By Joshua Miller, Contributing Writer.
As someone who moved to New York City to try to launch a career in the performing arts, I’ve always promised myself that I would go into teaching if that plan didn’t come through.
It’s important to stay tethered and cultivate skills that will lead to a steady career if one wants to survive in the ever-changing demands of a job market and economy that have yet to fully recover from the 2008 recession.
Despite what some factions of our country might have us believe, teaching ESL, or English to native speakers of other languages, is going to be in high demand in the next decade. By 2030, English is projected to no longer be the most widely spoken language in the United States. The two reactions one can have to this trend is to ignore it and fight the impending reality of this shift or adjust and use one’s skills to serve this new rising cross-section of our population.
Where I live in the Bronx, there is diversity, so it’s unlike many other regions of America. Here. my fluency in Spanish has served me well both on and off the job. For all these reasons, pursuing a Master’s degree in ESL Education at Hunter College seems to be a wise and well-timed choice.
Teachers need to be adaptable.
Throughout my teaching career, I have encountered students of all different ages, skill sets, and income levels. Adaptability is key to reach any student that has life challenges that are unlike what a teacher may have encountered in their own life or in prior educational experiences.
The one clear example that affected me most was in Spring of 2013, when I was not even finished with my Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Mercy College, and a fellow student referred me to what would become the first in a string of professional tutoring gigs.
Champion Learning, now defunct, sold students 30-hour packages of in-home tutoring with progress being measured by scores on a pre-test and a post-test in English and math. A tutor could accept or refuse any assignment offered to them, but out of a desire to learn how to teach and a need to make ends meet, refusing a client was a right I seldom exercised.
One of my first students was Derek (name changed for privacy’s sake) who had been turned down by several of my co-workers because he was diagnosed with ADHD, and though he was nine years old, the age of a typical fourth grader, Derek struggled with second grade material. As was to be expected, he scored only in the mid-to-high forties on his two-year-behind pre-test.
Since I wasn’t well-versed in professional technique, I tried a very rote style, where I would recite the content to Derek and then ask questions in an attempt to get him to regurgitate the information I’d just dispelled. As was par for the course, this led to frustration on both our parts.
The nature of ADHD is a restless desire to move. Since I realized I had more freedom and openness with lesson execution in an apartment than I would have had in a more public place, I integrated movements and rhymes that would serve as mnemonic or memorizing, devices. This experience cemented my love for and use of mnemonics whenever possible.
Though Derek’s post-tests were still at second grade level, his score literally doubled, and he now scored in the low nineties in both English and math.
I was incredibly proud of the effort that Derek put into our lessons. And our experience together taught me the importance of adaptability that I will carry into my future career as an educator. Teaching, if done well, should be a two-way process and feel more like a conversation than a lecture; it’s important for a teacher not to be too big for one’s britches and always be open to learning as well.
Joshua Miller is a Bronx-based actor with Darknight Productions as well as a freelance tutor. He will be pursuing his Master’s Degree in ESL Education at Hunter College this Fall. Follow him online at https://www.facebook.com/oldsoultunes