Sunday, October 25, 2015

More Teaching.. this time in 'Little India!'

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote, and in that time a lot has been unfolding in terms of my service sites here in Chicago.

After the first week or so, I found that I really enjoyed working with the English Language Learning students at the Holy Spirit Life Learning Center and wanted to learn more about teaching ELL. So, I found another place only a few blocks away called the Indo-American Center, which also offers ELL classes. The IAC is located on Devon Avenue, right in the heart of Chicago’s biggest Indian/Pakistani/Arab neighborhood. The interesting thing about the Devon area is that it was formerly very Jewish, so there are dozens of synagogues nearby. On any given day, you might see an Arab woman dressed in a full burka passing a Hasidic Jew wearing a fringed shirt and earlocks. The diversity is one of the things I find most interesting and exciting about the place I am now living.

The Indo-American Center has a much different atmosphere than the Holy Spirit Life Learning Center. The classrooms are small but always cramped full of people, sometimes spilling out into the hall. On only my second visit to the IAC, the beginning level classroom was so full there weren’t enough chairs for everyone who wanted to learn. Renuka, one of the administrators, asked if I could take a small group of four or five and teach them the alphabet to make more room in the classroom.
Of course I said yes, but I was so nervous. I had no lesson planned at all and felt that I would be wasting the students’ time fumbling through a lesson with my measly teaching experience. As it turned out, my students were just as terrified to work with me as I was to work with them. Renuka practically had to drag them into the classroom where I would be teaching.

There were five students—all Pakistani women between the ages of 50 and 60 I would guess. I went through every alphabet letter one by one, writing it on the blackboard. The ladies took turns shouting out works they knew that started with each letter—Apple! And! Arm!—followed by Banana! Box! Boat! Because of my training in the Bengali language, I was able to translate one or two of the words into their language, Urdu, which is similar to Bengali. They thought this was a hoot and tried to help me learn new Urdu words.

My greatest failure came at the end of the lesson. Renuka had given me a few children’s alphabet books which she suggested I try with the students. So I let one of the ladies pick out her favorite letter, P, and the corresponding book, which was called Patsy Pig Goes to the Park or something like that. I started by asking them to describe the front cover of the book, which was illustrated with a picture of a pink pig standing next to a scarecrow in front of a red barn. The first student studied the picture and pointed to the barn. “Here is red house.” She pointed to the scarecrow. “This is man.” She pointed to the pig. “This is.. dog?”

That was my first clue that this wasn’t going to work out as well as I thought. “No that’s not a dog,” I explained. “That’s a pig. You know what a pig is?” They stared at me, nonplussed. All of them shook their heads. That’s when I remembered that Muslims don’t eat pigs, which means they don’t raise pigs, which means my students would have little to no experience with pigs, particularly the pink American kind.

I struggled for about five minutes to adequately explain what a pig is, until one of the ladies patted my arm very sweetly and said, “Don’t worry teacher. For us, it can be dog.”

Everything is always a work in progress.

More next week on my work with kids and some of the fun things I’ve been up to in Chicago!

Outside the Indo-American Center (note: I did not take this picture myself, I obtained it on google images)

Students at the IAC (note; I did not take this picture myself, I obtained it on google images)

A mannequin in the window of a sari shop, sporting both a salwaar and a witch's hat for Halloween

A mannequin dressed in a panjabi and vest with a Halloween mask. A fascinating blend of cultures

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