As we wind up the school year, in City Heights, where I go every other Friday to teach a Cooking/English class to a group of adult refugees, I am reminded that lessons in the classroom often impact the teacher more than the students.
Case in point.
When I walked in yesterday to set up, the students were on a break and many were snacking on the same dish.
I asked what it was and was immediately brought a bowl, the snack and a napkin. After hearing the word, I asked the kind student if she would ‘write down’ the name of this rice flour and water fried-in-oil concoction.
The rounded shapes and symbols were so unlike our alphabet that it really struck me what a steep learning curve this group had to master English.
And after repeating it three times, I still hadn’t nailed the pronunciation.
Then class began. I held up pictures of fruit and one-by-one they came up and wrote down the name. The only difficulties in spelling came from k-i-w-i. And the only confusion came from remembering that lemons are yellow and limes are green and not the other way around. While everyone was enjoying the prepared fruit salad, I used an empty whiteboard to list the ingredients.
The fun came when I asked the students if they could teach me a thing or two – AND THEY DID.
Writing the same word underneath in their native language.
For most that was Karen, related to Burmese and spoken by around 4 million people in Burma and Thailand. They also wrote the phonetic version so that I could more easily sound it out.
Spelled out like that I had a far greater appreciation for where they started and how well they are doing in English, both written and verbal.
What pride they took in teaching the teacher.