Interview With Christine Kenny, Non-Profit ESL Teacher In Chicago

chicago-img_00651.jpgChristine Kenny, Executive Director of Chicago-based Literacy Works, was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on and experiences in both EFL and ESL via an email interview. She taught briefly in Spain before becoming further involved in ESL (and then with Literacy Works) in Chicago.

She describes her first experience as a volunteer tutor at a community-based organization: “I would leave my (daytime) job where my boss barely knew my name, to be greeted by a room full of the warmest, most appreciative people I had ever met. As recent immigrants and refugees from Mexico and Central America they had very little in terms of material wealth, but what they gave me was priceless.”

The biggest difference between her experience south of Barcelona – where her employer gave her a company car to drive from one private student to another – and her experience teaching immigrants and refugees through non-profits in Chicago was “…in educational background and reason for learning English. In Europe the students I worked with, at least the adults, were all very educated and looked at learning English as a “hobby” or a way to increase their status at work. The immigrant and refugee population here in Chicago often have limited formal education (often between 6 and 9 years of schooling). There are a lot of literacy issues that need to be addressed in their native language, as well as the English instruction. Because they need English, they are much more driven than the students I worked with in Spain. The English they use in class in the morning is going to be used that afternoon at work or in the street. People are hungry to learn and are very appreciative of their teacher’s time and enthusiasm.”

As far as class content, she found that the curriculum tended to be more set for her language school teaching in Spain – there was little room for the students or the teacher to change things. In contrast, in her EFL teaching with non-profits in Chicago, “Teachers are encouraged .. to adapt the lessons to the needs and interests of the students. It might mean creating your own materials, or at least having a more creative take on what you do during class. You also may need to adapt the time and location to work within the students’ schedules or transportation needs.”

My own take on this is that, while language school teachers abroad are generally still expected to keep the students happy, they are more likely to have a textbook they need to stick to (perhaps because the school has sold it to the students), whereas it seems that it’s much more acceptable for ESL teachers in the non-profit context to take control of the content and materials on a class by class basis.

Be on the lookout for more from Chris on the outlook for careers in ESL as well as some tales of the rewards of working in the non-profit field.