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Field notes - 2/4/13

mencabo's picture

Unstructured Dialogue: A Way to Access Funds of Knowledge

12:30 p.m. – I arrived earlier than I expected so I told Ms. D that next time I could start around 12:45 instead of 1 p.m. Today is my actual first day of “teaching/tutoring.” I put those in quotes because this experience will not exactly follow the kind of teaching that happens in a school classroom. However, Site A has classrooms that are used for all sorts of activities. A weekly schedule is posted on each classroom door to show which department can have the room for the allotted time.

The classroom is a decent size even though Ms. D said that there isn’t enough space in the organization. About 16 chairs surround the rectangle table, which occupies most of the classroom. A white board is located across the door. There is a world map and several handmade posters on the walls: classroom rules (e.g. Turn off cell phones), “What is your job?” (pictures with words), and classroom questions (e.g. How do you say ___ in English?). There are fluorescent lights on the ceiling. I mention this because lighting is one of my concerns in a classroom.


1 p.m. – My “student” arrived. Ms. D briefly introduced us to each other. There was supposed to be two more but one is sick and the other one has work so she is still figuring out her schedule. After Ms. D left, Jamie and I began our tutoring session, which lasted until 3 p.m. Since this was our first session, my only goal was to get to know whom I would be working with and establish a shared objective. This is also a conversation class so the main purpose is to give them practice speaking and expressing their thoughts/ideas in English.

For two hours, Jamie and I talked about our backgrounds (ethnicity, schooling, family), interests (e.g. musicals, movies, TV dramas, actors) and even some sensitive topics, such as religion and politics. We sat next to each other and we positioned ourselves similar to the way a talk show host might talk to an interviewee/guest. To put it in another way, the whole time we looked like friends who were having an afternoon chat. It was a very interesting dynamic. I didn’t ask her specific age, since most people are sensitive to that, but I was able to guess it based on the details that she provided during our conversation. Jamie is Korean, in her 30s and is married. She told me that the main reason why she wants to improve her English is because she wants to go back to school again in the future. She gave up her plan to become a doctor for the sake of her husband’s job.

She shared quite a bit about her private life to the point where I wondered whether or not I was actually taking on another role of counselor. I was surprised, but I also appreciated that she shared those because I was able to get a clearer picture of her life outside of the classroom. She is conscious of her English, but I think she is already quite proficient and is able to express her thoughts clearly. Her openness made our conversation flow smoothly.

Near the end of the session, we talked about our schedule and what we would/could do for the next session. She gave me her contact information and also the contact information of the two students. At certain points of the conversation she also mentioned some details about the two students. They take the Tues./Thurs. ESL classes together. Since I come on Mon./Wed., my job is to give them extra practice. At the same time, my role as a “tutor/teacher” is still in a way, TBD. They use a textbook for their class, but for now, I haven’t decided whether or not I should match what they do in class. Ms. D basically left everything up to me, which is partially what makes me excited and cautious at the same time. For now, I told Jamie that they should feel free to bring up any topic that they would like to talk about and/or anything from their class. I think I’ll try this approach for a while.    

The whole time I was talking to Jamie I kept thinking about Freire’s emphasis on dialogue as the key to, well, almost every possible progress in society. Today’s session was clearly unstructured, yet it was very rich. I think the educational value in today’s session can be found in the numerous funds of knowledge (Moll et al, 1992) that I was able to tap into: her current life in America, her life in Korea, her beliefs and ideas about certain topics, her interests and her English skills. At the same time, I was not the only one who benefited from our exchange. She said that she was excited to know that I am an East Asian Studies major and that I am greatly interested in Asian culture. She mentioned that I should likewise ask them questions about anything. With that we ended our first session. I thought it was a nice finish since it pretty much solidified the teacher-student and student-teacher relationship and partnership.

This time I tried to reflect on the overall experience, but for the next group of field notes, I hope to unpack the many layers that are stacked up in this experience (e.g. identity, language, cultural adjustment, perceptions/misperceptions, power of dialogue – structured vs. unstructured, verbal vs. non-verbal).

On a side note, when I rode the elevator, one of the people inside made a comment about the immigration floor (Site A is on the 4th floor). She said something along the lines of people marrying an American as an option to enter the country. The other person seemed to agree with that comment. I wondered what they were trying to imply especially since they knew that I just came from that level. Somehow it made me think that many people still have a lot of misunderstandings and biases about the nature of immigration. Thinking back to Freire, I wonder if I can say that their perceptions are actually ways in which people inadvertently imprint their view of reality unto others. One cannot truly know the life of immigrants unless he/she places himself/herself in their shoes and step out of their comfort zones. I suppose the best way to understand others’ lives is through dialogue.