Deciding to Join CMWR: My Experience Being an ESL Tutor

Since last spring quarter, I have spent every Wednesday night tutoring an adult immigrant in English as a Second Language at a Chicago branch of Heartland Alliance, a Midwest anti-poverty organization dedicated to preserving human dignity and protecting human rights through providing many different social services. My student at Heartland changed a couple times last year, but since fall quarter of 2014 I have been working with Anita, a woman from Poland who has been in the United States for nine years. It is my experiences with Anita that prompted me to join the Collaborative for Multilingual Writing and Research.

Often when I tell people that I am an ESL tutor, they jump to the conclusion that I am just shuffling through workbooks and flipping flash cards with someone who wants to learn English. And I can’t blame them because, when I started volunteering, I definitely thought it would be like somewhat like that. But I quickly found, particularly through my experiences with Anita, that not only are we practicing reading, writing, and speaking English together, but we are also teaching each other about living.

By being genuine and open-minded, Anita and I have developed a relationship where she feels comfortable talking about her anxieties as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. She recognizes that, even though I do not have all the answers to her stresses, that I genuinely want to listen to what she’s feeling. And our conversations aren’t always serious by any means. We talk about endless topics, such as places we like to shop, concerts we’ve gone to, and what our families are like. This balance between traditional tutoring work and spontaneous conversations make our sessions feel like we are just friends spending time together, talking about life and working on improving Anita’s English skills.

Most importantly, through this volunteer position as well as others, I have learned that it’s not always the volunteer who is impacting the community they’re serving. Instead, the volunteer is impacted by the individuals and community they are working with. Yes, I’ve seen Anita grower stronger and more confident with reading, writing, and speaking English, but at the end of the day she is the one who is impacting me. Not only has Anita taught me things about her culture and her experiences in Poland and the United States, but also the importance of dialogue, sharing stories, and finding human connection despite surface level differences.

What Anita has taught me is what guided me towards joining CMWR, an UCWbL team that recognizes that nobody has all the answers about how to navigate through life, but by working and collaborating with others we learn to see the humanness that we all share. I’m a firm believer that once this humanness is recognized, we are further able combine our unique differences with our common link as individuals. From here we can grow together and meet personal as well as wider scale goals.

For all these experiences and reasons, I cannot wait for the rest of the quarter, and any future quarters, with CMWR. I’m excited to work with writers from all backgrounds and abilities because everyone has something they can teach and share. I know there’s so much to learn from everyone involved with CMWR on the road ahead!

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  • Emily Power says:

    I’m so glad you shared this experience Mackenzie! I didn’t know that you’re an ESL tutor, and I enjoyed reading how this work has impacted you and Anita. I also appreciate that you debunk the popular assumptions that ESL work is simply, as you elegantly put it, shuffling through workbooks and flipping flash cards. Language learning is a much more complex process than that, and if we aren’t learning about each other as humans through the process we’re doing something wrong! I’m sure this ESL experience will compliment your work in CMWR 🙂