Our church has been offering English classes to new Australians for about 14 years and a few months ago I was asked if I could help out. I didn\’t really want another regular commitment but agreed to teach a class once a fortnight as they were short of teachers.
I\’ve had Iranians, Chinese and South Koreans in my class who are past the very beginner stage and can speak a little English. My most regular student is Mr S from Iran. He and his wife both come to English classes but her English is better so she\’s in the next class up. Mr S has a university degree and is well qualified but he works as a builder\’s labourer because of his lack English skills. He starts work at 7 am and gets home at 7pm, has a quick shower and then he and his wife arrive faithfully at English classes every week at 7.30 pm usually having skipped dinner.
I was rostered on to teach this week but it was the last thing I wanted to do. I\’d had a full day, it was cold & miserable outside, the fire was on and everyone else at home was cozy and I wasn\’t well prepared for the lesson. I rushed off, running late as usual, muttering to myself that I shouldn\’t have taken this on.
I\’d been using some Charlotte Mason methods in my teaching – mainly oral narration and picture study and this night I took along a story my children enjoyed when they were younger, Balto, a Step into Reading book (after finding it at the last minute before I had to leave) and had Mr S read it aloud to me while I helped with pronunciation and vocabulary.
Balto is a true story set in Alaska in 1925 during one of their worst snow storms. An outbreak of diphtheria occurred in Nome and the medicine had to be brought from Anchorage 800 miles away. It was sent via train but 100 miles into the journey the train became stuck by snow and in desperation a call went out for a dog-sled relay to transport the medicine. Balto and his master, Gunnar, were part of the relay but when they had completed their part of the journey there was no one to relieve them and they had to continue to the end. They\’d staggered into Nome exhausted after having travelled 53 miles for 20 hours straight, and delivered the life-saving medicine to the town. Balto was declared a hero and a statue of him was erected in Central Park, New York, a year later.
When Mr. S got to the end he was pleased he\’d been able to read the whole book through and said,
A pause while he thought.
\’You are a hero,\’ he said. \’You come out in the cold to teach English. You could stay at home and be warm. I am very grateful.\’
I felt a little stunned and humbled.