Volunteer Voices: Interview with Joyce Deutsch, ESL Teacher

Categories: Blog

What inspired you to teach English as a Second Language?

Early in my teen years I discovered that I wanted to teach children.  I majored in Early Childhood Education at Brooklyn College and eventually earned my Master’s Degree there as well.  I taught for a few years before having my children.  Even though I didn’t work outside the home during my children’s early childhood years, I volunteered at the elementary schools as a tutor.When my children were in their teen years I decided it was my time to get back into the world.  I wanted to do some meaningful work.  One day I received a YWCA course catalogue in the mail and came upon the English as a Second Language courses that were being offered.  The lightbulb came on in my head and I decided to dip my toe into the water and teach ESL.  It seemed a perfect fit because I was a teacher and a longtime French student.  I understood the complexities of learning a foreign language.  That journey started in 1998 and I have been teaching ESL in one capacity or another since then.

What courses have you taught and do you have a favorite?

I have taught all the levels of ESL.  Each one poses its own challenges.  No matter what the level, my first priority is to help the students feel at ease with me.  I try to create an atmosphere where the students do not feel afraid to speak up.If I have to choose a preferred level, I would say that is is the beginning levels that I enjoy the most.  I love to see the students’ progress from September to June.  I enjoy teaching English grammar and hearing the students put sentences together correctly.

How have you seen students benefit from our program?

The most important benefit that students receive from the ESL program is the sense of community in the class.  Of course, this was unfortunately lost during the pandemic.  Virtual learning can be very lonely.  In general, though, throughout the years, the caring staff and kind teachers do all that they can to make the students feel welcome.In addition, each student’s confidence was boosted in terms of his/her ability to communicate effectively. A lot of positive reinforcement and gentle corrections go a long way to foster confidence.Communicating with doctors, agencies and on the telephone conversations always pose a challenge in addition to talking to your child’s teacher.   This can be very daunting, not everyone has the patience and the right attitude to listen to someone whose English isn’t perfect.  Assimilation into American life and understanding this culture is stressful.  I feel that this is where our program helps the most.

Is there anything about our ESL program that you find unique?

The ESL program at the YWCA is not run like a university class.  I studied Spanish in college and it was nothing more than textbook, teacher, test.  It was cut and dry.  Our program strives for a sense of inclusiveness.  At the ESL program at Bramwell House, students were invited to participate in potluck lunches which were always very well attended.  It was truly an international event.  The atmosphere was very warm and welcoming in addition to the delicious food.  The students had the opportunity to practice their conversation skills.

How has our program adapted to virtual ESL classes?  Have you noticed any pros and cons?

In terms of logistics, I think it has adapted very well.  Students can very conveniently log in to classes and not have to worry about driving conditions.  They are in the comfort and safety of their own homes. It truly is a miracle that we have this technology.  Where would we have been during the pandemic without this tool?On the other hand, virtual language learning is not the natural way to learn. We need to openly communicate with one another. The easy flow of conversation was not present in on screen classes. In addition, there is no physical classroom, no camaraderie between students and no sense of community virtually.  In fact, virtual learning can be numbing after a few hours of staring at a screen but the YWCA made lemonade from lemons and the very caring staff and teachers succeeded very well in adapting during the pandemic.I am so grateful to be part of the ESL community at the Princeton YWCA and the amazing good work that it does.  I have been privileged to have met people from all over the world as well.