ABC’s and 123’s: More than just an English lesson

Besides teaching at the middle school in my village, I also teach a class at the regional military base as well as a class for adults in the area who want to learn English. I was hesitant to begin these extra classes, but they have turned out to be beyond rewarding. My student’s eagerness to learn and their dedication to studying makes teaching these classes gratifying than some of my middle school classes.

There is more flexibility in teaching the community classes that makes lesson planning much easier. It’s also totally acceptable to go off topic in class if the students steer the lesson in a different direction. Case in point, my military club spent 10 minutes discussing the difference between walking somewhere in a hurry, and strolling at your leisure. The discussion was complete with examples as men got up strode purposefully across the classroom while another ambled his was in front of the class. They couldn’t believe that one word could be used to describe both. They were satisfied when I told them they could use amble to describe a slow pace.

My village club really likes to go off topic too. At the end of each section I’ll ask my students if they have questions. I have started waiting until the end of the class to ask this because in this club it opens it up as a free-for-all question time where I might be asked anything from the word for pineapple to how to tell someone to go away.

I accidently started third English club recently, a very informal group that gathers in the evenings. Many evenings I find myself sitting in front of my friend Abu’s house, helping him with whatever bit of English he happens to be studying at the moment. Being extremely social, Abu likes to sit near the main road where he can greet the many people walking by. So we study, we chat, we greet, and sometimes we just sit.

Sometime within the last weeks I noticed a few people would linger a little longer when we had his English books out. Then a few started asking the occasional question, and lingering a little longer. Then they started coming back with notebooks and pens. Suddenly I had myself a mini study group, all older village men, mostly with zero English, and all interested in learning.

Each of the three clubs are very different, from the teaching style I use to the level of the students, the age of the students, and the topics I teach. But there is one common thread through all of them: each one gives students an experience outside of the societal norms.

I am the only female teacher in my village, and I have only met one other female teacher in my region. And she got married last week and moved out of the country. Women have to work hard here to be seen and treated as equals. Especially in the smaller villages, it’s easy for women to slip into a traditional role of housewife and it’s easy for men to not see women as anything more than that.

Inside the English clubs though everyone is on equal footing, a goal I strive hard for. Even my military club has several women, who are some of the best students. Seeing the women do just as well, and sometimes better, in the classroom gives everyone a chance to see men and women working on equal ground.

My village club consists of mostly young women in their twenties, and then a couple village elders. I’ve started assigning group work regularly in class and making sure the elders work with the women. The ease with which they talk and work together is encouraging. It’s my hope that if they can start seeing each other as equals in the classroom, this will start to spread to other areas of their lives as well.

Even my little evening club, which consists of only men, surprises me in some ways. These are all older men, some village elders and two Imams, who are willing to set pride aside and learn from a woman.

So while everyone thinks they are learning only English, they are learning much more. They are learning to set biases aside, they are learning to work with each other as equals, they are learning not to disregard people based on gender, they are learning maybe they could learn something from just about anyone if they give that person a chance.

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