February Reflection: More than a Class, a Community

By Hannah Field, Life Together Fellow

I have been teaching ESL with ProGente Connections for a year and a half. When I first began in September 2017 I had never taught ESL before, so I was incredibly nervous. Who am I to be teaching ESL to adults older than me, with no experience? my anxious brain kept asking back then, and sometimes still does. I learned that English being my first language goes a long way, as does our curriculum partner Intercambio’s fabulous materials. Most importantly I learned that, especially with introductory ESL, expertise is sometimes less important than relationships. A successful class isn’t about me, it’s about a sense of community. It is about laughing together at the silly audio tracks. It is about sharing snacks from Brothers’ Market next door during our break. It’s about class selfies and well-wishes that we send on our class WhatsApp group to sick students who couldn’t make it to class. It’s about the friendly competition of word games at the whiteboard. It’s about teaching one another Portuguese and English carols at our Christmas party. Expertise doesn’t draw students back to class week after week, during dinnertime, after a long day at work, in the middle of New England winter. Community does.

These lessons I have learned in ESL reflect the broader mission of ProGente Connections. Not only are we aiming to teach English and to preserve Portuguese, to provide access to opportunity through workshops and mentoring, and to advocate for immigrant rights. We do those things, and our goal is to do them as well as we possibly can. But we also want to build relationships and to see one another not just for our roles in the organization but as people. Not to serve in a “power-over” model of a traditional charity, but to partner in a “power-with” model of community, where there is always time to connect, to check in, to celebrate.