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Teach English in Xiqiao Zhen - Huai'an Shi
#42 Volunteer Teaching In 2008 I embarked on an online, educational journey to earn my bachelor’s degree. It had been more than 30 years since I’d graduated from high school, and online fit my hectic schedule of working 60 hour weeks. It was hard work and it took a lot of cooperation from my family, and even more time management planning on my part, but I graduated in 22 months and I was hooked on the online forum of learning. I decided then and there that I wanted to teach other adult learners in the online forum and that would take a master’s degree. I settled on a Master’s in Management and a second Major in Criminal Justice, which included several Academic Certifications. It was the perfect combination; it was an accelerated program, so I could work full time, go to school full time and complete it all in 15 months. At the same time, I’d been fascinated by the Correctional System since I was a young woman and I wondered how I could meld the two fascinations into something doable. I contacted the Victim/Volunteer Coordinator at my then Department of Correction’s Women’s Facility in Oregon and volunteered my services to teach an ESL class to up to 20 female inmates twice a month, while I was still attending University and working full time. I was really spreading myself thin, but I had a plan. Not knowing if the prison would be interested, I wrote a proposal, and I went prepared to beg, cajole, and plead my case. My theory had always been that if a foreign national commits a crime in the United States, if we give that person a marketable skill, once they have completed their prison term and are deported, they take with them a skill that can earn them a living wage (ENGLISH) and they may stay in their own country, instead of coming back to mine to commit crimes. It was worth a shot, and the prison officials went for it—how could they not, it was free to them! It filled a need they didn’t even know they had. Saved the tax-payers money, was a tax deduction for me, served a niche need in the Correctional System, and was my perfect introduction to teaching. Let’s face it, I needed experience to be hired as a teacher, and no one will hire you to teach without experience teaching; volunteering was the perfect solution. I taught 15 students from 8 countries: Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, Russia, Columbia, Czechoslovakia, and Korea. My students were drug dealers, human traffickers, gang members, money launderers/forgers, child abusers, and 5 of the 15 were murderers. It was a diverse group of ladies. I used a friend’s ESL Lesson Planning guide which relied on standard lesson planning, but that had to be modified considerably to prison standards. There were few props I could bring in – tape recorders, video equipment, overhead projectors, even PENS were not allowed. I compromised, adapted, and made do, with the short list of equipment they allowed me to bring into the facility. My ESL guide was borrowed from the local community college’s ESL Curriculum Guide, as well as workbooks given to me by the same friend. She told me to follow the guide, make it fun, only speak English, and set goals we could celebrate often. I did an initial assessment of my student’s English speaking abilities at the first class. I had more than 20 students sign up, but after the initial assessment, only kept 15, since the others had signed up simply to get out of their cells, and spoke English well enough not to take up the space, or take advantage of the system. I sought the ultimate goal from the student’s perspective, and promised to deliver, if they promised to stay the course. I made copies of the worksheets from my borrowed workbooks, with subjects like: In the Kitchen, Around Town, Unit’s of Measure, Household Cleaning and Laundry, Fruits and Vegetables, the Supermarket, and so many more. I bought flashcards from the Dollar Store of colors, objects, alphabets, numbers and anything else I thought would help. I bought everyone pencils, erasers, and gave out stickers when they completed homework assignments. (They sold the stickers to other inmates who put them on letters home to their kids, so that hot commodity had to be banned from the facility). I gave them 5 page reading assignments with 1 page writing assignments about what they’d read, assigned buddies that had to be changed regularly, depending on where they were housed within the prison, and gave flash card quizzes. We did role play, job interviews, parts of sentences, grammar drills, vocabulary drills, and read aloud to each other. And every class, we played Flash Card Bingo for stamped on stars they couldn’t remove from their papers as rewards. I had my fair share of disruptions in the class. Twice we went on lock down and I had to be escorted off the prison premises due to rioting on the other side of the facility. Numerous times I had to separate students who were from rival gangs, whose goal was to intimidate, harm or even kill each other. Always, I had to be on the look-out for note passing and other prohibited activity, because it could mean a hit, or some other illegal activity was being planned. Many classes, several of my students were not present because they were in Ad Seg—Administrative Segregation also known as The Hole (or Solitary Confinement). If they misbehaved during the week, they could lose the privilege of coming to class, so many had to change their whole behaviors if they wanted to continue coming to classes. I taught that ESL group for 13 months, and most all of them were able to read, write and speak English so much more fluently than when I began with them. It was an accomplishment I was very proud of. The only reason I had to stop, was because Ashford University picked me up as an online adjunct professor of Criminal Justice and I simply could not work full time, teach part time and keep teaching ESL classes as well—there simply wasn’t enough time in the day. I did follow up with the prison 6 months later and my recommendations were taken: 4 of my students were enrolled in their GED courses and I later found out all 4 of them earned their GED’s as well. I’ve taught Criminal Justice courses at Ashford University for almost 9 years now, and I decided it was time to go back to my first passion—teaching ESL students in the prison system as well as teaching adult learners online ESL courses, and there was really only one way to bring credibility to my passion—earn my TESOL certification. With this certification, my proposal to teach ESL classes to non-English speakers will hold more credence in the prison system, as well as in the online forum. And since I now live in Arizona, much closer to the Mexican border, the number of non-English speaking inmates here is treble what it was in my previous state of Oregon. I look forward to using the skills I have garnered over the last 10 years of teaching both online and on-ground, as well as these new learned skills from this course to make me even more proficient at my craft, and hopefully help others reach their goal to speak English more fluently. Thank you for a great experience and a great class.