Editor’s note: Sharon is a graduate of the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is the final of five reflection posts she submitted as part of the certificate requirements.
Note to self: You got this!
In the course Changing the World with Words [to be offered again in 2023], Joanna Tebbs Young asked us to think about how we would apply the lessons we learn in the TLAN program to our individual lives and our work in the future. That prompt provided me an opportunity to consider the next chapter in my life.
As an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, I have spent almost three decades in the classroom working with English language learners. I have taught teenagers in middle and high school, and I currently work with adults at a community college. I have also had the privilege of teaching in other countries – summer programs in Slovakia and China and two years in Russia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I have become very comfortable in the role of “ESOL teacher.” The classroom has provided a safe space to learn and to grow. It is a place to find one’s voice, and not just for my students. Being an ESOL teacher has helped me find my voice too.
I don’t remember exactly when I realized this, but I slowly started noticing that the advice I was giving to my students was actually advice that I needed to hear as well. The quotation from Richard Bach that I had heard years ago was finally beginning to make sense:
“We teach best what we most need to learn.”
For example, I often tell my students, “It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s NORMAL to make mistakes. That’s how you learn.”
Note to self: How often has perfectionism or doubt held you back?
Or another of my favorites, “If you don’t know something, ask a question. Don’t be afraid to ask because someone else probably has that same question.”
Note to self: It’s OK to ask for help. Thinking you have to do everything by yourself might just be a trauma response.
The list goes on.
“Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know what the other person’s background is. Maybe that other person has spent more time studying English than you have, or maybe that person speaks English very well but has terrible grades in writing. Just focus on yourself and the progress that you have made.”
Note to self: Remember Anne Lamott’s wise words, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”
“Trust yourself. Your first instinct may not be correct 100% of the time, but it’s usually pretty good.”
Note to self: Stop doubting yourself. Do not allow your inner critic to have the final say.
“Baby steps. You are not going to master the English language in one semester or one year. It takes time.”
Note to self: It’s OK to be a beginner and to start learning something new, but be patient with yourself. You won’t become an accomplished writer or artist or fill-in-the-blank overnight. Keep trying!
“You have to practice in the real world. It’s great to participate in class, but you also have to step outside of your comfort zone at some point.”
Note to self: People won’t always understand you, even if you speak the same language, and it is not your job to change their minds. Get out there and go for what you want!
By offering this advice to my students, I have tried to make my classroom a safe container, a place of belonging and acceptance, because that is something that I lacked in my early years. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, but finally as an ESOL teacher, I felt like I belonged. Now, as I think about moving on to the next chapter in my life after being “the ESOL teacher” for so long, I worry that I will lose that sense of belonging. Will I be able to find my new niche? Will I lose my voice and my confidence?
Note to self: If you are still in doubt, reread this essay. You’ve got this.
Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.