I spend most Wednesday nights on the floor.
Not at my apartment, mind you, but on the basement floor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wheaton, Ill., where I attend services on Sundays and play dead on Wednesdays.
Over the three years I’ve taught English as a Second Language, I’ve played being dead or seriously injured more Wednesday evenings than not.
My class has acted out the robbery of a fast-food restaurant, Shakespearian poisonings and a car accident.
Usually I’m the victim.
Even otherwise-harmless homonyms have caused me to end up on the floor. I got carpet burn from the clumsy form of “trip” and a nice bruise from the non-autumnal form of “fall.”
Two other instructors and I teach two Spanish-speakers from Mexico on Wednesday nights. On Sundays after church, I spend time with Beatrice, a Liberian refugee who speaks French, Kru and more English than she gives herself credit for. Beatrice epitomizes most new English-speakers in that they have a good vocabulary but simply lack confidence.
With all my students, a sense of humor gets us through the rough spots.
A few weeks ago, one of my Spanish-speaking students, Camerino, wanted to ask for a raise at his job. So we wrote out three possible scenarios on the board. Camerino played himself and the other student, Jorge, played his boss.
They followed the script perfectly until Camerino asked for a raise of $1 an hour.
“What do you think, this company is made of money?” Jorge responded.
We had to stop the lesson so the teachers could get over their fits of laughter. As well as being funny, it was a perfectly constructed, well-delivered off-the-cuff English sentence.
Our teaching styles may be unconventional, but we get the job done.
Last Sunday, after our usual lunch out and conversation, Beatrice wanted to show me where she works. “It’s right by the beehive,” she said.
Thinking I’d misheard, I followed her instructions of “turn right” and “turn left” until I realized that by “the beehive” she meant a pair of architecturally unusual apartment buildings in Wheaton that indeed resemble a beehive. Beatrice’s English was sound. It was my imagination that was impaired.
Even if my students don’t realize it, teaching English is a ministry. My students know they attend class in the basement of an iglesia, and that one of their other teacher’s mother is a pastor at the church. Because we work collaboratively with a social service agency, we talk about religion only if our Wednesday students ask a specific question — i.e. “Is your mother a monja [nun]?”
It doesn’t matter whether my students know that their learning is a holy act.
At its assembly this past weekend, my synod (Metropolitan Chicago) unanimously passed a resolution to encourage congregations to aid and support refugees.
With God’s help, a little pantomime and a good sense of humor, we can do what seem to be simple things to extend the welcome in a significant, practical way to those finding their way in a new country and using a new language.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers