The following blog post was written by Christina Musa, a faculty member at the School of Global Access.
With our students, hope gives them the energy and the power to push through the challenges of learning a new language.
Over our last term break, I met some of my former students for coffee. They shared this with me. “Christina, you are one of our biggest cheerleaders. You encourage us to keep going towards our goals. You believe in us.” Besides making my heart melt (yes, I am a complete softy under my professional exterior), it got me thinking about hope. What these students found most important about the student-teacher relationship went far beyond just me helping them learn English. To them, the relationship was about me encouraging them in their endeavors to build a different life for themselves. I realized that me being their cheerleader helped give them hope. This conversation got me thinking about the role of hope in our English language classrooms.
According to Immanuel Kant there are three rules for happiness: “something to do, someone to love, something to hope for." Hope is essential for us as human beings. It feeds and sustains us. It helps us get through those dark days when it seems like the only luck we have is bad. Hope is there on the horizon, giving us strength to move forward, a little bit, each day. Without hope, we fall into despair. A world without hope is bleak.
With our students, hope gives them the energy and the power to push through the challenges of learning a new language. Hope gives them the courage to face down the many barriers that stand in their way as they work towards their goals.
If this is the role of hope in our classrooms, what is our role as English language teachers in helping our students have hope and keep their hope alive? I think of an older woman who repeated almost all her Academic English classes. I was worried she was not going to be able to reach her goal of 75% in Academic English 2 so that she could take a career program at a local college. I often shared my concerns with my supervisor and my program colleagues. However, I never expressed my fears to the student herself. At the midterm interview, I focussed on her strengths and talked about strategies to overcome her challenges. I tried to be upbeat and positive. I touched base with her frequently. I kept encouraging her, and I took every opportunity to focus on her successes in class. She finally applied all the strategies that her many Academic English instructors had taught her on her final exams, and she did it! She achieved her goal. During her final interview with me, she thanked me for my positive attitude and support. She also thanked me for not giving up on her, for being her cheerleader and giving her hope.
Yes, it is our job to prepare our students for the real world. We need to be pragmatic about what steps they need to take to achieve their goals and what skills they need. We may even need to help them change their goals to be more achievable. We should never paint a dream or illusion for our students that they will never reach. However, when our students have realistic and achievable goals then our job is to keep them believing they can get there. We need to use positive reinforcement liberally. No matter how weak a student's assignment or performance is there should always be at least one thing we can praise. Part of our job description is to be our students’ biggest cheerleader. Part of our job description is to give them hope.
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