This past week marked the ending of my internship with Western Heads East. It has been quite the experience, filled mainly with positives and a few challenges added in to spice it all up. Since I have not been able to fit in many of my stories over the last seven months, I decided that this blog post would be dedicated to some of my favourite memories with the Eagles. AKA, my rainbow moments amongst the storm of learning curves!
How I Embraced ESL Gymnastics
As I near the ending of my first year at Western and my internship, I have discovered that the most important skill to learn is the art of balance. I have been feeling like I am on a beam, juggling the various responsibilities, deadlines, and pressures of school versus personal life. Part of my learning experience involved how to effectively work on my internship duties while keeping on top of schoolwork.
The two best secret weapons for me against losing my balance: consistent lesson planning and scheduling.
For my ESL lessons, I use Power Point. I share my screen with the Eagles on Zoom and go through worksheets and activities while looking at the slideshow. It is important to come prepared to each lesson with more than enough material that you can get through in the time allotted. It takes me about two to three hours to design each lesson plan and transfer the worksheets from physical copies of books to online. Formatting, editing, and all of the fun technical challenges caused me to put way more hours into the ESL lessons at the beginning of my internship.
Activism In Different Lights
As I continue to work with the Eagles, I have noticed many differences between my life experiences and theirs. One of the notable differences is the role and significance of activism in our lives.
For instance, I never knew that National Women’s Day existed until coming to Western. In my small-town high school and public school, I don’t recall the term appearing on our calendars whatsoever. However, in Mwanza, there is a three-day long conference for the girls to attend where there are speakers, dancing, food, celebrations, and more. Nearly every woman attends this conference. Many important issues are discussed at this conference, including violence against women or unequal pay / rights. While my community partners recount the events, I can see fireworks of passion light up their eyes. The raw feeling of strength and support thrives between the women in Mwanza. The impact of this event astounds me. It is prioritized and talked about for weeks, something that I have never heard of before.
Comparing that event to those in my own town, I feel disappointed. Disappointed in myself for lacking the same drive and passion for social change. Disappointed in my community for the lack of care they give days like Women’s Day. Most of all, disappointed in the society we live in where a simple comment on a social media post is enough to satisfy our participation in activism. Most people pretend to care about important issues to stay relevant on an invisible platform, or to prove their worthiness in a way. I do agree that social media allows messages to travel faster than ever before, but some movements turn into shallow actions depending on the intent of the poster. Personally, I feel like it can be more isolating than unifying.
Should I Be Here?
Landing an internship with Western Heads East in my first year was a very large personal accomplishment. It gives me the opportunity to interact with incredible women on an international level, a chance that I have never encountered before. If I’m being honest, I never thought that I would be chosen as an intern.
Along with this opportunity, and throughout all of university in general, I have had an overwhelming feeling that I’m not supposed to be here. Thoughts about how I do not deserve the opportunities that I have been given and there is someone else that would be far better at it. Endless words that I am unqualified, not smart enough, or will mess everything up constantly swarm my mind. Why would they hire me? How did I manage to pull this off? Will they see the truth soon? All of these questions kept me awake at night, especially before teaching an ESL lesson. I had no confidence in what I was creating or how I was presenting myself. I felt sick with worrying about whether I was doing justice for the Eagles group or if they even enjoyed my teaching. I can’t count the number of times where I nearly backed out, feeling like a failure for no legitimate reason at all.
This, my friends, is only a glimpse into how imposter syndrome affects me.
Confession: Sometimes I Want To Throw My Computer
Glitching, freezing, and crashing are all terms that we are used to hearing. Technology is often, as I’ve mentioned before, the culprit of many errors where remote learning is involved.
Now, take these technological issues that we experience here in Canada and attempt to connect smoothly across the globe. Smoothly is not an adjective that I would use. Luckily, with challenges come chances for adaptation and improvement! I have been learning many things with this remote environment and this blog post is all about sharing some of my strategies to cope with internet issues in case you experience this as well. Disclaimer: I mostly focus on remote teaching strategies.
Internet Issues On Your End?
1. Use an ethernet cable.
Okay, I’m going to be honest. Do I own an ethernet cable? No. Did I even know what it was prior to this internship? Also no. However, many people find ethernet cable connections beneficial to their internet strength. Even if you don’t have one there are other strategies you can try.
2. Ask the question!
If you live with other people and teaching remotely (like me), ask your roommates to avoid using the internet during your lesson time. Fortunately for my lessons, I’m teaching at 6:30 am. No one else is awake. This is unusual for many people, so any time that other people using your router can disconnect from it will make the experience of remote learning much easier.
3. If the screen constantly glitches, try disconnecting and restarting the call.
Personally, I don’t like hanging up the call. It makes me feel bad to end the call abruptly. So, I wait a couple minutes until restarting the zoom. It is always a good idea to wait a minute or two in case the internet catches up. Although, you don’t want to wait too long and waste more time on a frozen screen when restarting the call would have fixed the problem. That time could’ve been spent interacting with amazing people instead! So, try hanging up and restarting it.
Good Morning! Or Is It Goodnight?
Oh, the struggles of time zones.
Communication is one of the key components when working with an international partner. Especially since I’m working with a very new program that is changing and evolving, I need constant conversations with my Mikono Yetu partners in Mwanza. However, the idea of how large the time difference is proving to be a difficult one to truly understand. Currently, Mwanza is about 8 hours ahead of Ontario’s time. As I write this, it is about 1:00 am for me and I’m preparing to go to sleep. In Mwanza, the day has begun.
I teach lessons at 6:30 am to accommodate the time zone, but emails and texts on WhatsApp can be missed when they are sent at the wrong times. For example, if the girls cancel an upcoming lesson (at 2:30 pm their time) during their workday, I won’t get that notification until I’m awake and ready to teach. Additionally, if I send an email past 8:30 am, there is no expectation of getting a response until the following day (when I’m asleep). This causes a broken chain of communication where conversations happen slowly over the course of a few days rather than a couple of emails that are responded to right away.
The other unspoken aspect of teaching remotely across the world is the energy difference. Most days, I just have enough time to splash water on my face and start the lesson before the 6:26 am time hits. I usually don’t have enough sleep as I’m nocturnal when it comes to my work schedule, so it takes a couple of jumping jacks to prepare me to be energetic. The Eagles, though, have been awake for hours and blossom with energy.
I’ve learned how to match their enthusiasm to make lessons more engaging, but it certainly takes practice if you’re not naturally a morning person. My favourite icebreaker/ warm up for my lessons is “Guess My Slang!”, where I pull out some silly English words and some words that Canadians use every day. This creates a chain of conversation between the girls as they strategize which word means what, meanwhile I’m given a few moments to collect my thoughts.
The Key To Learning? Grit.
Many believe that our environmental influences have nearly full control over our rate of success. I challenge this belief with the fact that our acceptance of failure, our grit to persevere, has a stronger impact on how (and whether) we succeed in life.
The Eagles group continuously impresses me with their enthusiasm to improve their English skills. Keep in mind that this is an optional opportunity for them to take on, on top of their regular classes and other commitments. Moreover, I am impressed by the comfortable environment in which they are learning with one another.
Specifically, the pronunciation of certain English words is a very difficult concept to comprehend to non-native speakers (ie, not pronouncing a strong E at the end of ‘fine’). Regardless of the vowel / consonant agreement lesson my partner Azadeh gave to the girls, it is a skill that is improved with time. From my own present experience with learning Spanish, mistakes in my personal pronunciation are incredibly frustrating. This especially holds true when I say the word incorrectly out loud, and I hear a couple laughs from other students that can properly pronounce the words. It is a feeling of shame that washes over me when I hear my classmates judge my learning and it discourages me from wanting to practice and speak out loud (aka, the only way for me to get better at it).
However, the Eagles group is one of the most supportive learning environments I have worked with in all of my educational volunteering experiences. They love to show me their verbal skills in English and appreciate when I give them tips on how to improve their readings. Even when one girl makes a mistake that the stronger speakers knew, they laugh it off as a group and correct their pronunciations as a team. I am far more cautious of making mistakes and become embarrassed when my own Canadian accent fails me, but what is the point of being embarrassed about learning? They have taught me the art of laughing off mistakes and finding joy in learning something that is foreign to the way I have grown up. In other words, they teach me to embrace mistakes rather than hide from them.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”Albert Einstein
After much reflection on this experience, I decided to research some of the best methods of learning. Below, I have linked a Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth regarding the ‘growth-mindset’ and how grit contributes to success in life. Duckworth explains how grit is crucial to learning anything in life, regardless of your IQ, physical appearance, wealth, etc. It is a quality that science has yet to explain but is the base of a person who can see long term goals and have an abundance of endurance to work to achieve said goals.
The Eagles group has a long-term goal of having the ability to share their messages on an international platform. They also wish to teach others in their community how to speak English. These are both goals that are being achieved as a team. In my opinion, they have immense grit and are improving their English skills by staying dedicated to these objectives. It takes dedication and discipline to take on extra hours of lessons to maximize their English skills. I believe that this is one of the many reasons why they are so accepting of mistakes and have growth mindsets (aside from their mutual respect). Their long-term goals are group oriented and they wish to see one another succeed. They are encouraging one another to make it to the end of the marathon. This is contrary to being in competition and shame when practicing the lessons that I give to them.
Overall, the Eagles group inspires me to make some environmental changes within my Spanish class to see how the growth mindset affects my own improvements until April.
I would highly recommend watching the ted talk and reflecting upon your own reaction to failure: Do you let it expand your brain or do you quit your goals in shame?
If you would like some tips on goal setting, check out my previous blog post – https://aecclestonewhe.wordpress.com/2021/11/02/getting-started/
After only having a couple of meetings with the Eagles group, I can’t describe the excitement that I have for this program.
The pure happiness felt on both ends of the zoom call radiates from the smiles I see. I can already tell we will collaborate perfectly!
It was wonderful getting to know more about what the Eagles group specifically works on. Each girl has a category regarding female empowerment to relate their news videos to. Some examples are how girls can be creative while making money, altering traditional norms to empower women, stories of powerful women, and the role of Islam and Christianity that concerns women.
Since some girls missed the first lesson and some missed the second, we focused on establishing S.M.A.R.T goals both meetings for what we wanted to achieve together throughout the next six months. At first, we had to explore what exactly a S.M.A.R.T goal is (which was new information to me as well), and then eventually we decided on the main desired outcomes.
“A goal without a timeline is just a dream.”– Robert Herjavec, n.d
The acronym stands for…
The S.M.A.R.T goal template helps refine many aspirations to be exactly how specific we wanted to get with the goals. I learned that by giving examples, the girls were able to make both personal and group goals. It is much easier to display what you are looking for as an answer if you provide your own first.
I encourage everyone to research how to produce your own S.M.A.R.T goal to keep your schedules organized, goals clear and your mind at ease. I’ve started applying these goals to tasks not even related to school work and I’ve definitely noticed an increase in my productivity. It is quite fascinating that I’ve already learned such an impactful technique only a couple short lessons into our journey.
Often, the best way to learn something is when you have to teach it yourself!
Here is a quick video that I find very helpful when trying to understand how to use S.M.A.R.T goals.