Author Archives: K

Crazy Students Who Don’t Care About the Weather


If you live in northeast Ohio, you know we’ve been getting schlacked with snow in subartic weather lately.  Now, you would think that this type of weather would strongly encouarage to students to stay home, and it does for some of them.  Not that our classes aren’t being attended, far from.  However, whenever the weather is bad the office gets lambasted by phone calls from students calling off class.  This isn’t a complaint.  I don’t want ice-storm, road-panckake students anymore than the next guy.  What gets me is the crazy students who come no matter what.

Now, I’m not talking about a little bit of flurries that saunter down and melt before they hit the pavement.  I mean the big-daddy, holy-moses, God-has-just-let-us-know-that-he’s-tired-of-our-crap-and-refuses-to-take-it-anymore snow storm.  The stuff that Eskimos don’t go out in.  The question I always ask myself is do you really want to learn English that badly?  Now, English is important, but I’m not sure if I’d wager my life to learn it…or at the minimum my car.

It wouldn’t be so bad if any other students showed up.  No…they all know to stay home, and I agree with them.  I always tell my students to stay home if the roads look dangerous.  What’s even crazier is that one of my students walks.  Walks?  In this temperature?  If it was me, English could wait.

I guess the point of this diatribe is just to note how devoted and appreciative many of our students are to the services we provide.  They must like what they’re learning.  They keep coming back, rain or shine, day after day.  Yes, many of our students are exactly like the postal service.  And while I might me confounded and unable to understand why some one would walk 2 miles in a snow storm when they can’t see the hand in front of their face, I’m just glad they enjoy class enough to be willing to brave the weather.


Tis The Season

Yes, I know that the holiday season is over.  Well, mostly depending on what culture you’re from, but at least for me, it is.  This has been my first week back after a 2 1/2 week vacation (Yeah!), and I needed it.  I love my students and teaching, but some times you just need a break from all of it to recharge, to get those creative juices refilled and flowing.  I don’t know how creative I’m being right now, but at least I have a little more creative energy now than I did when I finished up in December.

But, as in every job, you generally pay for any day you take off, and Project Learn is not different.  Not only have I been trying to catch up on work that I missed, but the phone has been ringing off the hook.  This is one of our busiest times: the New Year.  Everyone’s making their New Year’s resolution and trying to get their GED at the same time.  Our orientations are filled until the middle of February, and we’ve already filled up all of our walk-in spots. 

The only thing that has been holding us back is the weather.  Even though people promise to get their GED in 2009, our students seem to be putting it on hold until it gets warmer.  This time of year and the frigidly cold weather generally scares some of our students into cloistering around the heating vents in their houses.  So, there’s a bit of contradiciton:  they want to come to class but Papa Frost keeps them from leaving the house.

This is nothing new but always interesting when it happens.  It’s a usual start to a cold year.  Let’s hope it gets the warmer it gets.

This the Season…What Holiday Are Celebrated Anyway?

Not surprisingly, I’m dedicating the last few lessons before our holiday break to talking about different holidays celebrated throughout the United States.  Basically, I’m just focusing on the three bigs:  Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa…or at least they were the first to come to my minds anyway. 

Now, Christmas came easy.  I’ve had a little experience with this strange day a couple times in my life.  The last two lessons though, once for my night and once for my morning classes, I’ve spent talking about Hanukkah.  Let’s be perfectly honest.  I’m by no means an expert.  At points I was simply happy to think I was pronouncing some of the words correctly–You try to explain what shammash, gelt, and gimmel is to a non-English speaking population. 

Of course, equally as important, this also gave me the opportunity to learn more about Hanukkah, too.  While it might not be vocabulary that my students will use often, lucky if rarely.  I think it’s important for them to have a more diverse understanding of the holidays that are celebrated throughout the United States.  While we’re not doing an in depth study, I think we all are leaving with a better idea about holidays that are rarely portrayed in media.  Just think about how many Christmas trees you’ve seen on TV lately and then ask yourself when’s the last time you’ve seen a menorah. 

While I know that there are more holidays from different cultures celebrated in the United States, I choose the ones that I think my students might encounter more often.  It might not perfect choices, but at least it gives us something to talk about.


The First Snow

Over the past several months, I’ve been doing my best to inform my newly arrived Dominican Republic student about the winter weather in Ohio.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I have this fascination with students who haven’t seen snow.  It’s not that I’m a huge fan, but since it’s been present my entire life, I find it extremely intriguing when students move to Ohio but have never seen it.  While it’s not Buffalo, I usually can’t wait to see their reaction.

Because my student and I have been talking about the upcoming snow experience and after I woke up yesterday and got to work, the first thing I started thinking about was the next time I got to hear about the first snow story.  Usually, I’m interested, but this has been building up for months.  Since she started, she’s told me that she might not come to class in January because of the cold, that she might have to get a divorce and move back to her country, and that if class ever got cancelled I had to call her and tel her, so she didn’t unnecessarily ride the bus.

Unsurprisingly, when I saw her in class this morning, I expected the worst.  Actually, I half didn’t expect her to be there.  When she waddled into the room, in more clothes than I expect that she ever wore in her life, she sat down and had this huge smile on my face.  I expected frustration or disappointment for the horrendously frigid bus-sicle ride I made her take today because of class, but a smile.

In my English classes, I always start my lessons by asking my students, “What’s new?”  (It’s amazing how, even though they might not know how to learn a word of English, in about a week they all know how to respond, “Nothing.”) Not willingly to wait, I asked my student, and immediately, she started laughing.

She explained that she work up at 8:30 because the sunlight reflecting off the snow, threw open the curtains, and that all the curtains in her house stayed open for the rest of the day.  She called another student from class to bring her kids so she could play with them in the snow.  She took picture upon picture to send to her family.  And for some reason–I haven’t quite figured this one out yet except that a cousin in the Dominican Republic told her to–she covered her face in the snow and washed her face with it.  Now, that’s just weird, but I couldn’t stop laughing.  She said that she was running around and playing in the snow that her neighbors probably thought that she had lost it.

While it’s comical, I love having the opportunity to share these experiences with my students.  While this story has now gone to the top of my list, it is only slightly eclipsed by one of my pasts students description about when she first had to use a Western toilet…but that’s probably a different story for a different day.


Bond Movie Event

Tonight, the VIPs from our past Signature Event have the opportunity to view the brand new Bond movie, which has been released today.  Project Learn has rented out an entire screening to thank all of our funders for their support.  I’m not sure what they’re thinking about it, but I’m looking forward to it.  See you at the ticket check-in line.

A Little Above the Ears


Over the past week my ESOL students and I have been working on Beauty and Hair Salon vocabulary.  Even though my mother’s a hairdresser, I don’t think it’s a vocabulary unit that I would have come up with on my own.  Because I believe my students should direct what they learn in all my classes, ESOL or GED, I asked my students to take a look at a list of vocabulary words that I’ve been using and choose which one they wanted to learn.  It’s usually interesting to see what they pick out. 

Also, because I want to put my students in real-life situations (well, as much as I can make them) I try role pay as much as possible.  Over the next few days I’ll be posting several recordings of our Hair Salon role play to give you a taste of what goes on in my class.  Hope you have as much fun as we did in making them.


Workin’ with My Students

This past week, I have incorporated some new strategies in my class.  To begin with, I’m having my students choose and bring in some short articles, songs, short chapters of a book, etc. to use to practice their vocabulary words and discuss topics that interest them.  Added on to that, I’m having my students actually write up the discussion questions for the articles they choose in order to discuss things that are relevant to their perspectives rather than just mine.  Now, no student is ever excited about more work, but I think they’ll get the hang of it.  Plus, this will give the opportunity to think about a text they’ve chose in more detail and also let them practice their vocab.

Next week, we’ll also start using the essays we write in class as grammar/essay teaching tools.  I’ll pull mistakes from their essays as examples to correct during our grammar lessons and also provide anonymous copies of their essays to discuss how to improve them.  I’ll also be writing essays from now on with my students.  Not to provide good examples:  I don’t want to be setting myself as the end-all-be-all expert, but I am trying to develop a sense of community in class–and I’m a member of that community. 

While high school was not something I particularly enjoyed and I can’t remember to many life-lessons, there’s always been one that has stood out in my mind.  When I ran cross-country (that’s right, for all you people who know me, I actually participated in a sport), no matter how many miles we ran and no matter what crappy running activity we were assigned–and mind you this is miles upon miles–our coach always ran with us.  I’ve always respected him for that, and it has generally been a rule-to-live-by in my classes, ESOL or GED.  I never ask my students to do something I won’t do myself, and generally, I model every activity first.  I’ve found that all my students are more willing to take risks if they see I’m willing to participate and risk making a fool of myself first.  Activities usually work better that way.  We’ll see how these  work and how long they last, but it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.



The Attendance Blues

I started this week a little discouraged.  My students attendance had done a swan dive and–I don’t know–I might’ve scared away some of my new students.  I don’t know why–maybe I’m just intimidating.  Okay not likely.  I’m not exactly sure what the deal is.  I know my students have a lot going on in their lives, but some students think it’s okay to only come every 2-3 weeks.

Needless to say, this kind of attendance has really sapped most of my motivation.  It’s kind of hard to really get enthused about lesson planning when you’re not sure if people are really going to show up.   And…you can definitely not try to work on a project on a long-term basis.  That will never work out.  But as I was helping my 4-5 regular students work on math, I had an epiphany.  I told them that I was a little discouraged in class but not with them. 

One students said, “Because no one’s coming to class”.  I said that pretty much summed it up.

But I told them that I wasn’t going to worry about the people who barely show up and focus on getting them to move up to the GED class.  Now, that might sound harsh.  I don’t mean I’m going to ignore the bad-attendance people, but I’m not going to fret it if I can’t get them to come on a regular basis.  I don’t want the fact that many of my students have bad attendance affect how I teach those that are faithful.  They’ve got their business together and deserve the bulk of my attention and time.

Almost all of my students that come regularly move up to the next level class.  When you do the work you progress.  If you don’t come regularly, you won’t make as much progress.  It’s simple math.  It’s just time to work with those who are ready to work with me.


No English, No Work

This week all of my classes started back up.  As it always when we have a break, my students attendance would not be called great.  I’m not sure what the problem is, but they never ever seem to get there on the first day or the second even.  Heck, sometimes I’m lucky if I see them within the first three weeks.  Either way, the week went off without a hitch, but I did get a sad revelation on the first day of my AM ESOL class.

Before we went on break (so, three weeks ago) my student had got hired at a local convenient store.  They interviewed her (key point is that they interviewed her) and told her that they’d hire her once she got her social security number from the government.  Well, when she did they did hire her but for only five days.

On her fifth day, my student was stocking the shelf and a customer came up to her and asked where the produce section was.  The problem is that she didn’t understand her, and because of this, after they had interviewed her and spoken to her on numerous occasions, they fired her.  First of all, I want to know what kind of person goes and complains to a manager that one of his or her employees couldn’t speak English.  With all the ridiculous (and ,in my opinion, bigoted) hype of illegal immigration in this country, I can’t believe someone actually went and complained about someone who was trying to work (and learn English) legally in this country.  She went through the right steps; she’s just trying to make a living.  She worked in a human resource department in her country.  And let’s be honest, a shelving position isn’t that demanding. 

The second point:  you’ve spoken to her.  If you felt her English was up to snuff, why hire her in the first place?  Why make someone go through that.  And, she speaks rather well.  I mean she won’t be take turns on the presidential debate circuit, but with a little patience and understanding, she can definitely be understood.  The only thing that I can think of was the person must have been completely insensitive and had absolutely no experience working with or talking to people from a different country. 

To me, (completely my own opinion) when things like this happen I tend to wonder why people would want to immigrate here from another country.  Sadly, she’s more understanding than I am.  Maybe she’s just used to it and that kind of treatment.  If that’s the case, then, it’s a sad, sad day for this country.


Tutor Training!

Since I didn’t have any classes this week, I got put in charge of facilitating the tutor training on Tuesday and Thursday night.  If you don’t know, our training is 12 hours long.  Volunteers come to two training sessions and then observe one classroom before they’re matched with a student.  So…basically, they got to listen to me drone on for hour upon hour. 

While I’ve facilitated tutor training a couple of times before, I’ve forgotten how much material we have to cover.  The first day’s the worst (and by worst I hope you or the tutors I just got done training don’t equate that with boring–man, I try to be entertaining).  It’s not that we’re merely tossing useless information at them.  The first day introduces them to what we do as a program and some characteristics of the students that they’ll end up working with.  There’s just so much information to cover, and there’s only so interactive you can make it be.

Now, the second day was a little more interactive and, I hope, more engaging.  I reviewed the concepts of phonics with them (to be honest, not my strongest area), but the parts that I found were more successful were the reading strategies that I modelled for them.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to bore you with the particulars.  If you want to hear about the strategies, I’ll tell you about them another time.  But of all the topics I covered, I felt that they were the most successful.

Now, of course, you could say that it’s because it’s what I felt most comfortable.  That’s true, but I think that it was more than that.  The reason that I think it was the most successful was the fact the it was applicable.  The strategies gave them activities they could employ immediately when they got their student.  Of course, activities have always been part of the tutor training manual.  I guess I now know that I’ll want to make sure to include more applicable modelling the next time I do it.  Live and let learn.