I love teaching English language learners.  I also love learning from English language learners, because they are the best teachers. 

They showed me hospitality like I have never experienced. They taught me about generosity and a different value of time than I was used to.”

My first teaching experience was through a refugee resettlement agency at a library in Indiana to learners who were mostly from Burma/Myanmar.  The room was consistently packed with students divided among three different teachers.  I had a group of 30+ all to myself, all adults, two evenings a week.  Our goal was for them to learn “survival English”. In the process, I learned so much from them. They were some of the most gentle and kind people I have ever met. They taught me that kindness and gentleness require nothing but a desire to show others honor in the simple, everyday things. 

Later on, I taught women from Iraq, Syria, and Palestine one-on-one in their homes in Indiana, too.  Our goal was for them to learn English that helped them communicate better with their neighbors and children’s teachers. They showed me hospitality like I have never experienced. They taught me about generosity and a different value of time than I was used to.

Around the same time, I taught families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Our goal was for them to learn English that would help them academically. They taught me about joy and the importance of prayer in a way I had never known and dependence on the Lord for all things…not some things but ALL things.  

Each of these students have challenged me greatly and have been some of my best teachers.”

I taught learners from Brazil, Ecuador, India and Mexico at a community college and privately in Missouri. Goals for them varied: communicating better at work, getting jobs, entering a university and starting businesses. They taught me about warmth, laughter, celebration, and friendship.

Now in Minnesota, I am learning from an Afghan woman. Our goal for her is to learn the alphabet, numbers, how to write and read her children’s names and phone numbers. She reminds me so much of my sweet beginning level Bhutanese students whom I taught at a community center in Illinois. They taught me about determination and hope. She is teaching me the same but I anticipate there is still much to come in our learning together! 

Each of these students have challenged me greatly and have been some of my best teachers.  They have helped me grow and learn new ways to teach and communicate.  My experiences in teaching, formally and informally, have influenced me to become someone who seeks more after El Roi, to become more like Him, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13). I want to look beyond the goals, beyond the cultural barriers, beyond the communication challenges and see people for who they are, who God says they are, and then respond accordingly.    

What about you? What have you learned from your students or international friends? Perhaps if we look deeper and start seeing our students well, then we will begin to repay them for the valuable lessons they teach us.  

 Laura Johnson, Arrive Ministries Volunteer Coordinator