Thursday, February 21, 2013

We are so glad to have you here

"I hope those aren't illegal immigrants she's teaching in those classes," the guy said to Patrick, referring to me.  Specifically, by "those classes" the fellow (not a patron, but a new neighbor, who also threatened to come out with a pistol, so YEAH WHAT A DELIGHTFUL GENTLEMAN, GEE our national relationship with firearms is totally at a healthy level! entire story of how he gave me a thinly veiled threat of bringing out his pistol is long and annoying to type out, but in the end, I won and he had to eat crow) meant the ESL computer classes I've been teaching to a group of immigrants from Burundi, Africa.


But!  Rather than make this a post about the nasty US view of immigration when tons of us have ancestors who came here through Ellis Island...I'm going to focus on the positives of teaching immigrant groups in partnership with their home base immigrant literacy organization, because the positives for me have been SUPER, and would that everyone could teach immigrant groups stuff all the time, because...

A.  They are delightful.  At least, my students are.  They're so eager to learn and despite pasts full of a lot of hardship I couldn't shake a stick at, they're some of the happiest patrons I work with sometimes.

B.  Yes, sometimes it's hard to communicate about technology to users who are trying to learn English (there's no interpreter -- this is English immersion) and haven't necessarily been *around* this technology before...but it's a great learning experience for me to communicate ideas about technology (simple things like vocabulary, along with concepts like saving and changing font colors) when I may have to go through several permutations of descriptions to get the concept across.  What better way to boost teaching skills than to deviate from the norm (people who remember AOL disks, folks who will nod when asked "Remember floppy disks?  That little save icon looks like those!")?

C.  Speaking of spicing things up with some deviation, teaching immigrant/ESL groups computer skills can foster patience skills.  I came to this job with several years of experience teaching adult student groups about computers, but this (while similar) is definitely a different sort of patience in teaching.  The language barrier can slow things down, but the great thing is that that's okay!  There's no rush!  There's no "gotta do xyz TODAY!"  Having the freedom to just practice typing *for the sake of typing* rather than painstakingly working to type out a resume with a student who's only interested in the end product rather than the skills is actually a wonderful change because the goal is different: instead of frustration at not getting a perfect resume fast enough, there's eagerness to keep typing, keep typing, keep typing.

The picture at the top of this post was taken with the permission of a student who was practicing his typing and worked that one out with some help.  And when that got printed, it was a huge success!  The night's class was great!  And I might have melted a little, because it brought to mind an episode of This American Life that made me tear up while driving back in December:

Ira Glass: We are so glad to have you here.

I just want to echo it when I work with them: We are so glad to have you here.  Pretty sure we do a piss-poor job of welcoming these days in the ol' US of A.  So.  We are so glad to have you here.


  1. Oh my god, there is no end to how happy this post makes me feel, especially with the initial tiny wee bit of fright you mentioned having about trying to teach PC basics. It's blog posts like this that remind me why I want a library job so much because I only hope to experience a fraction of the brilliance that is you and the people you help. :)

    1. Aw shucks, thanks. You'll get your library job lady. You've just gotta. People will see how awesome you are.

  2. First of all, I love This American Life :)

    Secondly, how GREAT that you are doing this. What a wonderful experience for them, but also a lesson for you to learn about patience, culture, and communication. All around NEAT.

    p.s. I have a friend from Burundi. He speaks five languages. I'm jealous. ;)

    1. Well, I wish I could take credit for the ESL class idea, but that's definitely not mine to take, but I'm really happy I've gotten the opportunity to teach them!

  3. I think it is great that these classes are available. And so great that you are able to do them, I think it can be very enriching and it is the kind of activity that makes a difference in people's lives.

    It irritates me so much that though libraries are public (you can visit them freely) the subscription is not for adults, and recently the government stopped a subsidy that paid for a language course for immigrants. Which means... hos do you study at home if you can't borrow books from the library, there are no classes made available and without a language you can't find a job? It is a vicious circle where inevitably those with the less resources or in difficult situations are the ones who lose. Also, they just digitalized a big part of this official language test that immigrants have to pass and they grade you on paragraph separation, use of bold and italics and that sort of thing (which has nothing to do with understanding of the actual language and strikes me as elitism, because again, some of this immigrants might not have had previous access to computers or are acquainted with word processors).