Thank you to all the volunteers who entered the 2014 Volunteer Story Contest during National Volunteer Week! Your stories of dedication, humor and the power of learning are at the heart of our work at the Minnesota Literacy Council.
I arrived in Minneapolis from the UK in November 2011, just as the winter was starting. It's fun to move somewhere new, but it is also disorientating, lonely and confidence-blowing. Things that you previously took for granted - operating a bank account, getting a job and driving a car - are suddenly really hard, despite a supposed common language as an English speaker (British English is really not the same language as American English!). How much harder than for immigrants of non-English speaking countries?
My adult students win and so do I. Every one of us has a reason why we do this. They are here because they want to be – or need to be. Mine is to help those who have a need to learn our language and, I have to admit, I get warm fuzzies and sometimes even hugs. I’m not sure who gets more from our working together. I think I do. Together we accomplish our goals. I am shown what is expected of me, how I can help the students and I do my best to assist my teacher.
As I tensely walked out of the teachers’ room, my heart was most likely doing 190 BPM and my legs were trembling. I turned to the narrow hallway and headed towards the door with the sign that said “Beginning English AM”. I kept my mind organized, and tried not to panic; although my hand was nervously toying with the name tag that hung and swung from my neck. “REIKA YOKOOKA”, my name was written on it, with the title “AM English Teacher” below it. I thought to myself, “Can I really be an English teacher?
Each Tuesday morning, in the Beginning ESL class at MLC Northside, I witness the beauty of transformation. My students arrive with such hunger – to learn, to connect, to speak, to engage, to welcome one another into the challenges and delights of participation in community. Hope is palpable. Each day, another voice is heard more fully; another’s experience is revealed through tentative description and dramatic re-creation. Students listen, to hear the real messages of one another’s thoughts.
As I sat in the kitchen, nervously waiting for the phone to ring, I thought about the weeks of questioning I had put the ESL student through. She so wanted to become an American Citizen, and she and I had gone over and over the questions, week after week. I must admit when we started, I'm not sure I could have passed the test, but I know I could now! We worked together, studied together and became joined in the process of fulfilling her dream.