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The Globalization of the English Language

Retired educators teach English in Polish countryside

Athens News-Courier; Athens, Alabama

Two weeks in the countryside of Poland teaching young children the basics of the English language gave Cherry Anne Ward and Nancy Hightower an admiration for a resilient people not many years removed from the control of Soviet communism.

  • "Nancy and I were overwhelmed by the Polish people by their strong character, their continuance of life," says Ward, who retired from Athens Middle School in 2003 after nearly 25 years in the classroom. "We developed an incredible admiration for them; the grandmothers with their hard-work faces, out in the fields with their grandchildren, dressed in babushkas, picking up potatoes."
  • It was an article in The News-Courier about Frances Owens' trip to Hungary that caught Ward's interest and sent her to Hightower, a friend who retired from Julian Newman Elementary School in 2001 after 20 years as an elementary teacher.
  • Hungary and Poland needed teachers of English.

  • "Having recently joined the European Union," explains Ward, "they think it's important for their children to learn to speak a common language. They chose English, the language of economics."
  • Lodging in a house built in the 1700s as a private residence but now owned by the government, Ward and Hightower were driven to their schools by local parents for after-school lessons in English with students who took the instruction of their own volition.
  • "We taught them English by speaking the language, by acting it out, and by using hands-on materials, pictures and songs," says Hightower. "They had almost no instructional materials. If we had known ahead of time, there were so many things we could have brought from home. We taught in the barest room - a huge room with a folding chalkboard. There were no bulletin boards, no manipulatives like flash cards."
  • Team members managed by sharing what they did have and using materials left there by previous overseas teachers, and they capitalized on the experience of their predecessors.
  • Each teacher keeps a journal, logging entries each evening so that teachers who follow will have the benefit of his experience and the students will have continuity of instruction.
  • Ward brought along a set of clocks that her school system had discarded. The students practiced manipulating the hands and announcing the time, although Ward had to adjust to their British English textbooks in which 4:30 is phrased "half after 4."
  • They taught basic English vocabulary: colors, numbers, parts of the body, items of clothing, etc.
  • One of Ward's favorite techniques was to hand out cards with words such as "door," "mirror," "pencil" and "shirt," then she asked the students to say the word, identify the object, and then tape the card to the object.
  • Both Ward and Hightower describe the children of Poland as eager and enthusiastic.
  • "They were enthusiastic learners," says Hightower. "They were there because they wanted to be there. They absorbed anything we said or did."
  • "If we drew smiley faces on their papers or wrote 'super' or 'super student,' they were so pleased," says Hightower. "They'd go around to other students and point to their papers and say, 'See? Super.' "
  • Here are Ward's and Hightower's miscellaneous observations about their experiences in Poland:

  • Although the classrooms were not supplied with textbooks and manipulatives, the teachers were surprised when students brought out boxes with "a beautiful array of crayons, markers, protractors and pastels" to work with. Children also brought tiny notebooks they used as journals.
  • High school students in Poland study 12-14 subjects over the course of a week.
  • The Polish are a church-going people. Ninety-nine percent are Catholic, and 98 percent practice their faith.
  • The Polish don't go into debt. They build houses in stages as their finances allow. It isn't unusual to see a house under construction for several years.
  • The grayness and drabness of the architecture and dress in Poland—probably a holdover from the Communist influence—is more than compensated for by the beauty of Poland's flowers.
  • Children brought them by the handfuls to their teachers daily.

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