For those of you who do not know, before I ran 123notary, I had a history. No, not that kind of a history. Oh? That’s not what you were thinking? Well, then what were you thinking? Okay, in any case, I majored in Chinese in college as I had always had a strong urge to learn languages. In High School, I studied classical music a lot because my parents had many connections with music teachers, music schools, etc., and insisted upon it. When I got out of school, I found that there were no jobs that would involve Chinese unless I moved to China or Los Angeles, so I moved to Los Angeles from Boston which was quite a cultural adjustment.
Everyone and everything I knew from back home was no longer there. Even cultural things I took for granted like sarcasm didn’t exist over here. There were no more big Irish guys named Sully who whistled loudly when they wanted somebody’s attention (or said HEY really loudly.) I was surrounded by a California culture where people didn’t care about much of anything. And then there was a pervading gang culture near where I was living with Mexican gangs, gang guys, gang girls, bandanas, tattoos, low-riders, and Chinese kids who knew nothing except this type of environment. Sometimes the gangs would give people lectures right outside my window on the driveway. I remember hearing, “You gotta lot to learn esse! This barrio forgives nothing vato!” Okay, I’m mixing reality with Cheech and Chong, but you get the point.
I tried to get a job doing import export, but with few available jobs and no experience my search was a failure. Seattle and Shanghai had more jobs for people with my skill set, but I had family & friend (only 1 friend) here and was terrified of being alone in some other city. So, I started doing landscape maintenance, something I had done as a child. I realized I only knew how to do easy things and had little or no skill at doing harder landscaping tasks which got me in a little trouble. After that I started tutoring English again. That was something I had done while I was in Taiwan a few years earlier.
Tutoring was rough because people would cancel at the last minute, and the adults were not serious about learning. But, the children were good and proved to be reliable clients since their parents forced education on them (just like my parents forced music lessons on me which helped my life a lot.) After a while, my aunt pressured me to get a teaching credential and be a sub. I worked teaching kids and ESL adult school, and in all different parts of the county. I would drive to Fontana, South Los Angeles, East LA, El Monte, and more. And then it happened. What happened?
I was asked to teach a 10 week summer night school class in downtown Los Angeles. I couldn’t believe they assigned the class to me. Why me? I didn’t ask to teach it. I had very little experience at that district and in general with classroom teaching. I had done tutoring and small classes. Was it because it was a summer class? Were the other teachers on break? Was it because someone dropped out at the last minute? Speculation, speculation, and guess work. So, this class was every night for two and a half months. I got to the class the first day. There were about fifty people. I was overwhelmed. I had never taught a class that size. The room was huge too. It took three weeks to learn everybody’s name. Most of the people were from Mexico, but there were Salvadorians (or as I call them: Salvadortecos or Salvadorenos), Guatemalans (Guatemaltecos), two Koreans (Koreanos is how Mexicans say it), a South Indian, a Russian, and a few others. But, when you teach ESL in Los Angeles, it is generally 90% Latino.
I had learned a little Spanish and was going to learn more at work. Grammar was an issue, and my vocabulary was tiny. I speak Chinese well, but Spanish has always been a challenge even though it’s seven times easier to learn Spanish as an English speaker than it is to learn Chinese. So little by little I learned more Spanish words from my students which I needed for teaching. Because, when you teach a particular verb tense or topic, you need to make sure the slower students are on the same page with you so you don’t lose them.
So, I got to know the class better and better, and got more comfortable teaching them. The subject matter was my favorite: Beginner ESL (English as a second language). As time went on I noticed that there were more and more people in the class. I was disturbed. I didn’t know how these people would fit, and where they would sit. But, I got used to that. Then, I noticed that the population in my class kept growing like a cancer, little by little. I guess word got around that I was a good teacher, or perhaps there were no other options because there is a teacher shortage during the summer. By the end of the class I counted 120 people in my class. They loved me, I had most of their names down, and half the class valued me so much that they were willing to stand for two hours. I have never had an experience like this in my life and I think I should look back with price and gratitude. Because my other gigs of which there were over 100 (which were generally subbing less than a handful of times) were very disappointing and the classes did not love me.
Looking back, I would say that having your own class with a flexible student base is the best. That way new people who love me can join the class and I can accumulate a following of people who like my style.
Close to the end of the class, my birthday came. The students collected money for a huge cake. I was concerned that they were going to spend too much because (1) I like to keep it simple and (2) these were very poor people. After class was over on that day, they unveiled the cake. We had drinks, cake, music, and good conversation. It was somewhat hard to socialize with people who hardly speak English, but we managed. And then it was picture time. Two of the students put cake frosting all over my face and then took a photo of me. The posted a copy of it on the classroom wall so that we would have a happy memory. The principal came in a few days later and congratulated me on having a great class. But, I didn’t do anything special. I was just doing what I always do — I had just stumbled upon really really good luck!
So, that concludes my little spiel about my test beaching experience which incidentally was one of the best experiences of my life. I hope that I have some more amazing life experiences in the future.
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