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  • Kathleen Lees

You Matter: Stories in the Midwest



Last week, I took a professional development class on teaching a multi-level classroom. I’ve mentioned this before in previous posts, but it’s been a struggle in my class this year. A lot of students know more English than others; this complicates my lesson plan. Should I wait for the others to catch up or move on?


In the class, we talked about the different types of learning styles students might have, including visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Even though my goal as a teacher is that everyone will learn from my teaching style, unless I understand the learning styles of those in the class, this won’t happen.


Unfortunately, in a class of nearly 30 people, it’s hard to know everyones’ learning style. Not every lesson plan will address all styles. The added problem is that, as a class, we can’t always discuss what’s the best way to learn (because of language barriers.) I can only guess and add variety.


Recently I’ve been adding a 5 minute yoga video after our 10 minute break at 7:30 p.m. It’s good because it gets students up, moving, and stretching before we sit down again. (I have to admit, I stole this idea from another teacher who does this in her morning class.)


I also added multiple games with pictures, where students have to write nouns, verbs, and adjectives they see. With this and other games, they can get little candies or stickers. (They usually put the stickers on their name tent–a card so that people remember each other's names. It sounds sort of juvenile, but who doesn’t love candy?)


In a lot of my job, I always see how everything matters. And what I mean by that, is when a student comes to class late, it's because their bus was late or their family member was sick. Or when they bring donuts for the class and their guitar to play a song, it's because it's their 50th birthday.


Every story matters and a lot of these things are connected. And I’m inspired by these students’ dedication to learn English, even when so much is against them.


Everywhere

When I was subbing for a morning class a few weeks ago, students discussed jobs they had in their home country versus in America. Though a lot of them didn't have jobs now, a lot of them mentioned that they had been teachers. But one student's job particularly stood out to me because of the story behind it.


This student said he was studying to be an engineer in Mexico, but that in America he worked as a dishwasher, and dishwashers made more money in America than engineers in Mexico. (I had not considered anything like that.) To add to this, in broken English, he told me that he would probably never live in the United States permanently.


Knowing English and living in your native country can make a huge difference. It can be the determining factor of whether you get a better job or not. But when the minimum wage in Mexico is so low, it’s difficult to imagine the kind of options that everyone has–particularly when it takes a long time to master the English language.


There's a Story There

A few weeks ago, I went to the “Humans of St. Louis” book launch. The event was really inspiring because it was great to meet the creators and collaborators of the book and people in the book. It was really wonderful to see that yes. Everyone's story does matter.


In the same way, I think the message for anyone who feels like their story doesn’t matter or like a story idea they have takes too much research (or there’s not enough data on it), is to not give up. It does matter, even if finding the answers might take longer. Someone is interested in your vision.


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