Teach: to impart knowledge or skill in.
When I began teaching here in Gedera, I thought I would be helping my students learn English. The major mistake in that assumption is that “Teach” and “Learn” are totally different. Knowledge imparted is not congruous with knowledge received.
We have a program called “Shabab” which essentially means, “Homework at Home”, where I have been going into a seventh-grade boy’s home and helping him with his English for almost two months now. I can remember the first time I walked into his apartment and sat down in an environment that had me confused as to how to spell “cat” and “dog”. We sat on the couch with the TV on playing music videos. The father was sitting next to us with a screaming baby in his arms. We crouched over to work on a knee high Coffee table. Making it even more difficult was the fact that my student knew almost no English. How was I going to teach English in this environment?
As the weeks went on, I continued to teach English, pondering my effectiveness based on our continued communication struggles. Finally this week it struck me. I walked into his apartment and was greeted by my student’s mother. She cleared off the dining room table, poured two glasses of water, and spilled pretzels into a bowl. We sat down and began to work. Minutes later, the two year old baby came running in; but she was immediately swept up by her father and taken into a different room. The eldest sister arrived shortly after that, only to be greeted by her mother making gestures to get out of the room while pointing at us. The rest of the session went uninterrupted. We sat there, half working on his homework and half laughing at the silences when neither one of us could convey a certain word.
He still struggles with the English language and I continue to struggle with Hebrew, but I have come to realize something – while I was teaching English, he and his family were learning, well, how to learn.
It’s hard to determine exactly how much English is being absorbed on a week to week basis but what I can quantify, has been the gradual progression of the learning environment. Who knows if the English language is getting through and if it will last once I am not here. What I do know is that a family that may have placed less emphasis on education is now taking their child’s study a little more seriously.
In a way, this makes teaching that much more fun because you never know what someone is learning from you.