Conversational English teaching team springs forward

Conversational English classes have been an important and increasingly popular part of BIIN’s programs for several years, even when they had to move online in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In spring 2022, while the Level 1 English classes resumed in person, most of our classes continue to be held online, for a variety of reasons.  If you are not a regular part of these Monday and Wednesday evening classes, you may wonder:  

Who teaches them?  Who participates, and what keeps them coming back?  

Do you have to speak Spanish to volunteer?  (NO, absolutely not!  Adult learners of English simply need to interact with people who speak English fluently.  Could that be you?)  

Language classes teach people many different skills and aptitudes. But besides a better grasp of English, what else do BIIN’s Conversational English classes help to cultivate and grow?

To explore these and other questions, we checked in with people who comprise the spring 2022 English teaching team at BIIN.  Read on to learn more about what they do and how it makes a difference, for them and for others.

Julia Lynch – I am teaching the Level 1 in-person classes, on both Monday and Wednesday nights. This is my first teaching experience with BIIN. I’m so happy to have the experience because I’ve known and appreciated the organization for years. Any time I get the chance to teach, I’m grateful. Each experience helps me craft my style so I can become the most comforting and engaging instructor I can possibly be.

Volunteering at BIIN feels like coming full circle. Tony Caraballo, a leader at BIIN, was my academic advisor when I was in college. Serving BIIN makes me feel like: “Hey! I’m doing something useful with my education!” I also love showing up and seeing Gloria and the rest of the BIIN workers and volunteers. There’s a wonderful ethos and sense of duty and enjoyment we share.  

This experience is unique because I am co-teaching with students from my ESL Methods class at A&M. It’s a great way to connect with them at a more intimate level. We are co-workers when we teach together. They express feeling nervous on the first of two nights they teach, but they lead almost the entire class on the second night. They say they love it, and do not want the experience to end. They enjoy getting to work with clients, and are inspired by how hard they work at learning English.

When I am not teaching, I read. My favorite genre is Christian fiction. I also like to travel when I get the chance.

Gloria McIntush – I am a Conversational English intern, working with the Level 1 and Level 2A classes this term. Working with BIIN throughout the past year, as a volunteer in Fall 2021 and now as an intern in Spring 2022, has been such a fulfilling experience for me. I am very grateful for the experience I am gaining in nonprofit management, volunteer coordination, and teaching ESL.

I think my favorite part of working with the Conversational English classes has been getting to know the students. I especially enjoy watching the students get to know each other and develop a community of their own, even if over Zoom. It always warms my heart to hear the frequent laughter coming from the in-person Level 1 classroom, and I remain inspired by the motivation and optimism our students bring to every class. I am currently working on a series of interviews to highlight the interesting, intelligent, and hard-working individuals that come to English class every week. I am very excited for their stories to be shared so that the community knows how awesome they are!

Aside from the students, I am impressed by the culture created by our dedicated volunteer teachers, who devote hours each week to the English program. It is heartening to see the commitment our volunteers, both teachers and class assistants, have to building a beautiful community here at BIIN.

Outside of BIIN, I am working on getting TEFL certified. I am planning on moving to Santiago, Chile in the fall and continuing to teach English there. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading, cooking, sunbathing, and spending time with family and friends!

Nereyda Ortiz de Lemus – teaches the online Level 2A class on Monday evenings.  A returning volunteer (and busy grad student at TAMU), she shared her thoughts about the joys and challenges of teaching English at BIIN in the summer of 2021. 

Susan Dennis – I work with Nereyda Ortiz de Lemus, teaching the Level 2A class on Wednesday evenings. One challenge this semester was to try to offer classes at the levels that would benefit most of our students. We discovered that we have some students who are too advanced in their English skills to remain in the Level 1 class, but weren’t quite ready to join a class with the Level 2 students from last semester, who by January were about halfway through their textbook. Janet Morford worked hard to recruit additional teachers so that we could offer a Level 2A class as well as a Level 2B class. 

This semester we have several students in our class who don’t live in Brazos County. We have some students from other states, like Florida, and also a couple who are living in Mexico. Offering classes on Zoom allows us to include these students. All our students are eager to learn, and many make an effort to be present for every class. This is not always easy to do because of work schedules, family routines, or other outside activities, so their regular attendance shows their self-discipline and determination to learn English. Also, our students are very appreciative of our efforts. At the end of every class, they always thank the teacher, the intern, and the volunteers. It’s wonderful to be able to teach people who are so eager and highly motivated to learn.

As a volunteer at BIIN, I have learned that we get at least as much out of our class meetings as our students do. They share information about their home countries, their work here, their goals, their struggles, and their successes. Many have left highly skilled professions, as well as beloved family members, in the hope of a better life in the U.S., but in many cases their previous work experience or academic degrees have not yet enabled them to achieve their goals here. They sacrifice a lot when they decide to immigrate. Their courage and their persistence are an inspiration to me.

We also appreciate the A&M students who volunteer with BIIN’s classes. They are so helpful to the teachers and to the students, and they have lots of interesting stories to share, too. It’s inspiring to see such young people who are so capable and also so devoted to helping others!

Outside of BIIN, I love to read, to walk, and to ride my bicycle when the weather is good. I recently adopted a puppy, so right now Scruffy fills most of my free time.

Madeleine Lai – I have the pleasure of teaching Level 2B English on Monday nights this spring! Together, students and I engage in an interactive curriculum focused on developing listening, comprehension, communication, and foundational grammar skills. 

Truly, the most heart-catching BIIN experiences are when students develop the vocabulary to unabashedly express their personality with the class. It’s this communal space of intentional learning and eager participation that further motivates my own language journey and search for cultural interactions. So when I ask the class, “If you were an animal, what would you be? What song reminds you of your childhood? What are things that make you smile?”, these are questions of present emotions, dear memories, and whimsical wishes. These are questions that resonate. And it is my hope that I can teach people English in a way that allows them to better tell their stories and connect with others. 

Outside the laugh-filled Monday nights on Zoom with BIIN, you can find me passionately doing karaoke, hugging trees, chef-ing it up in the kitchen, jiving to live music, playing piano, or peanut cracking jokes with my family and friends. Headed to Austin this spring? (That’s where I live.) Enjoy a twirl or two at the two-stepping and salsa dance halls! Perhaps we’ll even meet on the dance floor! 

Sara Ptomey – I teach the Level 2B class on Wednesday nights.  I find that working with adults who are learning English is incredibly fun.  Each person brings their own enthusiasm to the class, and everyone is working hard to understand all the nuances of the English language.  I especially love everyone’s questions about how certain words are used.

The unique personalities of the class make it the most interesting.  Some students are quiet, others are willing to risk it by responding to all questions.  One of the students lives in Mexico and joins us from there.

Volunteering at BIIN is a time commitment but you are able to commit as much, or as little, time as you are able.  The rewards are immeasurable.

When I am not volunteering for BIIN, I am working now to restart the League of Women Voters in the Brazos Valley to educate everyone on why it is important to vote.

Julissa Vigil – I lead the Level 3 class on Monday nights.  Coming into this role in the midst of the pandemic was certainly a surprise! I had been volunteering with BIIN since February 2021, assisting in online Level 1 and 2 classes.  When the need arose in September 2021, I was excited to start teaching Level 3 students.  

Teaching has opened my eyes to differences in the ways students learn. I always look forward to what the students can teach me to better improve my teaching methods for future classes.

The students come from different backgrounds but they share a goal: to learn English together. There is a strong sense of community in the classes, and the students love to participate.  If I call on a student to answer a question or read a paragraph they are always eager to do so. Level 3 is an advanced group, and they have proven that drive and motivation is the key to successfully learning a language. I am here to guide them, but they are the ones that are doing the heavy lifting by listening, comprehending, and effectively practicing their English. The Level 3 students have impressive conversational English skills, and I can already imagine the great things they will do with their English in the future!

If there’s something I wish more people knew, it’s that BIIN was there during the pandemic. BIIN’s services may have changed in terms of the way in which they were offered, but the people BIIN serves were never left without help. BIIN has done an excellent job of adapting to the situations at hand. Volunteering with BIIN is great because you will become a part of a collaborative effort to enrich the lives of so many wonderful people. I could not recommend a better organization to volunteer for. 

When I am not devoting time and energy to BIIN, I am often studying (I’m majoring in biomedical sciences at TAMU).  But when I get free time, I may go for a bicycle ride to clear my head. On rainy or cloudy days, I listen to music and dance in my living room! I also work at an elementary school as a math and reading tutor. Spending time with the elementary students is also one of my favorite activities. They are so intelligent and energetic with great futures ahead of them. I love being a part of their journey towards that future.

Miguel Esparza – I have volunteered with BIIN’s English classes for several years, but since September 2021, I have been working with the Level 3 class on Wednesday nights.  In this role, I lead the group as we work through all the exercises in the textbook and answer any questions the students have on pronunciation or grammatical concepts.  As needed, I guide the students towards the right answers. The task that I think is most challenging for me is explaining grammatical concepts: grammar is intuitive for a native English speaker, so trying to put these concepts into words can be difficult. 

The students make the whole volunteering experience fun! I enjoy getting to know them and building relationships throughout the semester. They are great learners and are not afraid to make mistakes. That is what can make learning a language hard, but these students are amazing at being fearless.  It is also really great to see students who return week after week. I love to see their growth and hear updates on their lives.

Volunteering with BIIN has helped me deal with being in the spotlight. As a teacher you facilitate the class and try to answer any questions students have on the spot. However, it is perfectly okay to not know all the answers immediately.  As a teacher, I am also learning with the students. 

What is most rewarding in this role is seeing students grow throughout the semester, and helping them with anything they need.  I encourage people to volunteer with BIIN, as I hope more people can know the satisfaction of building these relationships. 

Outside of BIIN, I enjoy playing video games with friends. It is a nice way to stay connected with people who I do not see daily.  I also really enjoy walks around parks or anywhere. It is a great way to break up my day!

Akshay Peddireddy – My role at BIIN this term is serving as the Conversational English intern for Level 2B / Level 3 classes. I manage the Zoom meeting for these classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Some of my other responsibilities include communicating with students outside of class, recording class attendance, helping write board reports for BIIN, and conducting interviews with students to write profiles for BIIN communications. 

I have been highly impressed with the students I have worked with at BIIN this semester. The  thing that has stood out to me is how grateful they all are for BIIN’s efforts. Students are deeply appreciative and constantly thanking BIIN volunteers and staff for all the hard work they put into the organization.

When I am not devoting time and energy to BIIN or to my studies (as a sociology/pre-med major at TAMU), I love to spend time with my friends. Some of my favorite hobbies include playing basketball and watching scary and funny movies.

Conversational English Interns Akshay Peddireddy and Gloria McIntush meet weekly with Janet Morford, their BIIN staff supervisor, to discuss their work with the program and plan for special projects, like their interviews and profiles of adult English learners.
Occasionally, one of the volunteer teachers needs a substitute. Janet, a former language teacher and past volunteer with BIIN’s English for Parents program, enjoys having the chance to interact with the very motivated and appreciative adult learners who participate in BIIN’s programs. She is also grateful to the interns, the volunteer teachers and others from the community who sign up to help out on a regular or occasional basis. From volunteer teachers to interns, casual volunteers, students and staff, the Conversational English classes are an amazing community of people! We encourage you to join us, whenever you can!

Categories: Faces of BIIN