Meet a Teacher: Sister Dolores Dean

Sister Dolores Dean moved from St. Joseph Monastery in Pennsylvania in 2013 to join the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia. The very next year she started teaching an ESOL class for BEACON. We caught up with her to ask her about her BEACON teaching experiences:

Have you ever taught before?

Yes, I have many years of teaching experience. I’ve taught both children and adults, although I prefer teaching adults. I’ve taught English, French, Spanish, as well as Medical Terminology; the latter as a vocational rehabilitation teacher for an agency for the blind to people who wanted to become a medical transcriptionist.

What led you to volunteer to be a BEACON ESOL teacher?

I knew there was a real need because of the many immigrants in our county. I felt I could make a real contribution, and also thought I would enjoy it.

You’ve taught English to English speakers before; is teaching English to non-English speakers different?

Yes! For one thing, I had been teaching high school students; they are in class because they have to be. My BEACON students are in class because they WANT to be. It’s very rewarding teaching students who are so motivated to learn!

Why are they so motivated?

There are so many reasons: They want to talk to their children’s teachers at school, make doctor’s appointments and at the appointment they want to make sure that the doctor understands their concerns and that they understand the doctor’s instructions. They want to get better jobs and improve their education, and integrate into society. Many of them hope to become US citizens.

They also want to be treated as adults. When you can’t communicate well, you’re often treated as if you don’t know anything. We talk about many life situations in class – driving, making appointments, telephone conversations, household accidents and how to handle them, etc. My students are very knowledgeable and know what to do, they just need to be able to express themselves.

I hear that English is a very difficult language to learn as an adult.

Yes! It would be very hard to just pick it up, and is easily misunderstood. For instance, in class we were talking about the expression, “flag down,” as in flagging down a police officer in an emergency. Some students asked whether taking the flag down from the flagpole at the end of the day at their children’s school was also “flag down”, but of course, it isn’t.

What resources do you get from BEACON to help you teach?

Textbooks and teacher training sessions. Co-teachers are available for those who want them, for example, if they are new to teaching and don’t want to start strictly on their own, or if their job is too intense to let them get to all the classes. Because I’m blind, I have a co-teacher who helps me when we write on the chalkboard.

I find that my biggest resource is my own experience as an English speaker, and my own knowledge of life’s necessities. My co-teacher is also very helpful because his life experiences are so different from mine. For example, I have never driven a car; he contributed a LOT when we were talking about driving.

How often do you teach?

I teach a class two days a week and tutor on Fridays. Some volunteers teach only one day a week and somebody else teaches their class the other days. I chose to have both class days because I find the better I get to know my students, the better I can explain things to them.

What do you do to get ready for your classes?

I make a complete lesson plan, including the new vocabulary for the day, simple grammar rule exercises, questions for discussion, and I always include a short read- ing in English, often from the Internet.

Do you enjoy your classes?

Very much. I have students from around the world, and it’s a blessing as they become more comfortable, and begin to share their lives and grow in their English skills. It’s so rewarding to know that I’m making such a difference in people’s lives.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes. In order to get the most out of this experience, you have to really want to do this. You have to be flexible, open-minded, open-hearted, and love to laugh.