As the first week of my English tutoring experience comes to a close, I figured it was time to reflect upon what brought me to this point and what I have learned so far. I already wrote about why I decided to come to France, but haven’t addressed the question of why tutoring English seemed like a good reason to do it.
It would be easy to say that I was looking for any excuse to skip out on North Canton, Ohio and travel the world. Though this does have a certain ring of truth to it, I was also looking for a stable environment to call home for a few months and to provide a base for my travels. I was looking for an experience that would broaden my skills, as well as provide for a real-life experience in a new country. There is no better way to be initiated into a new culture than to live with a family in a small town, eating what they eat, doing what they do, and interacting with their children. Ultimately, I was looking for a way to challenge myself, make a positive difference to my host family, and hopefully learn a lot in the process!
For application into the exchange program to tutor English, I had to show a history of working with children. Although I am not a formal teacher, I do enjoy working with kids and have done so on occasion. For instance, during my time in high school, I had two specific experiences that planted the teaching seed in my young traveler’s mind. First, as a senior, I taught basic French to 5th grade students from my elementary school. The after-school program was an extraordinary experience in working with children, teaching another language, and the value of learning a language at a young age. The students picked up on the French language very quickly, although it was a great learning experience for me as well. I developed patience and flexibility, learning that each student does not absorb knowledge at the same pace or in the same way.
Another pivotal experience for me was a mission trip to Haiti with a local church youth group. Certainly, this trip was an excellent opportunity for a group of relatively privileged teenagers from America to minister and serve in an orphanage. But more than that, it was an opportunity for the Haitian children to show us the true meaning and value of life. We learned to sleep out in the open air and rise with the roosters and the sun. Though we were afforded the luxuries of electricity and running water, it was humbling to see that many of the residents in Port-au-Prince were not. We spent five days playing soccer and baby dolls with the orphans. We couldn’t always understand each other, although my knowledge of French did help since their French Creole dialect shares many similarities. The most important lesson learned on this trip was the skill of cultural adaptability. When you travel to a foreign land, it is imperative that you leave all your American expectations behind so that you can fully open your eyes to the new sights and sounds of a culture that is vastly different from your own. For my first trip abroad, Haiti was a radical introduction. Nevertheless, it was an experience that shaped my view of the world and one that I will forever treasure.
I am not a proper teacher, I have never gone to school to learn how to teach. But I have learned from a lot of teachers over the years, and I have spoken English for quite a while, so how hard can it be?! Perhaps a little harder than I thought…
It took the children a few days to warm up to me, but by the end of the second day, eight year old Babette (short for Elisabeth) was already playing games with me, picking flowers for me, and holding my hand. The other two, ten year old Jo (Josephine) and six year old Tomás were slower to come around, but it’s a work in progress. It should be noted that the children speak fluent Spanish with their father and French with their mother. It has been a hard transition for them to switch to English with me because their last tutor was Spanish. Tomás will only speak Spanish to me right now, which I understand none of, so we’re working on that! The girls speak well, although they are shy and afraid of saying something wrong. I can understand this, as I am petrified of saying incorrect French sentences too. Besides formal grammar and reading lessons with the girls, we play a lot of games. I am excited that two of my favorite games growing up are also their favorites. Clue and Guess Who are surprisingly helpful for working on English skills. With Tomás, it’s more working on vocabulary and letter recognition, but we had an intense game of Chutes and Ladders yesterday. He is quite possibly the biggest Star Wars fan I have ever seen, too bad I can’t even discuss this with him in English because I know almost nothing about Star Wars!