Interview With John Hall, Former Volunteer ESL Teacher For Kosovar Refugees In Canada

kosovomap.jpgIf you’ve ever thought about using your English teaching skills and experience to help immigrants or refugees, EFL teacher John Hall has a story for you.

In 1999, just back in Nova Scotia from over three years in Japan, he found himself volunteering to organize an ESL program for Kosovar refugees. I came across his story at Dave’s ESL Café, and he was kind enough to do an email interview. Find out how his volunteer ESL-ing got started here.

What was it like to teach in this context?

“Imagine losing everything except the clothes on your back, being plunked down into a country that you hardly knew anything about and where you couldn’t speak the language. Imagine not knowing anything about what your future would be, and not knowing whether your friends and family members who were not with you were either alive or dead.” These were the challenges John’s students faced, and it was his job to teach them.

“Classes were pure chaos at first.

One of the first classes I gave had more than 50 students in it, ranging in age from 17 to 70. They were mostly true beginners, and the first thing that we had to work on was classroom instructions, so that they could at least have a chance of understanding something that I was saying. I quickly discovered that the students were accustomed to making notes in classes. I had to try to break them of this habit because they were looking at their notebooks and neither watching nor listening to me. A few of the interpreters helped me out, but it was one of the toughest teaching situations I have ever had to deal with. Many of the students were quite fidgety, and a dozen or so just got up and walked out.”

To other teachers in similar situations, he says: “When things are overwhelming, just go with the flow and do the best that you can.”

It sounds pretty hard, doesn’t it? But wait – there’s more!