"The last few months of my life have welcomed a new challenge: committing two hours a week to tutoring a refugee online. In this brief note, I will reflect on my own experience: a path connecting English language teaching (ELT) and volunteering, along with some general information about the nonprofit organization, Paper Airplanes (PA), which has made this experience possible.
Hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Yemen, and other areas affected by conflict do not have the opportunity to enroll in or continue university due to several barriers, such as language and finances. To help solve this problem, PA began offering free educational programs to youths and adults affected by conflict. Some of these programs are English, Turkish, Women in Tech, and Citizen Journalism. PA matches the tutor and the student, and sessions are held on Skype on a weekly basis.
From a quick review of my own experience, I will reflect on these two points: re-evaluating the use of technological tools and revising my teaching. Though I am greatly interested in online courses and the use of technological tools to create a flexible learning experience for the learner, I could not imagine how to use Google Classroom and Skype to reach thousands, some of whom use only one device to access the internet—a mobile phone. Also, online collaboration programs, clickers, and lecture-capture tools are essential teaching aids that allow you to engage your students, get to know them better, and give them more information and opportunities to practice.
When I reflect on the beginning of my involvement with PA today, I see how confident I was feeling in terms of teaching and curriculum implementation, and I was not expecting a novelty peculiar to this program. Once I was accepted as a tutor, I enrolled in PA’s training program, which is hosted on Google Classroom. During the training program, I learned not only about teaching methodologies, but also about the status of refugees and how to teach a person displaced due to conflict, as well as how to care for myself during this experience. However, the reality of life for refugees did not become clear to me until the first lesson. No matter how many hours had I taught, how many students I had taught, and how many times I had taught students about the power of language, this was the first time I realized what it means for displaced ones to learn English: social involvement, more job opportunities, access to education, and feeling safe to move on with their lives and create the lives they want. Volunteer tutors are the ones who make these possible.
This experience has given me a new understanding of teaching. It is not simple teaching, but revising your teaching skills as well. A basic topic such as family or traditions, as well as cliché warm up questions, may turn into stressful subjects for displaced ones. Therefore, you must go back to basics to plan your lesson as if it were your first time teaching. Your students’ desire to achieve their goals motivates you to muster up the energy to give them your best.
Moreover, PA has given us tutors opportunities to not only teach a variety of subjects, but also to mentor our students. PA’s curriculum includes detailed lesson plans along with materials and exams. However, I have taken the initiative to redesign some parts of a lesson according to the needs of each of my students. The student, who deserves equal educational opportunities, experiences conflict in her or his country. This is where English teaching skills become valuable, as PA tutors might also coach their students through applications for higher education or employment. The feedback you provide could help the student find jobs or educational opportunities abroad.
Considering the hectic schedules we all have, teaching a two-hour lesson every week may sound overwhelming. However, when you meet your student, it becomes clear that teaching such dedicated and ambitious students is a commitment, but not a burdensome one. Rather, it’s a new opportunity to enhance your personal and professional development. By teaching, you help your students discover the world around them, and learning becomes a key to greater opportunities for your students.
If you are interested in becoming an English tutor with PA, please visit https://www.paper-airplanes.org/tutors
Berrin Cefa Sari graduated from Hacettepe University, Department of English Language and Literature in 2009. She received her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Ankara University. She started teaching in 2010, and then started working at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in 2013. She has been working in curriculum development at the institution