About eight years ago, in the learning center in Minnesota, one of my volunteers and I had a humbling moment.
This particular volunteer was not only extremely well-qualified, but a joy to work with for me and the students alike. And because wherever she went she was always one of the few volunteers with years of experience and an MA TESOL, she was always asked to teach Advanced. After years of this in various programs, she asked me if she could switch to beginning.
With some schedule wrangling, I made it happen, and my fabulous volunteer happily went in to teach beginning English for the first time in ages, excited to be working on basic meal and nutrition vocabulary instead of the intricacies of modals and such for once.
When we all reconvened after classes, she bashfully handed me the sign-in sheet she had passed around the class.
It said, in the handwriting of eight different students:
It’s humbling to realize that one of your students is (and thus likely has been) so lost that she doesn’t recognize an attendance sheet and probably also doesn’t understand what the words are that she’s copying off the board with great intensity.
As the library was shutting down around us, we wrote notes for the next day’s teacher and brainstormed a plan for supporting this student more effectively during class.
Inadvertent formative assessment, and a reminder that great teaching begins again every day not with the content of our lessons, the brightness of our enthusiasm, or the years of our experience, but where our particular learners are.