My three tutees

It’s after 9 on a Friday night and I just got back from tutoring. Yes, really. I love teaching–all of it, really, and I’m living here for my job at the university–but tutoring takes me back to the one-on-one, which is where I fell in love with teaching ESL, and with completely different types of students.

I am invested in three tutees now (I’m in popular demand), and they’re all keeping me on my toes in various ways. They all have their own goals, quirks, and ways of making my English teacher heart melt. ❤

C – 9 year-old girl, from Shanghai. Attends an international school where she is friends with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and British children. Reads and writes English at about 1st grade level. Speaks with the maturity (and sass) of a 16 year old, but at about a 2nd grade level. Still very much learning English as a foreign language (EFL), but occasionally blows my mind with advanced understanding of a language concept.

I’ve never worked with a student as young as C. She was my first tutoring student. I meet with her for two hours on most Saturdays. (Her parents drive her two hours both ways for our lessons because I am “C’s favorite English teacher so far.” I’m honored.) She’s the oldest in her family (of two), lives with parents and grandparents (as many Chinese do), and has lots of pets. I’ve tried setting up an American pen pal for C, but mail here takes for-ev-er. We’ll see if it pans out.

C is incredibly active. Fidgety. The tutoring center people originally had me using a textbook with her. I quickly abandoned that in favor of Play-doh, puppets, and hand-clap games I used to play when I was her age. My job is to focus on improving her spoken English (grammatically and with stronger vocabulary). With C, I get to try things my college students would laugh at. I get to do little kid things with language goals. It’s fun, albeit challenging, and I love it. C likes to make up her own songs, draw pictures for me on the whiteboard, and say “very, very good.” I want to hug her, but that’s a western cultural feeling…

R – 37, born and raised in Suzhou. R works at an American company with an office in Suzhou. He’s college educated, has traveled to the U.S., and wants to continue to improve his spoken English for business use as well as casual, friendly conversation, in hopes of improving relationships at work and possibly attaining a promotion.

Because R and I are from the same generation, we can speak comfortably about almost any topic and often relate to one another about world events. R’s spoken English isn’t bad, but he lacks the vocabulary to move from carefully chosen topics (weather, work, food, Chinese culture) to infrequently visited territories that can spring up in conversation, like politics and religion. I’ve told R more about religion than anyone I’ve ever taught because he’s genuinely interested. (Imagine explaining the differences between Catholicism and other forms of Christianity in a basic, yet non-patronizing way that a non-native English speaker can understand. I.e., Don’t use words like transubstantiation or reformation, unless you want to explain those concepts too. o_O  Yeeeeah… It was a challenge!)

I also help R understand nuances of English. For example, one lesson we talked about nothing but swear words. He interacts with American and British coworkers every day. I wanted to make sure he knows what people mean when they’re speaking casually, curses or not. So, for example, we talked about when people say “poop,” “crap,” or “sh*t.” It’s not a pretty lesson to write about, but he really appreciated it (and we were both laughing the entire time). We’ve also talked about sarcasm, various idioms, and irony. R recently asked for us to read American history articles for us to discuss because that’s what he’s interested in learning about. Now that I can do. 🙂

P – 14 year-old girl, from Shanghai. Attends a bilingual boarding school. Speaks above her 8th grade level; needs to improve reading comprehension and academic writing skills. She’s bright, spunky, and eager to learn. She already keeps her own word list to study. She loves novels (currently reading Harry Potter), her Apple computer, and good writing utensils. Her main goal is to pass the SSAT so she can attend an American high school, but she also wants to be able to learn words as she reads them instead of having to study them out of context (her words, not mine). That last part is what makes me excited to teach her.

I did a “sample” lesson with P a month ago and was observed by her dad and the tutoring center coordinator. The goal was to let P and her dad see my style and personality to decide if they would come to this tutoring center. They had visited several other centers and didn’t find a good fit. I enjoyed the one-hour session I had with P and evidently so did she. I wasn’t going to take on another tutee, but I relented and accepted P because she’s so darn teachable.

Tonight’s lesson was my first with P since our meeting. She was tired from a full day of school and a drive to Suzhou from her boarding school… I don’t know how she does it, honestly. We’re starting with academic writing skills, but I plan to incorporate critical thinking, reading, and vocabulary skills. I told her we will begin with reading and writing about material she enjoys–novels, short stories–and we’ll move to things she’ll be likely to see on the exam. I want her to like what she’s doing and learn how to do it so she recognizes what she needs to do when she has to do it. I’m excited to work with her because I’ve never worked with someone her age before. I’m also learning a lot about the Chinese education system.

It’s a lot of work to prep for these three very different students in addition to my college students, but it’s also rare to have the opportunity to teach so many age groups, with varying interests, and all to reach different goals.

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