By Jimmy Everett
I arrive at the park at 4:00 sharp and my students follow suit. I sit on the bench under the hot Campo sun smiling and circulating the attendance sheet and greeting them in informal English.
“What’s up?” I ask them.
“Nothing,” they say as always, shoving each other out of the way, ever more eager to sign-in.
After half an hour of waiting for arrivals, I have signed in about twenty-five students, and we proceed with the day’s activities. After our initial game and activity, which has decent participation, I open the group up to conversation practice as well as questions and answers. At this point, most of the group leaves and I am left with the remaining three or four students who truly want to learn English.
I used to ask myself, “Is it worth my time to sit in the park with some pens and papers for eight hours a week when most of the kids don’t really even care about English?” After a bit of thinking, and several weeks of the “New Generation English Club” (creatively named by the students), I have decided that it is.
It is worth it because I am helping at least one student learn about something that they are interested in. While most don’t care, the few students who do care take it very seriously. They come with questions, dictionaries, and their own personal notebooks that they are filling with English phrases. I speak to them slowly in English, and they are beginning to understand most things that I say while gaining valuable exposure to the target language. They participate in all of the activities and demonstrate creativity and problem-solving skills while doing so. These few students make the entire experience well worth it.
There even appears to be a positive impact on the students who don’t truly seem to care about English. They are able to come to the park and socialize with their friends in a fun and safe environment, and while they have mixed participation in the activities, I am happy to know that they are having a positive experience with the English language as a whole. Even the laziest students have learned something new, usually some informal expression such as: “what’s up,” “high five,” and, my personal favorite, “See you later, alligator.”
So my advice to any Volunteers who might be experiencing doubts about their effectiveness teaching English is as follows: You can’t and shouldn’t force anyone to learn English, so do your best to reach out to those who truly have the desire to learn, and make sure that the rest are having a good time. Who knows? Those seemingly disinterested students might decide to learn it one day after remembering how fun their old English teacher was.