An immigrant ESL teacher finds connections

Erika Warner

An ESL teacher finds her purpose in teaching refugees and immigrants.

How could I become an ESL teacher in a country full of native speakers? 

Today we finish another semester at school and my heart is full of joy and gratefulness. Even after two years of doing this job, I still cannot believe I am so lucky. I get to see and be part of their progress. Every week is good.  This week alone I got to see a student become a citizen and another one finally being able to read a book to her child. Being an ESL teacher is one of the biggest joys of my life.

I knew I wanted to become an ESL teacher on February 27th of 2012 when I went to volunteer in an ESL class in Denver, Colorado. Ever since I moved to Spain from Colombia, when I was nine years old, I have felt out of place, as if I do not really belong one hundred percent to a single place.

I am always an immigrant wherever I go, but that morning in that classroom, the connection was instantaneous.

I felt like I had finally found my place. I understood their struggle. I knew their desire to learn, to belong, to feel confident and especially to feel independent in a country that is not yours.

All I wanted to do was to help, to make them feel hopeful, to encourage them to keep learning but I did not know where to start. I mean… I was a poor English speaker myself!  (Just slightly ahead) … so I decided I would do everything in my power to achieve my dream and become an ESL teacher. I got a library card and read all the books I could put my hands on. I memorized every single word in my little dictionary (I stopped at the letter S though because it was kind of boring…)

I put subtitles in all the shows I watched, I signed up for all the ESL classes I had time for.

I volunteered in all the classrooms they allowed me in and I decided to go back to school to study for the right degree. This desire to teach English took me to the coffee plantations region of Colombia and to the suburbs of Moscow in Russia. But when I came back to the United States, I felt it again, that feeling of estrangement.

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How can I become an ESL teacher in a country full of Native speakers? 

I almost gave up but then I discovered that having English as my second language was not my hindrance but my advantage. So I kept going, hoping that someday I would find that perfect job where I could teach and learn all day long in a place that shared all my values and cared about our community. I

t took me five years, 4 months and thirteen days to find that job. But now I get to wake up every day knowing that is going to be a wonderful day because I will be able to share it with my students.

And of course, my English is still not perfect, but now I don’t have to learn alone.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.