On a recent Monday, I asked one of my students how her weekend was. “It was great,” she said. “Last week I really felt like I had a lot on my plate, so I rested on the weekend.” I was elated – not just because I was glad she had been able to relax (which I was; many of our participants don’t often have this luxury with their busy schedules), but because she had used the phrase “to have a lot on your plate,” which we’d learned six months ago. I told her how impressed I was. She smiled, tapped her head, and replied, simply, “I remember.”
In my experience, this is ultimately one of the main goals and great struggles of teaching: trying to ensure that our students remember. We want our participants to not only learn each vocabulary word and grammar point we teach, but also to remember it, so that eventually, they can use it. We ask our students to remember a great deal of information, and as teachers, we are constantly assessing whether this is happening. Remembering is not always easy to measure; so many different elements come into play in language learning – reading, listening, speaking, writing – that it can be hard, as a teacher, to remember who remembers what, and to decide what to review and when to press on to something new.
That same Monday, we did an activity in class, designed to use the present perfect in conversation, in which each participant had to pose a “have you ever” question to the rest of the class. One participant asked, “Have you ever lived on a farm?” Another student responded, “Our teacher has, remember? There were horses in her backyard.” I had mentioned this once, months ago, and was amazed that this participant remembered it. Later, another participant asked, “Have you ever been in trouble with the police?” Everyone shook their heads, and I said, “Me neither,” to which a student replied, “Yes you have. You got a ticket for talking on the phone in the car.” She was absolutely right, of course, much to my embarrassment; I forgot that I had told them this in passing once. I couldn’t believe that she had remembered that detail.
After class, I reflected on the kind of learning that takes place at the MCIF Center, and on the idea of remembering. I realized that our participants learn and remember more than just how to conjugate the present perfect, how to make sure nouns and articles agree, or how to use the passive voice. They learn each other; they learn, through communicating in a language not their own, what they have in common, the names of their classmates’ children, the stories of how they came to this country, and even their teachers’ traffic violations. They remember all of these things as they also improve their language skills every day, and through this, they shape the community that makes the MCIF Center such a special place.
As a teacher, I feel so privileged to be a part of this process of learning and remembering. I’m sure I’ll remember my own lesson from that particular day: I need to be careful what I say, because if I share an embarrassing moment with my class, they won’t ever let me forget it.
Written by Rachel Elmer