Thursday, June 21, 2007

Taking New ESL Students with Limited Time

I had met with a particular student once a week for about four or five weeks. During our assessment meeting (I always offer a free assessment meeting to potential students—it also gives us both a chance to decide if we would like to work together), the student said that she wanted to improve her spoken English. Her skills were quite advanced, but she wanted to improve more and have an opportunity to speak English, because she speaks her native language at home and with most of her colleagues. Yesterday, she emailed to apologize and tell me that she did not have time to continue classes; also, she felt that since she was not able to practice English outside of class, she did not feel that her English was improving.

In my advertisement for new students, and at my first meeting with new students, I highly recommend to students that they take at least two English classes per week if at all possible. I tell them that the difference between one class and two is often the difference between no improvement (if taking only one class per week) and substantial improvement. I had warned this particular student of the same thing, but she wanted to try anyway. And now she has given up (for now).

I have had one student that I met only once a week for several months; and his English skills progressed a lot. However, he was willing to do a substantial amount of homework during the week; and when something immediate and really important came up (like preparing for job interviews), we temporarily increased our meetings to two to three times per week.

When taking on new students, I highly recommend that English tutors stress the importance of doing more to improve their English skills than meeting with a tutor one time per week. The “more” could be taking additional classes, doing homework, making sure to practice English skills everyday, etc.

As a self-employed tutor, I generally do not turn away ESL students who can meet me only once per week. Most of my students are working adults, and one time per week is all they can manage. However, I am very clear with my students about what is possible by only having one meeting. Learning a language is not a once-a-week endeavor, and I want to make sure that my students know the best ways to improve their English skills. And I also do not take it personally if I do not see significant improvement. I am always sure to do my part, but the learning is the student’s responsibility.


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