I’ve spent the last few weeks driving around Orange County and LA interviewing and giving teaching demos for ESLs large and small, and therefore haven’t had much time or motivation to blog. Most of this entry came from a brief lull between a demo lesson and feedback (which was positive, hooray), sitting in a hallway outside a row of classroom doors and occasionally nodding at passing students. It won’t be one of my 3,000-word monster posts, but it’s the best you’ll get given the circumstances.
Enclaves of 10,000 or enclaves of 130,000,000
In Southern California, finding a good match for your skill set or teaching style is sometimes a matter of finding an ESL in the right city or neighborhood. Orange County has the largest Vietnamese population outside Saigon (or so the legend goes), mostly concentrated around Westminster, a bit west of Disneyland. Working in south Orange County, however, places you in the middle of large Korean and Iranian enclaves. Classes in the middle of Orange County, in Santa Ana, would give you classes of almost entirely Spanish speakers from Central America. Parts of Los Angeles feature different likely breakdowns of student national demographics. Teaching part time in two ESLs even in the same town would expose you to two possibly very different populations of students.
Teaching reactively means trying to bake wholesome loaves from the grist that your students bring in, and in that sense students’ backgrounds and expectations can greatly affect the flow of the class. Not that teachers need to completely modify their teaching styles to work with students of different L1 or educational backgrounds, but some adjustments do need to be made, especially when the proportion of students of one national background reach a critical mass of (say) 60%. I demo-taught a class of almost entirely Chinese students, and the scene where I asked them to do a worksheet in pairs and they proceeded to do it silently themselves and then show their “partner” the completed worksheet was achingly familiar. I had seen it almost every class back when I was teaching in Japanese university.
This tailoring of classes to students’ backgrounds was never an issue in Japan, where the proportion of students born, raised, and educated in Japan hovered around 100%. Or rather, it was never not an issue; almost all students were from one background which was different from the teacher’s (if the teacher was in a NS job), requiring a retooling for or to address the deficiencies of the specific class style that virtually all students were coming out of. A major sub-industry of ELT exists specifically catering to the Japanese market, its unique traits, and the parts of it that insist on being treated as unique even if they aren’t. English learning guides or textbooks, particularly from Japanese publishers, play up the “especially for Japanese” angle with the knowledge that their students either have specific needs or want to be treated as if they do. If there is a Taiwanese/Iranian/Thai version of that phenomenon, it undoubtedly has a market somewhere in Southern California, in a bookstore whose name is written in that language on a street whose name might also be in that language. The city’s name on the other hand is probably Spanish.