When you’re a volunteer, there are two things you want to hear: “Thank you,” and “You’ve made a difference.” Beatrice Franklin is doubly excited to hear these words, as the recipients of her help may have come to her speaking not a word of English.
Franklin was recently honored with a state-wide award from the Alaska Adult Education Association as Volunteer of the Year, presented to her by colleagues from The Learning Connection during one of her evening classes.
“Beatrice’s English language teaching reaches deep into people’s lives, to empower and offer necessary life skills,” said Adelia Myrick, AAEA Acting Board President.
For the last four years, Franklin has dedicated time and energy to teaching English as a second language classes with The Learning Connection, which offers free adult education classes including ESL, citizenship and computer classes.
When Franklin’s Little Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters moved away in 2009, she knew she wanted to channel her energy into another volunteer endeavor. She signed on to do one-on-one tutoring with TLC, a program of SERRC.
Rose Shutt has the honor of being Franklin’s first student, though she soon began bringing her sister and others to the sessions. It wasn’t too long before Franklin was teaching in a classroom setting. Franklin has worked at the University of Alaska Southeast library since 1996 and the University has donated use of a classroom for Franklin to teach in since 2010.
Shutt has nothing but wonderful things to say about her teacher and was happy to have made it to the class Wednesday when Franklin received her plaque.
“I extremely happy and I just want to thank Beatrice so many times because she is amazing and she does a wonderful job and she helps so many people,” Shutt said.
“I was so happy, and I was working so hard to convince other people people to come to the class because we need to learn English, and I just told everyone else and we get a classroom. It started only two, me and my sister, and then I bring my daughter, even she was in high school I was bringing her because she just came from Mexico, I don’t know, maybe, she was just a couple months in the U.S. We start to bring more people and we get, like six or seven people, and I was there for a year and I quit my class,” Shutt said. “I do a big mistake to do that, but I was really busy.”
Franklin said students often come and go; work schedules change, their English skills become good enough to do what they need to do, or students face any number of changes that pull them out.
But Shutt came back, and she continues to bring others with her to Franklin’s classes. On Wednesday, she had brought two friends, also from Mexico, with her. They were shy to speak up, at first, but Franklin said they know more English than they let on.
One of the biggest barriers to speaking English is a fear of being embarrassed. Even Shutt, who has been living in Juneau for several years and owns her own business, peppered her comments with disclaimers that her English wasn’t very good — quite the contrary, Shutt was a very clear communicator.
Franklin said students have different goals for learning English, whether it’s work related or just to better integrate into the community. She said many people move here and can interact with others who speak the same language, so learning English may not seem necessary.
Shutt owns Touched by Angels, a residential and commercial cleaning service that has expanded to do commercial carpet cleaning recently. While it may have been the success of her business that made her initially too busy to attend classes, it was a desire to offer better customer service that brings her back.
“The more important thing for me is to speak very good English, that’s my goal, and write in English, you know. If I live in this country and don’t speak English, it’s like, what am I doing up here? I love speaking English — and you’re never gonna stop me talking...” Shutt said with a laugh.
She said she used to be afraid to answer the phone, and would let calls go to the voice mail. Shutt said she would listen to the messages three or four times to understand what was being said, and would pray to get voicemail when she called back so she would be able to say what she had planned and not have to improvise. Now, Shutt feels confident when interacting with clients and is hoping to improve her writing abilities.
Franklin asked Shutt if she was practicing writing regularly and Shutt sheepishly admitted that she wasn’t practicing much. Technology may be hampering her progress because she can use the voice-to-text feature on her phone to send text messages.
Franklin said another student, Maria, has been taking classes to keep up — or catch up — with her children, who are learning the language quickly in school.
She used to be embarrassed to go to parent-teacher conferences and would encourage her husband to go instead, but now she is encouraging other students in the class to speak up and not be embarrassed to try.
A student Franklin said wasn’t present that day runs a Spanish-speaking daycare so children can grow up bilingual, but she’s learning English so she can better interact with parents and so she can fully understand the classes she takes for her licensing.
Many of the students come to the U.S. with higher education in their home countries, but have to start over in the U.S.
“They find themselves marrying Americans and came over that way,” Franklin said.
A couple students from Japan are in the U.S. as students at the University, not just on a year-long exchange, but for the full four years.
Students come to her for a lot of reasons and with different levels of experience, and Franklin has found a way to make things work in the classroom, pairing people up to practice.
Franklin is so committed to her volunteer teaching that she took a month-long extensive TOEFL course — a course on how to teach English as a second language. She said most people wanted to go teach abroad, but she knew she wanted to take what she had learned right back to Juneau to teach in her community.
One of the things Franklin said she liked to see, beyond the progress her students make, is the community built in the classroom. Her students are supportive of each other in the classroom, and often interact outside the classroom.
Franklin has taught more than 40 adult students from 15 countries, and it’s estimated that she has volunteered more than 800 hours with her students.
Franklin has a long history of volunteerism, from working with the Peace Corps domestically when she was younger to volunteering in her son’s school, Little League, BBBS and now this.
“I just think you need to do things for other people, it makes me feel good.” Franklin said. “And I have the luxury of some time ... I’m a widow, my son lives elsewhere, my cat isn’t terribly demanding — I have the time and I think it’s a good thing to do.
“It sounds trite, but I truly enjoy it and I get out if it possibly as much as what I teach them,” Franklin said.
Volunteering is something Franklin recommends everyone do, and she said TLC is a great place to expend that energy. She said they find ways for people to volunteer quickly, whether it be classroom teaching, one-on-one training or volunteering in the computer labs for other adult education classes.
TLC’s Matt Carpenter, who teaches ESL and Citizenship classes and coordinates volunteers, shared a little bit about volunteering with TLC.
“Last year, the ESL and Citizenship program served 102 people from 29 different countries, and provided referrals to other agencies and services for many others,” he wrote in an email. “We have a variety of volunteer options. Many of our volunteers work one-on-one with students, to help them improve their English. Volunteers can also help out with classes, and we have several volunteers that teach their own English classes. In the past, volunteers have also taught Citizenship classes.”
The requirements for volunteering are pretty simple. Volunteers must be at least 18-years-old, must pass a background check and do a volunteer training session with TLC for about an hour and a half. Volunteers are also asked to commit to volunteering at least an hour per week. Otherwise, there are plenty of possibilities for what and when, from adult education classes to helping out with Homework Club working with students at Gruening Park. Volunteer information can be found online at http://www.serrc.org/community-services/volunteer.
“Give it a try and see,” Franklin had to say of volunteering, “It’s been a really good activity for me, I’m thankful the program exists.”