Students of the Week

Eleven days since my last post?  How can that be?  What did I do with eleven days?

Well, a quick glance at the calendar tells me I’ve done a lot with eleven days.  We spent three of those days traveling to see a grand baby.  Two days were spent hosting our daughter and her boyfriend for a quick visit.  And the rest of the days?  Well, friends, I’ve seen a lot of students.  Wanna meet some of them?

Let’s see, maybe we’ll start with the youngest.  About six weeks ago, a mother contacted me and asked if I would work with her two daughters on writing; they are in the the third and fifth grades.  I told the mother that I typically only work with older students — as in high school and college — but she persisted.  So, I met these two little Chinese girls who I could easily carry around in my pockets with me, and I fell in love.  They are precocious — the fifth grader’s writing is laced with sarcasm and hyperbole; the third grader is wise and obedient, wishing that all of her classmates would see the error of their ways and comply with her teacher’s wishes as she does.  We work on writing and grammar and I try to absorb some of the academic pressure that their hardworking parents are piling on top of them.

Next in terms of age is a student that I have had almost from the beginning.  She is a a seventh grader who works closer to eleventh grade level.  The pressure from her Indian immigrant parents to do better/work harder is palpable, but she is able to resiliently shrug off what she can’t carry.  She steps to her own beat.  She wants to please her parents, of course, but she also knows what she does and doesn’t like.  Our challenge this past week was ignoring her deep ‘need’ to change the wallpaper on her laptop so that we could work on test prep exercises.  Yes, the seventh grader in her shines through.

I have another sister pair.  They are the fifth grade and eighth grade daughters of  a Taiwanese mother and an American father.  They have lived in China, Chicago, and little old Northville, Michigan.  They are bilingual, as are many of my students.  They are also quite bright.  Their parents, like so many others I have met this year, want their children to succeed academically, which means they will need supplemental instruction in Standard English, not because they don’t speak it very clearly, but because their parents don’t consistently model Standard English structures.  This seemingly small factor, can impact standardized test scores and hinder clear written communication.

I know; I started by saying I don’t typically work with younger students, then I introduced you to five.

I’ve got a couple of high school boys that I see weekly — same scenario as above — bright guys with international parents who need additional work in English.  These boys are taking honors classes, playing sports, and participating in myriad other pursuits, then sitting with me for an hour doing test prep, writing essays, and talking about sentence construction.  I don’t think I had this kind of work ethic in high school!

I also have adults.  I must say I love my adults.

The first is a twenty-year old whose first language is Farsi and second language is English.  He has struggled his whole life with reading and comprehension, so we are meeting twice a week to work on these skills.  He hopes to be one day be successful in college.

Then there is the thirty year old Brazilian woman living in California.  She and I meet online once a week to improve her writing.  She already has an American MBA, but she wants to become a blogger to promote her startup and to discuss issues of marketing.  Yes, as you can see, all of my students are slackers.

My other thirty year old is from Romania.  After twelve years in the country, she decided to become a nurse.  We spent four months preparing her for the pre-nursing exam. She passed the test and was accepted into a program. She’ll start in January, so we are meeting weekly to continue to improve her English skills.

My personal favorite at the moment is a young woman from Saudi Arabia.  She is here on the government’s dime to get a degree in English literature so that she can return to her country and teach in a university.  She’s taking three graduate level classes — Romanticism, Literature of the Holocaust, and 21st Century African American literature.  She reads, thinks, and writes about these very different topics.  I get to talk her through some of her ideas and make sure that her writing reflects what she is thinking.

This week I will meet a Hispanic man who is about to graduate from the University of Michigan.  He needs some support preparing for the Michigan teacher certification test, you know, since English is his second language.

Guys, I get to do this.  Each week I get to sit across the table from (or in front of the screen with) a person who I never would have come into contact with if I didn’t have a degree in English, years of teaching experience, and an online profile.

I am learning from each of them, perhaps more than they are learning from me.

Just a part of my life in this next chapter — way more than I could have ever hoped for.

Ephesians 3:20-21

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

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