An adult educator shares her student’s journey from shy new arrival to proud mother helping her son with his homework.
GUEST COLUMN | by Anita Leimbach
I often call my job as an adult educator “recreational teaching” because my students want to be there, they want to learn, and they drive me to do my absolute best for them. My father, also an adult educator, used to say, “These students all come in scared to death. They want to learn, but are afraid they can’t. Don’t scare them off with technical terms— just help them read. But if you want, slip in the word ‘diphthong’ once in a while. It’ll make them feel smart.” These words are as true today as they were when my father shared them with me 37 years ago.
Oi is one of those uncashable paychecks you get as a teacher. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while as a teacher you feel you have helped change someone’s life forever.
As an adult educator at Entrada High School, it’s my job to help all adults—single, married, grandparents, immigrants, working, unemployed, ages 17-84—push through adversity and reach their goal of earning their high school diploma or GED. Determination, drive, and pride are just a few words that come to mind when I think of Oi Smith, a 43-year-old English language learner from Thailand. Her passion for learning English is a constant reminder of why I became a teacher and why I still love teaching.
Oi came to the U.S. in March 2005 and became a U.S. citizen in 2012. We first met when she enrolled in Entrada High School to improve her English skills. She entered a class that was above her ability level, but took it anyway due to her young son’s schedule and outside commitments not allowing for much flexibility
Starting out, she struggled with English, but was eager to learn. She worked hard, but was held back due to her lack of decoding skills. She was shy, nervous about speaking, and grew frustrated at times. That all changed when our school adopted a new reading curriculum focused on teaching phonics and explicitly providing the skills to read and write English.
How Frustration Turned to Joy for Oi
In 2015, our school became part of a study to test the efficacy of Reading Horizons Elevate for adults. My classes were part of the study and I implemented the program with my beginning reading and reading improvement students, which included Oi. My students used the software for 30-45 minutes each class. I also required them to use the program outside of class and offered an option for extra credit.
When I introduced Oi to the program, it “clicked” for her. The pronunciation tool was especially helpful as she was mastering the sounds of English and the engaging curriculum allowed her to quickly excel in reading, spelling, and writing English.
Oi used the program at home almost every day. I remember she was so motivated that she came to class each day with a notebook full of notes from the program showing examples for all the rules. She was always excited to tell me the latest thing she had learned and we would put these on the board for whole-class discussion.
Gaining More Than Just Reading Skills
In just one school year, Oi jumped from an ELL Level 2 to a Level 4. Not only did we see a major improvement in her skills, but Oi found joy in her success and gained a great amount of confidence when speaking, reading, and writing in English. Her accomplishments have encouraged her to consider pursuing her goal of a career in health care and—best of all—a feeling that she can do anything. She’s proud of the fact that she will now be able to help her 5-year-old son with his schoolwork as he begins his educational journey this fall.
Oi is one of those uncashable paychecks you get as a teacher. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while as a teacher you feel you have helped change someone’s life forever. Seeing Oi so exuberant about her newfound abilities makes me smile and reaffirms that I have the best job in the world.
Anita Leimbach is a 37-year teaching veteran focused on teaching adults to read at Entrada High School, a school specifically for adults, in Sandy, Utah. In 2012 Leimbach was honored as Teacher of the Year for Entrada High School. In 2016, she was honored as Teacher of the Year at Canyons Virtual High School, an online school for traditional high school students. See Oi and Anita in this video.