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Kim, Volunteer Online English Teacher in the U.S.

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Kim Elliott volunteer-teaches through a program called CC English, which is offered by the Boulder, Colorado organization, Intercambio (a presenter at a recent BridgeUniverse Summit). We spoke with her to find out more about CC English, to learn what motivated her to become a volunteer English teacher and to get a glimpse inside this rewarding experience.

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The program you volunteer with, CC English, stands for Confidence and Connections. Can you first tell us a little about it?

CC English is an online program that connects volunteer teachers with adults who want to learn English. It was created by Intercambio in response to the need for remote learning options during the pandemic, but I think it’s going to continue to serve many students and teachers long after in-person programs are up and running again.

CC English matches a student with a teacher, who then meet once or twice a week via Zoom. There’s a lot of support for teachers and students built into the CC English platform – lesson plans, student books, presentation slides, pronunciation videos, a calendar for scheduling… I’m a fan!

What made you decide to volunteer as an English teacher, and how did you find this program?

I began volunteering as an English teacher for adults in 2011, a few months after I taught my last 4th-grade class in public schools.  On a bit of a whim, I signed on as a volunteer with the adult ESL program at my church – and found that in many ways it was a better fit for me than my previous career! It combined so many of my favorite things: teaching, learning, language, geography, and personal connections.

Before long, I was back in school to get my TESOL certificate. As part of the TESOL program, I researched various English language programs in the Denver/Boulder area and learned about Intercambio. It has been on my radar ever since. When I checked their website in the summer of 2021, I learned about the new CC English program they were launching.

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Tell us more about your background in teaching before volunteering.

I taught 2nd and 4th grade for several years, and I have taught English to adults for the last 10 years. However, the volunteers with CC English come from many backgrounds, and it’s not necessary to have prior teaching experience. I think a volunteer mostly needs to have an enthusiasm for connecting with others, and a spirit of curiosity and openness. A lot of the “how-to” of teaching can be learned in the volunteer training.  The online training is geared toward people who’ve never taught English before (although it was well worth my time even as an experienced teacher).

Whom do you tutor?

I was matched with a young mother from China, who is currently living with her husband in Boston while he completes graduate studies. I live in Colorado, but part of the beauty of online teaching is that it really doesn’t matter if a teacher and student live near each other. We’ve had great conversations comparing our different ways of life – as natives of China and the U.S., but also as residents of Boston and Denver. Geography determines so much about how we experience life!

What do you like about teaching English to adults?

Adults sign up for classes because they want to be there. They tend to be goal-oriented, highly motivated, and extraordinarily appreciative of your time and effort. Adults also have lots of life experiences and perspectives to share, because they’ve been on this Earth so much longer!

What have you learned about teaching English through the process of volunteering?

One of the main things I’ve learned is to keep growing and trying new things. If I’m willing to muddle through the awkwardness of trying something new, I think it encourages students to take risks also. For me, teaching online has been a prime example – my tech skills had nowhere to go but up when I started, but I’ve come a long way.

Can you share a memorable moment as a volunteer teacher?

After about 3 months of lessons this fall, my student told me she was feeling so much more comfortable and confident speaking English. She was going to the DMV, talking to her child’s teacher, and had started getting together with other moms for playdates. After all the isolation that we’ve all had to endure over the last couple of years, it just felt like a cause for celebration to know that her world was getting larger, not smaller.

Would you advise others, particularly new teachers, to teach English as a volunteer, and if so, why?

Yes, yes, yes! It is one of the best volunteer gigs ever. I learn something new – about the world, about others, about myself – every time I teach. There has been so much division in society lately. But each time a student and I have a thoughtful conversation, the result is a building of connections. It’s a positive and hopeful thing.

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Jennifer is from Tampa, Florida, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in both English and psychology. After a short career in social work, she gave in to wanderlust, got TEFL-certified, and moved abroad to teach English. She has taught students of all ages at language centers in Costa Rica, Morocco, and Spain.