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  1. Doctor Tim

    Non-Teacher looking for beginning advice


    I am a rural Family Physician whose patients include many Amish. Recently some of the children have been brought to me for anxiety problems. In obtaining the histories, it became obvious that the anxiety was related to their school. Meeting with the families, including the children, it was found that for the past two years they have had a very bad teaching environment. The children were essentially expected to teach themselves and any time they asked a question in class they were called derogatory names, spanked and sent back to their seats.

    The parents and students are very concerned that their English skills are not up to the standard required to successfully interact with Englishers (their word for non-Amish). One parent related that her daughter who just graduated the 8th grade (highest level for the Amish), could not converse with an English customer enough to sell a dozen eggs.

    So, that is the background, now the problem and question. I have been asked by the children to teach them English. In return they will try to teach me Dietsch and take me fishing. How should I begin? There are about 15 children, grades 2-8, and the parents estimate that the highest English level is probably about grade 5-6.

    Thank you in advance for any advice you might share.

    Dr. Tim

    • Join Date: Jun 2008
    • Posts: 3

    Re: Non-Teacher looking for beginning advice

    Dear DrTim.

    U are indeed very brave. There are enormous of information to the point of overloaded in regard to teaching ESL. I used to teach English in a developing country and found that most of the student are physically and mentally abuse by their frustrated teachers. This probably because they themself do not know how to help the student that are having learning difficulties. The mentality is that, " This is how I learned therefore this is How you should learn too"!
    I came across a site that has multitude material but what I really like is that they have sort out the level and way to assess and improve the student on a level basis. It is a monthly download thing and then there is also a permenant resources that is download able at anytime.
    The site is and you are also able to download audio and digital card from for free!

    Good Luck!

    Fay Russell

    • Join Date: Jul 2007
    • Posts: 4

    Re: Non-Teacher looking for beginning advice

    Dr. Tim,

    I cannot commend you enough on your generosity towards these people. While my contact with the Amish has been extremely limited, I have always found them generous, courteous people.

    I teach English as a second language, primarily to adults, but to a few children as well. I taught remedial math (through pre-calculus) at a junior college before moving to Europe. Like you, my training as a teacher has been, and continues to be, on the job, and it has often been with people whom the education system has left behind.

    The golden rule of teaching is to take the students for who they are and from where they are. In your case, you need to get a feel for a couple of things with respect to each child: what is their current level of English (spoken, oral comprehension, reading, and writing); and what is the reason for their falling behind? Is it just because of poor teaching? Are their occult learning difficulties? Do you simply have parents who are pushing their children too hard? Is their refusal to learn/speak English an act of rebellion? As to English level, you need to decide whether the children are just are a little bit behind, and therefore really only need help with homework, or whether they are more seriously behind, and therefore need some serious tutoring.

    If a common element is school abuse, the issue needs to be raised with the school authorities, or it never gets solved. I know I am preaching to the choir, but these students need to be removed from the abusive environments ASAP.

    Back to the lessons. I would start by simply getting the children to talk. I would stay away from written lessons, worksheets and formal grammar until I had gained the children's confidence as a teacher. You would just be using a tool the children dislike. One way to gain confidence might be to let the children teach you some Dietsch. Another is to use games and chronic praising.

    Note that you can write things down during the lesson and show them to the children, if you think that would help -- just don't start by giving them a book or worksheet.

    If at all possible, do not take all 15 children simultaneously. Group them into classes no bigger than 4, with some sort of commonality in the group -- age or English level being the two most obvious ones.

    Do not correct every mistake. With some students, I don't correct any mistakes until the second or third lesson (exception: if I am working with the student on a written homework assignment, then I make sure the assignment is as close to perfect as possible, so that the student can receive positive comments from the teacher). The goal is to get the students to speak English and possibly to start thinking in English. If they are searching for a word, I usually will tell them what the word is. You may want to have a few simple pictures handy to use as a source of conversation, and just have the students describe the picture, and what they think the people in the picture are doing.

    Students will do better with short, frequent lessons. Three lessons each of 20 minutes length 3 times a week is much better than one lesson a week for an hour. This is especially true for children. And keep the parents out of the lessons. I have never successfully tutored a child when the parent was there, trying to add helpful advice or explain something the child did not yet understand.

    Do the parents speak English at home? And do they speak English to their children? I would encourage the parents to speak English to each other in front of the children. The children may or may not understand, but that is not the point. They need positive experiences with English, and I am hoping their parents are positive role models.

    Do not kid yourself. This is an enormous undertaking. Teaching language (or anything else) beyond a very elementary level is not something everybody can do. Make sure you have the time to devote to this project, because you will do no one any good if you have to back out once you have started.

    Talking to the children's teachers might be a useful exercise -- simply explain that you have been asked to tutor the children, and wanted the teachers' professional opinions as to what the problems are. The teacher's perspective will likely be a useful counterpoint. 95 teachers out of 100 would be happy to see you and try to be of help, as all teachers worth their salt want their students to succeed.

    There is a ton more I could say, but I probably have overloaded you already. Good luck. If you want to talk further, just let me know.

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