Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Monday, May 01, 2006

Who said voluntary work doesn't pay?

When I realised that the bulk of my voluntary project in Poland was going to consist of giving English lessons to Russian speaking refugees I wasn't overjoyed. As I've mentioned before teaching has never been a career choice for me; I just don't enjoy it enough and don't have the patience for slow learners.

I think teachers should be passionate about their jobs as so much depends on good teachers. I just didn't feel passion when I thought about the lessons. It was more a resigned, 'ok then, let's get on with it' sinking feeling.

Still, I had agreed to do them and so decided that for the few months that they formed part of my work, I would do everything in my power to make them successful. I read up on interesting teaching methods, used lots of brightly coloured paper and interactive games, tried not to get discouraged when different people showed up to different lessons, tried to keep it organised and tried to be enthusiastic.

When I held my last lesson I realised that despite the trials and tribulations of the past months I had one small success which meant the most to me.

The success relates to one quiet woman in my class. When she first came to the lessons, always accompanied by her son, she rarely spoke. If I directed questions towards her she visibly trembled and answered in an unsteady whisper. I made a conscious effort to encourage her, and she was clearly trying very hard, never missing a class and remembering things from one lesson to the next.

Over the months she changed. She continued to be quieter than the others, but behind her silence I witnessed a strong determination. In the last few lessons she took to blurting out answers when I asked the class something. Each time her hand flew up to cover her mouth and she met my eye with a look of pure surprise, quickly followed by a slight smile.

I don't know if she was surprised that she knew the answer or whether it was surprise at her confidence.

After every lesson she came to thank me. At the last lesson she touched my arm and said 'thank you very, very, very much'. I told her she was my best student, which she quietly laughed off with a 'no, very bad'. She doesn't realise that without her my classes would have had so much less meaning.

The wide-eyed girls, the flirty young men, the earnest hard-working boys, the conscientious women, the bewildered old men... none will fix in my memory like the mother and son who made so much of the opportunities they were offered.

I really hope her increasing confidence seeps through to the rest of her life.

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