Pride and Prejudice May Be the Answer

I’ve been teaching an ESL class on Tuesday nights. (It’s just one student – is that a class?!) We meet at the library, where no food or drink is allowed, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever tried to learn without a cup of tea or coffee in my hand.

When I first met my Hungarian student, I was scared. I had been told (via email and in the slightly unclear email-way of a harried 60+ year-old), that the student was Low Intermediate.

I had expectations.

My TEFL course did inform us that the categories were not so good. That everyone has a different idea of what it means to be a “Low Intermediate.”

My student (I’ll call her Aniko) could barely tell me why she was taking the class.

She told me her name. She told me she had come from Hungary two months earlier (although she said ‘in two months’ and it took me a while to figure it out). She told me she was in America.

And I was horrified because I thought our lessons were one hour but they were two and this Hungarian woman was staring at me with big brown eyes.

~     ~     ~

Now, seven weeks later, we have only one class left.

We’ve worked on:

  • superlatives
  • past, present, and future time expressions (This one is TOUGH. How do you explain ‘awhile ago,’ or the fact that we use ‘this morning’ to describe something in the past?)
  • letter-writing (because I love it so much…no, because it’s necessary)
  • emailing
  • coffee-ordering
  • adjectives
  • movie-watching

This last one may seem silly, but let me tell you, it is hard.

I have her watch clips from movies and then fill in the blanks to see if she can hear what they say, if she can tell what should be there.

[If actors are any clue to how we Americans usually speak, we speak way too fast, way too jumbly, and way too idiomatically.]

Last night, I had her watch clips from ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ I think I was a little ambitious; the British accents and vocabulary were extremely difficult to follow. We had to watch each one at least three times, and in the end, even after she got every question right, she put her head on the table and said,

“English is hard for me.”

I almost patted her short hair in sympathy.

Yes, English is hard.

I’m sorry.

Let’s watch a little more ‘Pride and Prejudice.’

Perhaps that is my response to too many of life’s problems.

Kinship with Strangers

I am already past the halfway-point of my TEFL course, and I can’t believe it.

Mostly because that means the time of decisions is feeling terribly close.

I was hashing it out with someone (my mother? myself? i can’t remember), and I realized that I don’t like this making of decisions. It’s not that I’m indecisive – that is far from any trait I possess – it’s that I hate the idea of being boxed in a year down the road by a choice I make now.

What if something better comes along?
Or if not better, at least different?

What if I choose something and its permanence becomes a chain on my ankle?

I read this article today on, and despite the differences in our circumstances, the woman sounds scarily like myself at times. She’s scared of making decisions, too, and actually has put off long-term decisions for 22 years.

It seems even people nearly twice my age have the same thoughts.

[Notes from The Student, Part 2]

Can I just say, I have a new-found respect for Education Majors?

And teachers.

And anyone who is good at planning, being creative, organizing, and then ACTUALLY EXECUTING SAID PLAN.


I just finished my second lesson plan (this one was for a listening lesson), and tomorrow is my first day teaching an ESL class. We’ll see how it goes. I tend to get sidetracked by their interesting stories.

For example:

Today, I “acted” as an ESL student because there was only one tried-and-true one (a Russian man, seemingly in his 70s or 80s, not sure…). So I got the privilege of discussing questions with him, answering multiple choice and true/false questions, and trying (overall) to be engaging.

But the thing is, I started talking to him, and I found out he used to fly planes in Russia.

He was a doctor on a helicopter that flew down to help people IN THE TUNDRA. Yes. The tundra.

I felt a little bit like I’d wandered into a novel.

I asked how long he’d worked there. Fourteen years, he said.

Then I asked if he liked it, and he smiled and just said, it was my job, and I was reminded, again that

we do what we are supposed to do

we do our jobs

we do the right thing

and we don’t always have to like it.

There is so much I could learn from this Russian man.



[P.S. Power-outage in the city today. For blocks. Everyone freaked. Restaurants wouldn’t take cards; people didn’t know what to do with themselves. I was secretly in awe. There’s something I love about remembering that we depend on things, that there are some things out of our control. Like when a huge snowstorm stops life. It’s beautiful, kind of, to remember that we’re finite.]



[Notes from The Student, part 1]

So it’s become pretty clear that I do not like instructions. You’d think that someone who likes to do something perfectly the first time would thrive off direction, but that doesn’t seem to be true.

For instance, this past week — five days of two, three-hour classes — has been filled with VERY PARTICULAR INSTRUCTIONS. On everything. I wrote my first lesson plan (I almost said my first ever lesson plan, but that’s not true: I wrote some short, Catherine-suitable plans for vocal pedagogy in college), and I couldn’t believe how long it took.


I have to write down what I’m going to say?

Shouldn’t I already know what I’m going to say?

I felt like I was in elementary school, just learning how to write cursive and hating the extra curlicues and exactness.

I did it, though. I wrote out a five-page lesson plan, complete with about 15 glorious colored pictures and even a graph (thank goodness for little brothers who, with only minimal eye-rolling, show me how to insert cool stuff into documents).

I wrote it, freaked out because I have a huge and horrible tendency to lose my brain under stress and forget everything, and made a thousand copies so I could teach my first lesson to ESL students.

Real ones.

I rushed into class, ready, excited, nervous. Felt like I was about to sing an aria that I’d been singing all semester, but I was still scared of that run towards the end.

I rushed in, but the class was empty.

Somehow, there’d been a mix-up in administration, and the 7 or so elderly Russian immigrants didn’t know to come.

We waited a good fifteen minutes. Unlike my fellow students, I wanted the ESL students to come. Desperately. I LOVE adrenaline, and I perform best when I have a ton of it nearly shaking my knees out of joint.

But no one came. I had freaked and worried about being the worst teacher in my class and panicked over the copier for no reason.

Now my first lesson is this coming Wednesday.

The story of my life.

Intensity intensity INTENSITY

until the bubble bursts.

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. I woke up and attempted to give it to the Lord — largely because I hoped if I did that, He would make it good. But I’d done the same thing the day before [Lord, this is Your day. Help me to live it well.] and He had not made it good, at least by my standards.

Here I was again, asking that He take this block of time and make it good. The way I wanted it. This time He decided to fill it up with some Catherine-type-goodness:

1. I sent in my application and downpayment for a TEFL program in the city. I can’t tell you how accomplished I feel, just putting that stupid envelope in the mail (yes, that’s right, envelope, because they don’t take online payment! What is this, the 20th century?!). Now to wait it out and see. A full month of school — does it get any better?

2. 30 minutes with a dear friend. 30 minutes in which I was asked about how I truly was, and truly asked in return. 30 minutes in which I was told my poetry submission to the student-run publication had caused the most conversation of all. Score. And 30 minutes to remember that we are not called to love others only when they are happy, excited, beautiful, but that we have enough love for them even when they are a darker version of themselves. Friends remind us of a lot.

3. And this one is the most embarrassing: laughing out loud roughly five times in a crowded Starbucks. Alone. Curled up in a comfy chair. Reading. I couldn’t believe myself. I NEVER do that, but Bill Bryson had me in fits of giggles in public, and, frankly, more people should’ve joined me. That man is hilarious.

Ah. Goodness.