I write quite a bit about the web and design matters here, but not as much about why I love teaching and how I got here in the first place. In 1994, I went to down to El Salvador to learn Spanish and to be an International observer for the Salvadoran presidential elections. The school I went to was the Mélida Anaya Montes Spanish School in San Salvador. At the school, learning the language was not separate from the cultural context of the Salvadoran country and political environment. In addition to traditional methods of learning vocabulary and grammar, the central method for learning was through conversation. The difference between this method and the way I had learned language in the past was the breakdown of the walls between the student and teacher. When we had conversations we talked about the lives of our teachers and they heard about ours back home.
I had never “learned” like this before, but it worked better than anything I had ever experienced. After 4 or 5 months of class and after the elections were over I and a few other of the current students were approached by the head of the school asking if we’d like to be teachers in a pilot English program. None of the group had ever had any official teaching experience before: we relied on some generic lesson plans and our recent experience as students.
My class consisted of 4 students and all were absolute beginners. Looking back on it I wonder why I wasn’t more daunted, the potential for failure seemed high and even obvious: in the end you can either comprehend and speak a language or you can’t. However, the power and support of the organization’s teaching model was very strong. My students ranged in age from 18 to 30 and had lived most of their lives under a repressive and brutal regime while fighting a civil war. This meant they had stories to tell and I was asking them to do it in English.
It became my job to give them the tools they needed to begin conversing, reading and writing. As I was learning how to teach, I was humbled by their stories and more motivated than ever to get them to the next stage. Every day was exhilarating and often frustrating. In the end though, all 4 of my students stayed through the entire program and when they graduated, the pride I had for them was overwhelming. It has been about 15 years since that class, and both the English and Spanish programs appear to be thriving and I would highly recommend either (or both!) to anyone. For me, the lessons I learned that year have helped shape my philosophy of education and style as a teacher. The image below is one of the few I have that completely captures my joy of the moment.