Teaching and Learning

25 Jan

DSC01326Thoughts on teaching and learning from migrant workers from Nepal and Sri Lanka…

Tutoring the workers has been an outstanding privilege.   In our short time with them ideally we can help them help themselves in their process of learning, but I’m stuck with one thought: it is a rather unequal exchange.  I can teach them a word in English, but hearing their stories – the distances traveled, the families left at home – are worth so much more.  They force me to reflect on what global travel means to me relative to others’ movement and what is demanded by the differences.  Hopefully by the end of our sessions together the exchange grows to be more equal.

– Daniel

My muscles are committed to the contours of my keyboard, able to effortlessly punch in a password after years of computer use. The students squint at the screen, repeating the motions of Shift + H with varying levels of frustration. No easy task, it is an action that requires specific subtlety. Don’t press too hard, avoid the caps lock, and navigate tiny tiles in an unfamiliar language, all while your letters are masked by those damn black dots. But with each small victory – opening Tamil Wikipedia, finding a video on Youtube –  the computer becomes less an object of difference and more a tool for exchange.

– Marielle

DSC01333My greatest joy came out of working with Sandosh. I had a great conversation with him (considering his level of English and my level of Hindi). Finding out he is only twenty-two years old makes me even more appreciative of my own opportunities. He said he was a cleaner here but the other day I saw him working at Papa John’s rolling out pizza dough. I was not positive it was him but as soon as he returned my smile, it was confirmed. I said hello to him and he replied, “Hello, ma’am!” with such excitement that it warmed my heart. We continued our short conversation and I felt this tug at my core solidifying my desire to help him as much as possible.


“I’ve been so spoiled,” I think to myself. My fingers dance across keys at such high speed that I rarely, if ever, look at the keyboard itself. Sometimes I don’t even look at the screen. His fingers move slowly, the index hesitates above a black key with a tiny white image. He’s right. At least, I know he’s right. He presses the letter, and I list off the next one. The little black dots that obscure what he’s typing multiply. He hesitates again. “Click the blue circle,” I say. The desktop loads.


DSC01332Tutoring has been an amazing and overall positive experience. The workers’ kindness reminds me that the most valuable part of teaching is building a relationship with them and giving them an hour out of the day to make them feel like someone cares about them and their future is more valuable than teaching them a few words in English. I first had difficulty trying to balance my attention, it was natural to give more attention to the worker who struggled more, but I realized that the other workers need just as much attention. I learned that by giving everyone equal attention, some workers might not get as far in English, but they will all feel like someone cares about them.


With only seconds left before the end of a Nepali music video, I looked to my right and found a young man’s frustrated face pointed toward his keyboard with a forced smile. “Learning to type … well, it is sort of like learning how to dance,” I said. After a moment of consideration, he looked up and began to laugh hysterically. “I do not dance like the video,” he replied. “That does not matter,” I assured him, “It is all about learning the steps and practicing until it becomes effortless.” He contemplated this notion, I patiently waited. A few seconds later, I watched as strong fingers began to delicately search the keyboard for Ctrl+Alt+Dlt – the first steps to any “computer dance”.

– Alexandria

DSC01331Working with Education City’s cleaning staff has been a really cool experience. My favorite things about our lessons together are the small moments that confirm for me that what I’m doing is relevant and impactful. Often times when I am teaching or demonstrating, I wonder if what I am communicating is truly going to be helpful in the long run. But the men that I have worked with are constantly interested in trying to stretch beyond the limits of the class and return to the next class ready to learn even more! Sometimes I can’t even get them to close Rosetta Stone.  It’s great to work with people whose energy levels are so high!


On our first day of teaching, I was paired with a young Nepali woman named Sumitha. We started by trying to get to know each other. I asked her questions about herself which she answered by smiling and nodding… after a few questions (“Where are you from?” etc) I realized that she didn’t understand a word I was saying. Surprisingly, I think that coming to that realization made me just as uncomfortable as she was! After some awkward giggling and half-communicating through gestures, we managed to develop a system in which I would google an image of something, teach her the word in English, and she taught me the word in Nepali. By the end of the class we were both laughing and knew the words for cat, dog, man, woman, boy, and girl, in each other’s language.


DSC01336After hitting “Enter,” the screen was once again marked with a small red “X” and the phrase “Invalid username or password.” I exhaled, smiled, and suggested that we try again. The last thing that I wanted to do was provoke feelings of frustration, but I felt like that was exactly what I was doing. Learning computer skills, especially learning how to log in to a computer system using a set of letters, a keyboard, and a language that one does not completely understand can be extremely difficult. How could I even explain the importance of logging in? I was elated when the screen eventually read, “Welcome.” We went on to look at some pictures of animals, learn some vocabulary about color, and discuss our families. I hope that I get the chance to share similar successes with the same student again.




One Response to “Teaching and Learning”

  1. Michele Hall Duncan February 16, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Love hearing your stories and experiencing the gratification that all of you have in sharing your knowledge with others.

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