Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dustin F. Geranen, Former Writing Center Tutor, talks ESL and the Post-Graduate Life

My work at the Writing Center was my first step toward a career in ESL teaching and tutoring. I’d read all of the articles Carrie makes new tutors read about ESL tutoring but I still had questions. I sat down with her for nearly an hour during which she talked to me about her own experiences and gave me more reading material. I then spoke with former tutor, Madeline Christensen, who advised me that the tricky part of ESL tutoring was understanding and respecting cultural differences. A student from Asia might be embarrassed to show their grade on an assignment while a student from Russia might feel like your not qualified to tutor them if you aren’t quite blunt.

I wasn’t alone in my trepidation but I decided that the only way to get good at it was to take on as many sessions as possible. I told everyone they could give me their ESL sessions if they were nervous about them and Carrie spread the word to all of the comp teachers that I’d be more than happy to work with ESL students on a regular basis. Soon, teachers began contacting me directly about working with their ESL students.

During my second year at the Writing Center, the ELP department contacted Carrie and asked about setting up a standing appointment for a student from China. She’d worked with an unscrupulous agent who impersonated her on the phone and her English was at quite a low level. She is the main reason I’ve pursued ESL as a career. I worked with her three times a week for a year. I saw her go from a struggling learner relying on nouns and pointing to pictures to a confident student capable of writing meaningful paragraphs and developing a linear essay. The sessions were frustrating and often tiring for both of us but we persevered and her English improved as did my instructional ability.

For a year after graduating from Roosevelt, I worked teaching comp at a couple schools in Chicago—including Roosevelt. My work with my ESL students was always most fulfilling. It’s not just the intricacies of learning how to teach people from radically different cultures, but working with a student who fears she may have made the wrong choice to leave her homeland. With each week of work an ESL student becomes more confident in their ability to be a student and succeed in America.

I answered a craigslist ad for online ESL work thinking I’d pick up some extra cash to supplement my teaching. The ad turned out to be for a position as a language coach at Rosetta Stone. Now I only work for them. I lead 50 minute Totale sessions in which 1-4 learners interact with me via webcam. I show them pictures and play vocabulary-based games with them. I also help teach them about cultural differences relating to language. Additionally, I teach Reflex sessions, which last 5-9 minutes and focus on fast-paced conversations that students will likely encounter such as asking for directions in a city and interacting with a flight attendant when your headset is malfunctioning.

The sessions are quite productive. We don’t focus on written words as much as aural/linguistic association. It’s not enough for them to give me the noun; they must form a sentence that sounds American. This helps shape their thought process when interacting in English because they start to understand how we form our sentences based on our thoughts.
It’s not all business, though. My learners crack me up on a daily basis. I’ve found making jokes about everything helps relax them and gets them to use English more freely. I’ve posted some of my more humorous interactions at a blog:http://charhybdis.blogspot.com 

-Dustin F. Geranen


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