In the last year, I have taught pro bono classes via the organisation Language Beyond Borders. This blog documents my first experience teaching a group of Palestinian learners in 2019. Overall, the charity organisation is well run and very supportive to its students and teachers. Unfortunately, Covid19 has led to a funding crisis which has curtailed many of its operations. Teachers will continue with classes via Gaza Sky Geeks coding academy.
How I began teaching volunteer online English classes
When I transitioned from the classroom to online teaching I came across a company that connects teachers with displaced peoples and refugees in order to offer free classes. This would be an ideal opportunity to hone my skills as a virtual teacher and was a way to give something back to those less fortunate. I was asked to teach an English soft skills course to programming students at a university in Palestine.
English communication skills
The English soft skills course was designed and written by the coordinator at Language Beyond Borders and teachers were given the opportunity to provide materials if they wanted. This worked well, because teachers could choose how much time to donate to the program. Communication between staff members and teachers was excellent. The coordinator made sure to answer all questions teachers might have and asked for feedback after each class. In this way, I really felt like I contributed to the implementation of this pilot course.
Materials for English classes
The course covered topics such as time management, attending an interview, giving an elevator pitch and writing a business proposal. These are all skills which we take for granted as part of our education but may be taught in quite a different way in other cultures. The idea was to prepare the university students to enter the international work marketplace.
Each week, students had a pre-class task to complete via the Facebook page. This was usually watching and commenting on a video or analysing a diagram or image related to that week’s topic. Presentations with the materials for the classes were shared on Google Drive and teachers needed to get familiar with the topic and think of ways to tailor it directly for their students. After class, the students had another short task to complete online.
The rechnical aspect of online English classes
Teaching a group class online was certainly a learning process, especially when the students can have difficulties with the equipment and platforms used. I conducted classes using Skype and students logged in on shared devices. Attendance ranged from two to six students and we sometimes experienced connection and audio problems. However, the technical issue didn’t all come from the students’ end — in my first lesson I accidentally sent a love heart emoji instead of clicking on the share screen icon!
On the whole, classes ran smoothly, and we usually had enough time to discuss the slides and for the students to complete a task relating to the topic.
What did the students learn?
My students began the course with a good knowledge of English (around a B2 level), and were having language input sessions in conjunction with the soft skills ones. I made a few corrections and explained key vocabulary, but the students mostly improved in confidence, fluency, and their ability to speak and write appropriately to the situation.
Helping them to fill out their CVs and giving them key structures to write proposals on remote work websites was a particular highlight for me. ‘It’s the same for everyone when you start out’, I said. ‘You have to fake it until you make it.’
Making small talk with the students wasn’t always easy because they live in challenging circumstances, but we had plenty of laughs and fun moments along the way. I often had to remind them that their opinions were important, but they all participated well and found the sessions useful. Overall, they were grateful that teachers like me were willing to put in the time to share their experiences and learn about theirs. I can’t wait to teach my next course with Language Beyond Borders.
To find out more about Gaza Sky Geeks and Language Beyond borders, visit their website here.