggle has given them a perspective and a toughness that younger students don’t have.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has introduced new challenges for teaching, but I think we’ve managed find workable alternatives and keep students on the path of knowledge. Introducing new technology can be a challenge – so I used applications that they were familiar with. They already used Google Hangouts, which made communication easy. I already had set up a website to share information with the class, so I modified it to fit the new situation. I scanned documents that we’d be using in class and uploaded them to the website. We were able to carry on, but it isn’t the same as face to face interaction. Physical interaction is an important part of education and no matter how advanced the technology, it can not replace the need for real contact.

Perhaps it is a cliché that the teacher learns more from the students than the students from the teacher, but in my case it is true. It is the thing that I am grateful for more than anything else – their desire to learn and to grow resonates within me and inspires me to be my best self.

Thank you, students and more importantly, my friends.

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