I still ask myself how I found the time and energy to teach English ESL to Spanish-speaking children for twenty years, four days a week while working at our ranch on the weekends.
The school was a one-room classroom with a bathroom and an office area next to my house in the city. I taught four hours a day. Two separate classes for Beginners, an Intermediate class, and an Advanced level. The children were between the ages of 7 and 14 years old.
I’m fluent in Spanish. I also read and write in the language. My students taught me a few things and I taught them as well. If I wrote a word on the whiteboard in Spanish that required an accent above the letter, they were sure to remind me where the accent went and I never failed to remind them how to pronounce the “ed” at the end of a word or the “th” sound. For native Spanish speakers, these are difficult to pronounce. After thirty years living in Mexico, I still can’t roll my “r’s”.
I loved teaching and I love languages. When I moved to Mexico with my husband who was born and raised in Ensenada, Baja California, I didn’t speak more than four words of Spanish. Lucky me, most of his family spoke English. To this day I only speak in English with his younger sister. She agrees with me, it feels weird to speak with her in Spanish. English is our preferred language for communication. She’s also one of my very good friends, not just my sister-in-law.
The kids in my English classes were eager to learn. We had fun playing games, talking, doing class assignments, celebrating holidays both American and Mexican. I combined Halloween with Día De Los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Both holidays have many similarities and fall within just a few days of each other.
I learned about each child’s personality and what to expect from them during class time. The teacher in me became acutely aware of a few troublemakers only because of their home situations, like any other kid around the world. Sometimes they act out because of a troubled home environment.
Oh, how I remember those hyperactive kiddos who never stopped talking or moving! They drove me nuts but I knew they were incredibly smart. They caught on to everything and craved more work all the time. They kept me on my toes.
Nowadays, when I take my car to the carwash it’s not unusual to see Rodolfo. He went to my school when he was only twelve years old. Now he’s a grown man in his early thirties, married, and has two children of his own. He still calls me “Teacher”. When I look at him, I marvel at how fast those years flew by.
Carol, who started English classes at age six went on to become an English teacher and translator. I’m fairly sure she will read this because I’m friends with her on Facebook but when she first started out, I was a little worried about her. She was so shy and never wanted to speak. I’m so proud of everything she’s accomplished. Way to go Carol.
Her sister Sarah, who I met when she was 3 years old. A few years later she became my student and this girl took to English immediately. Just like her sister, after she reached the age of nine both of them took off like rockets. Sarah recently spent an intern program at UCSD, the University of San Diego which is known for its Math, Science, and Medical programs. I always knew she enjoyed math but when I found out she would spend the summer at UCSD for a neuroscience program I was shocked and thrilled for her at the same time. Neuroscience for God’s sake, how many people do you know study Neuroscience?
I’m not giving myself all the credit here but hopefully the many years they spent at “Rainbow English School” planted a small seed that led them to where they are now.
Sarah repeated the advanced class two years in a row. Finally, at the age of thirteen, I had to kick her out. I said, “That’s it. You need to expand your vocabulary and move to a higher level of English.” At that time, she spoke fluently and she understood but was sad to go. Sarah’s friend and classmate, my nephew Adolfo is about to graduate college in the field of psychology. He understands everything in English. He’s also my go-to when I need computer help or have any other type of technical issue.
These kids and so many more have inspired me. Sure, there were days I wasn’t in the mood to teach but as soon as I entered the classroom, their enthusiasm and smiling faces made me forget about my worries. My attention was with them 100% of the time.
There are so many children I remember who I watched grow from little kids to teenagers and some into adults. Ruth, Erica, Frank, Carol, Sarah, Adolfo. My own children, Ricky and Christine made friends with all of them and spent many afternoons at the English School. My kids spoke English already so sometimes the boys would ask Ricky for help until one day I had to send Ricky out of the room. Ricky conventiently showed up during test time. Nope, that wasn’t going to work.
There are so many ways we communicate with each other. Reading music is an entire language all to itself. We read squiggles and symbols on a piece of sheet music and suddenly beautiful melodies are transferred through those symbols to our ears in the form of sounds and songs. I call it the Universal language. No matter what tongue we speak, music brings us together.
Then we have the internet. Lord knows we can’t forget the internet. Many chastise it because the younger generations are glued to their phones 24/7 and I agree. I’ve been in restaurants where, instead of talking with one another and enjoying time together, everyone is flipping through Facebook or Instagram, including the parents. This is one of the main reasons we don’t have electricity at our ranch. No internet. Families who visit us reconnect with nature and themselves. People actually talk to each other and they love it.
On the other hand, I believe the internet is a means of communication where we keep in touch with relatives who live far away and with friends in other countries or for business purposes. It’s the age we live in, but like all good things, with a limit.
I’ve thought about learning another language but I’m not sure which one. The problem with this is, as a teacher, I know if you don’t practice the language every day you will forget it, hands down.
So maybe I’ll just stick with Spanish. I love speaking Spanish. Sometimes people are surprised when they hear a red, haired lady with freckles speaking Spanish. I know all the bad words and slang expressions. Maybe one day I’ll write a piece in Spanish and see if anyone out there understands me.