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Making Learning English Fun is Biblioteca Teacher’s Goal

By Kerry Loeb

When I first volunteered a couple of years ago at La Biblioteca to teach Mexican children English, I was motivated by having my first opportunity in life to give back.

I was recently retired, a newcomer to San Miguel de Allende with time on my hands and wondering what to do with it. I had ended my hamster-wheel existence in the US, sold everything I owned, got divorced, and headed off to what would become my new home. Having traveled in Latin America for over 40 years, I have always been drawn to the wonderful openness of children here. Indeed, many of my first Spanish lessons were by the destitute (some homeless) shoeshine kids in remote villages throughout México and Central and South America. I fell in love then with their spirit, their laughter, and their innocence. Having no teaching experience, I was equipped merely with this connection I had with kids and a passion to teach them English so they would have more advantages when they grow up.

My own educational experience as a child left much to be desired. I attended a small Catholic school in the middle of Kansas, taught by nuns who must have been at least 100 years old.  These nuns believed the way to motivate kids to learn was with stern discipline that most often took the form of rulers on the backs of hands, ear-pulling, paddles to the butt, and the humiliation of the dunce cap.

From that experience, I have come to believe that the proper learning environment is of the utmost importance in order for children to absorb and retain information. In my class, I have created an atmosphere of fun and engagement. If my students are having fun and laughing, to me that means they are engaged and learning.

I have created my own curriculum, including a Jeopardy-like game where their competitive screeching fills the room and way beyond. I have no desire to diminish their enthusiasm as this means they are fully engaged. Recently, I taught them Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, and they rocked the place because they were having so much fun.

I sent my daughter to a Waldorf school in the US, and every morning of her 10 years there, as she and her classmates entered the classroom, the teacher offered them a handshake and a welcoming smile. This is what I do with my students, greeting them in English and expecting a response back in English. More importantly, I want to show them that I honor and respect them. I mostly feel I have succeeded if the students look forward to coming to class and can’t wait to have fun, laugh, and engage. Hopefully, they’ll learn a little English along the way.

If you would like to volunteer to teach kids English (or something else), contact Liliana in the Sala Infantil at La Biblioteca.

TEACHINGS #1

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