It was going to be a post on a different topic, but after listening to Tyson Seburn’s speech about confidence, “Confidence is Contagious” (which I find very impressive), I had to share this...
It is said that teaching ESL literacy can be a daunting task. It may take adult learners who have never been exposed to formal education before a very long time to master the initial reading and writing skills in a foreign language. I heard teachers saying that the most frustrating thing in teaching ESL literacy is that they often do not see any progress long enough to start doubting themselves and their strategies. Or, even worse, your student just started reading after you used one million of reading strategies and some magic spells, and the next thing you find out that he or she is not able to attend the course anymore due to some family issues or moving to a different neighborhood.
If you asked me what is necessary to be successful in this field, I would say “confidence”, to be more specific, a ton of confidence in the students, in yourself, in your teaching skills and strategies, in the fact that no matter what, you and your students will succeed. This year, I was able to witness a couple of times how the confidence I had in my students took over fears and changed perceptions.
“Confidence is contagious” Action 1:
Every year, we celebrate the graduate students at our programs: the best representatives from each level usually prepare a special performance or speech to congratulate their peers. This year, ESL literacy students, for the first time, not only presented an outstanding recital in front of the audience but also set it up from scratch. When I officially declared that my students would participate this year, nobody did really take my words seriously. Especially, my group. When I asked for volunteers to make a public appearance, half of my class (adults, by the way) sank under the tables. It took me about a month to convince them that we were going to present at the Graduation. And it took us another month (we practiced every day) to prepare for it. I had to swear that I would be standing by their side on the stage, and that I would whisper if they forgot, and I had repeat every single day that it was OK if they made a mistake. We decided to recite a short poem that we composed together about our class and our peers. I also borrowed the idea of spreading the message “You Matter” from Angela Maiers. Students loved it. One time when they hesitated, I had to tell them that nobody expected anything from them and therefore we did not have anything to lose, instead we could try hard and impress everybody (I probably heard it before in a movie). And we did. I was so proud of them. They were so proud of themselves. Our presentation was 5 minutes long, but it does not really matter. What matters is the boost of confidence we all shared that day.
“Confidence is Contagious” Action 2:
Many things happened after our public appearance that day. The students who presented shared with me that they were able to prepare the recital and speak in public due to the confidence the teacher had in them. Many people approached me and told me how great my students were and that the ESL literacy is a beautiful program vitally important for our community. I couldn't agree more. I remembered then, that some years ago at a very similar graduation, no one approached me or said anything, majority of people called my program “level 0” (which I fundamentally disagree with), and some of them would pitifully say that they had no clue how I was able to teach it. Nobody believed in my class then.
What a difference a bit of confidence has made...