Published on June 20, 2018
A few years ago, Claire Brooks, a now-retired Presbyterian pastor, was the pastor at a Chinese church in Kenner and wanted to do more for the immigrant population there. Already aware of the presence of an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Carrollton Church of Christ, Claire began shadowing Catholic Charities ESL instructor Jenny Garrison after she retired from the church.
This experience provided Claire with a chance to hone her teaching skills and the encouragement she needed to dive in and start volunteering as an instructor herself.
For the past year, Claire and Jenny have been co-teaching a level one English as a Second Language class at Church of Christ. There are times that one will teach while the other walks around taking questions and offering help; there are other times only one is able to present and will teach alone.
Teaching the classes is exhausting, but exhilarating. “I come home from class and I’m drenched in sweat. You can’t stand still; there’s too much going on,” she shares. “I get so energized – it’s just the greatest experience.”
Like most teachers, she enjoys watching students who were puzzled by a topic suddenly make the connection and understand the material. But the best part, she says, is watching students who speak different languages and come from different cultures speak to each other in English. Last year, an Arabic-speaking student and a Spanish-speaking student in Claire’s class were discussing recipes and ingredients in English – their new common language.
Many of Claire’s students work a full day at their job, sit through two and a half hours of ESL classes and then still have a long bus ride home.
“If people understood how hard our immigrants work at their job, at learning English and at learning more about the community and the culture, it might change some of their opinions,” she says of her students.