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I have taught since I was 16. First I taught piano, to children and adult, and the two things that I learned by doing that were: (1) patience, and (2) that's not what I want to do for the rest of my life! Then I was a French tutor for a while, and although I enjoyed explaining things to the students, I was also frustrated by the fact that I never really saw the same students twice and worked along with them through their learning process. Teaching French 201 to a whole class, first as an assistant and then as the main teacher, was something that I feared (probably because of my mean and strict supervisor) but that I loved from day one! I loved the connection I had with most of my students, the fact that I saw their progress, their questions, their desire to learn, and their enthusiasm. I believe that I was an extremely good teacher, especially during that first semester, and when outsiders started to tell me to change this or that, I lost my enthusiasm and my "inner fire" a little, and things didn't always go as well afterwards. Still. I loved it.
It is strange how I can discover several times how much I love to teach, as if it were the first time! When I first started teaching ESL to community students, I fell in love not only with ESL but also with my students. I learned about their lives, their sadness, their hopes, their hard jobs, their immigration problems, their children. I shared my knowledge and my fears too, my enthusiasm for English and my difficulties as an immigrant, and for years later, kept in tough with those students whose faces and names I still remember as if I had seen them yesterday. Those students, although "community" students, that is, students of all levels of English proficiency, of very low economic backgrounds, with poor, if not nonexistent educational levels, where far better than the English-speaking, college-going students I have had since then. Those students knew the importance of learning, the price of life, and the value of friendship. I wish I could still teach them today.
I then taught ESL to "rich kids," adults and young adults who were paying a lot to get a great, full-time, legal, education at an Intensive English Program. These students wanted to get better jobs, higher salaries, or they wanted to pass the TOEFL to go to North American colleges and universities. It strikes me, as I think about it now, that we called those students "rich" because they could afford something that the community students could not, but many didn't have a much better life than those community students and made great sacrifices to pay for their education. I remember in particular this one man, from Brazil, who told me that he was a lawyer in his country, but who was cleaning the school's bathrooms at night to be able to survive in the United States. When I would hear such stories, I knew that I just HAD to be the best teacher in the world because I didn't want to waste a cent those students had paid for their education! And they knew it. They knew that I gave all I had, that I cared about them, that I knew when they had a bad day, that I remembered their birthday, that I didn't punish them for not doing their homework when their kids had been sick all night, that I laughed with them, and cried with them. I organized "international parties" at my house every semester, where students would bring food and music from their countries, I would make them crepes, and we would have the best time in the world!
I am not saying that everything was fun and peachy. There were days when I didn't know how to respond to their challenges or my own difficulties in life. I was sometimes tired, they were sometimes discouraged, I was sometimes frustrated because the richest and youngest of them didn't want to be there (and had been sent by their parents), and they were sometimes overwhelmed with culture shock and anxiety. They also sometimes cared more about learning for the test than learning for learning's sake, but that was only the case with higher level students, and even then, not always. I did have a few challenging classes and students, moments of doubts and moments of weariness, but overall, I just loved it! I felt valued, respected, loved, appreciated, and I know that I made a difference. I could tell of the day my students offered me 24 roses, or when I called NASA to get information about gravity when we read this book about Einstein, and that day when that "macho" student presented his project and started crying because it had touched him so much, and so many other stories.
Teaching ESL at the university level was yet another one of those moments when I realized that I love to teach. At times, I felt like the mother of those students, and even though I had to remind myself that I was in fact not their mother, I still believe that the way I cared about my students is what allowed me to have such a wonderful year--and ultimately get two teaching awards. I invested a lot of time and energy into my teaching, and didn't think of it as yet-another-job but instead as yet-another-opportunity-to-help-people-who-need-my-help. This sounds cheesy, I know. But I remember talking to one of the teachers at my first IEP, at the end of my first semester. I said, "this semester has been absolutely wonderful, and I have enjoyed it as much as possible, because I know that in a few semesters, I'll just be tired of teaching, my students won't be as great at those I had this semester, and my job will become boring." But the truth is, two years later I still loved my students and had an amazing relationship with them, even when other teachers had the hardest time with them. And four years later, I still love my students. Of course, there are difficult or boring semesters, times when I am not prepared enough, days when my school work just doesn't allow me to be the best teacher ever, as well as students who don't care about anything. But overall, it's been about 16 years since I've started teaching, and I love it, even a lot more than I did 16 years ago!While teaching ESL, I loved:
What I think makes me a great teacher (sometime):
What I would love in the future: