A Place Like No Other

For the last 7 years, this place has been my second home.  I’m blessed to have a job that is so much more than work.  Teaching English has been my most practical way of loving and helping the international population that stole my heart as a teenager.  And though I have taught in several programs and schools and even once overseas, Americana World Community Center is unique and will forever hold a huge part of my heart.

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For the last 7 years, this place has been my second home.  I’m blessed to have a job that is so much more than work.  Teaching English has been my most practical way of loving and helping the international population that stole my heart as a teenager.  And though I have taught in several programs and schools and even once overseas, Americana World Community Center is unique and will forever hold a huge part of my heart.

Americana is the place where…

-I quit my social work practicum mid-semester because I realized I wanted to be in the classroom. I got my Masters in TESOL and came back a year and a half later because I knew that this place was special.

-my first ESL class laughed at me when I told them I was their teacher because I was so young.

-I learned to never take resources for granted as students shared their favorite parts of America being- the streets, the hospitals, that women can come to school, that there’s always enough food.

-students fall asleep during class because they’ve worked 3rd shift but still want to learn English.

-I learned that you have to be careful not to step in elephant poop while you’re walking around Africa.

-I learned how to manage the masses, usually from standing on a chair.

-I learned to interpret broken English and communicate in body language. For example, “kay kay caw” was a student’s response when asked why she didn’t go to school when she was a child.  She “take care cow.”

-I’ve been graciously given numerous pieces of clothing from Somalia, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Iraq, China, and Burma.
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-I can drive down the side streets and know many of the folks walking down the road.

-I received my first marriage proposals (not from Seth).

-I’ve seen the most beautifully random, cross cultural friendships blossom.

-A student brought me a broken boombox to repair since I can always get their pencils sharpened with the electronic sharpener. It’s a difficult task for many students.

-I experienced/taught a student how to ride an elevator for the first time. It was a nerve-wrecking yet joyful experience.

-I received my first child, a fake baby doll that the student named John.
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-I’ve celebrated multiple weddings, baby showers, house warming parties for new homeowners, and iftars to break the fast during Ramadan.

-I celebrated my own wedding because I wanted my students to be invited to an American wedding.

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At Americana, I’ve mostly taught the Literacy level of English otherwise known as the ABC level.  From my classroom I will remember:

-that EVERYONE is capable of learning. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never been to school or cannot hold a pencil correctly.  If they’re not learning, then you’ve gotta step up your teaching creativity.

-meeting new students for the first time. They are nervous and quiet and will hardly make eye contact.  By the end of our orientation, they’re smiling and telling me about themselves because they realized that we can communicate without help from any family/friend interpreters.

-the first time I ever heard my students sound out words and READ. I cried at the white board.

-the broken English conversations:
“Me, teacher nurse. Nurse help doctor. I help teacher. Me… teacher nurse!”
An old student to a new student, “little English no problem. Every day practice.”
“Everyone everything?” as she mimicked me saying “Does everyone have everything?”

-weird, weird things that happened in class due to them not knowing what is and isn’t acceptable behavior at school. Please ask me about them 🙂

-the day I set up my classroom as a community with streets and buildings so we could practice address. All of a sudden, all of my African students started dancing down the streets.

-diffusing several screaming arguments in the middle of class because why wouldn’t you scream at someone when you’re angry if you’re unaware that this isn’t what is acceptable in the classroom.

-teaching students how to work as a group. They didn’t understand sharing a paper, so I taped it down to the table so they couldn’t move it.

-playing with adult phonics curriculum creation until it actually worked. I will publish it one day in honor of my students because now many of them can read.

-my students becoming students. They have a routine.  They are confident in that routine and enthusiastically volunteer to come to the board.  They love homework.  They literally sit in class and smile at me for 2 hours as they learn.  They have completed so many higher critical thinking activities and asked some questions well above their initial level, and I am SO proud of their progress.

This week was the end of an era for me.  I told my last group of Literacy students goodbye.  My sneaky, thoughtful coworkers threw me an amazing surprise goodbye party with roughly 75 students and staff.  Next school year I will be moving into a different leadership role for the entire program.  I’ll still come by to visit and check on classes, but it will be different.  Words and stories cannot fully express how much this place and the people inside mean to me; this blog doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.  Just believe me when I say, Americana is a place like no other.

Every day advocate.

Make them understand why immigrants and refugees should be here, not shame for wanting to send them away.
Be an advocate. Share their stories. Share why they are special. Not what America can do for them, but what they can do for this country.

Make them understand why immigrants and refugees should be here, not shame for wanting to send them away.
Be an advocate. Share their stories. Share why they are special. Not what America can do for them, but what they can do for this country.

The majority of my adult life has included teaching English and learning about other countries, cultures, and languages.  It is very important to me to show the value, education, and hilarity that my students and friends bring into my life. Below are glimpses of my world as I strive to be an every day advocate.

January 31, 2018
It was a culture war zone in class this morning… Opinions on weight fluctuation; why I haven’t had children yet; how dare I take my husband’s last name and drop my father’s name; and let’s not even get started on Trump’s State of the Union address.

Granted, it’s impressive how all of this can be communicated with little English. It also means way less self-control in their expression. I’m exhausted.

February 6, 2018
This morning a younger Iraqi student got upset that an older Somali student calls me Ashley instead of teacher. The explanation…

“Before, you teacher… baby teacher. 8 years before. You my daughter, you baby teacher. Now big, no small.”

She was one of my first students in Adult Ed ESL when I was 21, so I was a baby teacher. But peer pressure got to her because by the end of class she was calling me Teacher.

February 19, 2018
My classroom interactions this morning…

1.) A Vietnamese nun is praying for me to have a baby.
2.) A Burundi student is adamant that she is 26 years old when her birth date is January 1990… There was no changing her mind.
3.) A Somali student thought she was 23 and was slightly devastated to find out that she is really 27.

Age is a hard concept when your worldview of date and time are so different. And the baby comments/questions are almost daily.

March 8, 2018
That’s my program!

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March 14, 2018
Over the years I’ve tried to consciously remove the following phrase from my vocabulary, “This student knows nothing. No English at all.”

Every student knows something. And if you can’t figure out how to awaken that something enough to grow and develop it into more language, then you’re not working hard enough as an English teacher.

#mamabearESLteacher #strengthsbasedpractice #stopinsultingmypeople

March 22, 2018
This is Roda. She is from DRC and has been in my English class since July. Learning to read is not an easy task, and she has been quite frustrated. A few months ago she grabbed another student’s certificate and pretended that I had presented it to her. She bowed and yelled, “Thank you, thank you!”

Today, she received her own certificate that she can keep and take home. There was dancing, hugging, hollering, spinning, and praising the Lord. These are some of the moments I live for.

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March 26, 2018
I received 5 onions as a gift today.

 April 26, 2018
Fighter planes for Derby have been flying around school this morning. I lost control of class for a minute as students acted out bombs dropping. One in particular just said, “Syria” as he pointed to them. Such a different world we live in.

May 1, 2018
This week my schedule is full of exit interviews for our Family Education grant. When asking participants how the program has helped their family…

-“My daughter was doing bad at school because I don’t know how to help her. Now her teacher calls to tell me she is in the top of her class.”

-“My customers notice that my English is better.”

-“My 3-year old knows her letters, colors, animals. She sings. She can write her name!” (from a parent who’s never been to school)

-“We love learning. Me and my children are sad if we miss Family Education.”

These comments are from parents who start their day at 3:20am and go home at 9:00pm, who are single mothers, who did not go to/finish school. THIS is why we do it. It’s a gift to work with these strong individuals who have re-built their lives in this country.

‍‍May 30, 2018
Teaching lower level ESL sometimes hinders my vocab. I’m always trying to simplify my language. So now in regular conversation, I have to google definitions… ominous, gregarious, etc.

August 15, 2018
Today was the first day of school for Jefferson County. As I watched adorably dressed children run to their bus stop, I couldn’t help but think of all my adult students who never had the chance to regularly attend school as a child.

These same students arrive to school now sometimes an hour and a half early to ensure they have a seat for ESL Registration. They are very upset when we are full and ask them to come back. They just want to study.

Adult Education matters.

August 17, 2018
As I was scrolling through my contact list last night, I got very confused. I was so tired that I forgot where J falls in alphabetical order… and I am a self-proclaimed Queen of the Alphabet!  TGIF.

August 20, 2018
A student walked up and smacked my stomach this morning and said, “Where’s your baby?”  I told her I’m too busy now.  She said, “Every day too busy. One day you die and no babies! No good teacher, no good!”

September 3, 2018
Much of my work these days is organizing the masses and tracking data, and I’m quite proud to work at this gigantic site.

In less than 2 months, we have enrolled 506 adult ESL students at Americana World Community Center. 235 of them will likely start classes tomorrow.

September 22, 2018
Presenting at conferences is already fun, but this time I get to do it with one of my favorite colleagues.

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 October 27, 2018
Trying to get excited about literacy level ESL with original ideas and materials at KYTESOL.

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November 27, 2018
We were killin it in class today. There were so many aha moments that the students were literally bouncing in their seat with excitement.  The best part of the morning was when my most insecure student went into the hallway and came back to hand me her phone.

“Hello?”
“Hello. My wife called and wants me to tell you that she understands almost everything today and she feels very good and happy.”
“I’m so happy! That’s wonderful. But I’m still teaching right now so I’m going to hang up.”

#brilliantstudents #thisiswhyliteracyrocks #ibouncedinexcitementwiththem

November 28, 2018
The energy continues this morning, except none of my language groups are getting along.

Somali: “Hey! You talk too much.”
Arabic: “Teacher!” (While pointing to the Somali students in a tattle tale like fashion)
Me: “Well, you do talk too much too loud. Speak more English.”

*Everyone sits there grumpily.*

December 10, 2018
“Teacher, you no eat camel? Why??! Milk-y good. Meat good. What happened?”

“I’m not sure. I guess because we don’t have many camels in America.”

“Oh, Africa camels too much.”

December 13, 2018
What else are you supposed to do when addressing roughly 90 ESL students who speak multiple languages? Balance yourself on a chair and pleasantly holler.

How many questions do you know from our mingling activity?

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December 21, 2018
My Winter Break officially began at 5:00 pm. I left to pick up my sister and came right back to Americana Community Center for the Winter Festival. It was SO good to catch up with families I haven’t seen in a while. I love this place and I love these people.