How do you explain American football to Esteban, a passionate soccer fan who recently arrived in your English class from Mexico? Do you tell him it is too complicated and move on or do you walk that journey with him? No way. You take the journey, one filled with a lot of pantomime involving a crude football created from crumpled paper, dozens of stick figures hastily sketched on a chalkboard and many, many laughs.
How do you explain covalent chemical bonding to a motivated and worried 12 year old English Language Leaner who has a science test on Friday? Should you ask her teacher for an exemption? Nope. You take the bumpy road with long pauses, head scratching, and confusing looks, locate some clay, open up YouTube and find a bilingual dictionary. Or should you take the bumpy road?
Over 18 years of working with diverse groups of English Language Learners has taught me that the communication of important and meaningful ideas, no matter how complex, is possible. Such communication is possible if one believes in patience, simplicity, and drawing a lot of pictures.
In exchange for me teaching them English, my students have taught me relentless optimism, cross-cultural understanding, patient listening, constant iteration, the critical importance of understanding your audience, dollar store problem-solving and the power of creativity.
That is the foundation that inspires all of my other work.