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Getting My First Classroom - in Poland

By Lily Judge

Last summer I spent a month in a small Polish village teaching English to children. I went with a non-profit organization called Learning Enterprises that was advertised through the Liberal Studies Department. This experience allowed me to learn so much about myself, a new culture and the teaching world. 

I had never done anything like this before, so it goes without saying that the bus ride to the village where my host family was waiting was a nerve-racking two hours. However, I quickly came to learn that Polish people are exceptionally friendly. My host family welcomed me with open arms, and we celebrated with a huge family gathering. Dish after dish was served to me, and everyone began to practice their English skills in conversations with me. There was an overwhelming sense of comfort, home and happiness as I sat with my new Polish family. 

After the initial introduction to my family, my host mom and I took a walking tour through the small village of Zalasowa. The next day, my 16-year-old host brother took me to the school and translated for me. I was introduced to the headmaster, my students, their parents and my young classroom translator. 

The headmaster was so excited to have me as a volunteer in his school and was prepared to supply me with anything I requested. I was fortunate to have the whole school open to me for my lessons. 

“Intimidating” barley describes my first hours in the classroom. I stood in front of 25 young, Polish students who could not fully understand English, and I could not understand Polish. I tried to get a sense of what English they already knew. My class lessons were free for the students during their summer time, so I knew my lessons had to be fun for the students to continue to come and learn. Needless to say, my first week with my classes was strange, but I learned a lot about what the students already knew. I figured out what they liked to do and what they disliked to do inside and outside of the classroom.

The next three weeks went smoothly. I learned how to make fun lesson plans that would last the full two hours. I used classic American games like “red light, green light” as educational reinforcement for the new vocabulary, and my students and I learned how to communicate with one another even with our language barrier — lots of hugs, smiles and thumbs-ups. 

I had never taught English as a second language, so I based my lessons on how I best learned Spanish. Every day I was impressed by how much vocabulary my young students could retain and how excited they were to see what new words they would learn and what interactive activity I had planned. 

My last week of teaching included a talent show for the parents and community in which the students showcased their English skills with songs, skits and dances. This final day with them was very special to me. I got to see and reflect on everything we had done together, and it was so sad to say goodbye to all the students I had grown fond of.

My experience was not solely based in the classroom. I also got to be a part of the community by engaging with my host family, neighbors and other villagers. With my host family, I saw sites all around Poland and learned a lot about the culture through the different meals we shared and the long afternoons after my lessons.

After this summer I feel confident in my desire to become a teacher, and I feel ready to have my own classroom whether it’s in the United States or another country. I am so thankful the Liberal Studies Department shared this opportunity with me, and I look forward to hearing about other students’ experiences through Learning Enterprises. I might even try another country next summer.

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