My English Teacher -Katherine Sleep

Giao Dinh-Katherine Sleep

Before 75, though not interested in pedagogical career, but in the end as though leading by demons, I ended up joining the profession. Not beating around the bushes, everyone can guess that I was a demanding teacher. That it should be so. Being descendant of a teacher who observed traditional methods, of course, I am a difficult one.

After some decades, I once again became students. The problem is that during my high school years at Gia Long High, my primary foreign language was French while I only studied English for three years. I did not learn any foreign language in college. Arriving late in the United States at age 55 (because the Communist would not let me migrate earlier), and having to work to make a living, I did not have time to go to school. My work revolved around the Vietnamese community, so I did not have the needs or opportunities to speak or listen to English.

After being laid off during the economic downturn, I moved to California to go back to school because that is where I had many relatives, and tuition was not as expensive as in VA. I intend to obtain a certificate of “web designer” after my English gets better. I love the webs and computer. Perhaps after medical field, computer is my favorite area.

I first could only enroll in ESL at English language centers because I had not earned “in state” status. I love the two ESL teachers at Lincoln center: Hyde Dianne and Davis Mejia. During the past school year, I began to go to “college”. After taking the test, I was put at a higher level. However, except for grammar (thanks to my old school) my listening and speaking ability was poor, so I requested to be put at level two. I was very pleased with the dedication of Mrs. Sue Chase during the last term, and I am even more satisfied with Mrs. Katherine Sleep during this term.

Of course, I do not always agree with all of her teaching methods, but I think the majority of her ways brings good results.

First, I want to talk about how she “controls” the class. To have good results, all “undisciplined” students must first be put into order. Several uninterested students do not take learning seriously. They have many bad habits: forgetting to turn off the cell phone, talking loudly in class. Mrs. Sleep took a poll of the class about “punishment”, and we all agreed that each violator would pay 25 cents for each incident: speak Vietnamese in class, not turning off the phone etc…). In addition, she would go down to the last table and stand right behind the character that was “a little lazy” to check their papers. She does not hesitate to make students change their seats. The ones who like to talk would be separated; one person would be moved to the front-row table. As for those who are at the front rows but continue to talk, she would have him/her answer five consecutive questions.

It works marvelously! She gains control of the class without having to do all the shouting or getting angry… While I was teaching, I never thought of these methods. The most noticeable results are that the whole class moves along nicely; even the naughty ones become more studious. She practices the exact essence of the logo: “The success of our students is our goal!”

Second, she has a very good way to help ESL students remember new words. Each day, she reads “dictation” once or twice the new words in the lessons she has taught, and rereads difficult words several times. Personally, I am extremely grateful to her for this. It helps me remember new words. This method is very fast because one has to write just about 15 words on scrap paper. Upon listening to her, we learn how to pronounce and remember the words.

Third, in writing, she helps students remember their errors by giving out samples. Each sample consists of three samples of the same subject. Sample 1: bad; sample 2: better; last sample: best. The samples help students see clearly and quickly the common errors.

Fourth, she distributes short “conversation” paper. We first listen to her guidance and practice at home. Then she randomly called two people to practice by reading in front of the whole class. Because the lesson is short, we learn easily and read quite smoothly.

Fifth, she encourages us to be familiarized with the Oxford dictionary by learning from it a few words each day. A majority of us do not like this part because we have to carry the heavy dictionary, and the letters in the dictionary are so small that we become very tired after looking up them up for a while. In our opinion, e-dictionary or online-dictionary is much handier. It would be better if she gave out instructions to three groups and had them practice with about four dictionary in the offices. That way, by working in groups, we would still understand the lessons without having to buy dictionaries.

Sixth, as for reading, she let us read “VOA-learning English”. We are not interested in this part because at ESL level 2B, we do not need VOA news. We need simple, attractive “reading” materials similar to the True Story. At higher levels, the Internet offers better reading materials for many different levels. Each post is accompanied with questions, which help students progress faster in their “reading”.

In summary, we sometimes have to work “hard” during the four hours with Mrs. Sleep. However, we are pleased with our progress. When I was teaching, I often said to my students, “I have to teach you properly, and, in return, you must learn accordingly. If I did not teach, then I would be a thief of two things: one is money from the government that was paid to me; and two, I would steal the time of the studious students. You set aside the time for my class when I am not teaching, that is thievery on my part.”

I write this article to show my gratitude to Mrs. Sleep, who has dedicated her life to her career, as well as to help other teachers think and explore ways that are more effective.

The progress of students is the biggest reward for teachers, for in addition to the students’ gratitude, they also get thanks and appreciations from their parents and the societies.

Cindy Giao Dinh

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