"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.