Gwendolyn G. DeRosa
Imagine that you are an international student. You are a woman. You are not married. You are alone in a foreign country except for your younger brother. You have never been taught by a male teacher. You have never had male classmates. You are accustomed to a large home filled with laughter, children’s voices, and your mother’s reassuring smile. Now it is your duty to clean, cook, and care for your brother while still completing your studies, essays, and reading. But you are still very excited about the opportunity to study in the United States.
Now, imagine that it is your first day of classes. Imagine that your teacher is a man. All of your classmates are male. But you are still expected to participate in class, give presentations to a room full of men, and work together on a daily basis with male partners.
This is the reality for many female students at ELS Columbus.
According to Krashen’s affective filter theory, students must have a comfortable, safe, friendly environment. For many female students, the classroom is a frightening place. Because they are uncomfortable working with or speaking in front of men, the female students rarely have real conversations in English. As TESOL students, we understand the importance of communicative competence and so we know that in order to acquire the English language, our students must use it to communicate.
In addition to the struggle for English fluency, female students do not have the vibrant community in the classroom that the male students enjoy. Our male students bond quickly with each other, hang out together in the evenings and on weekends, and have no difficulty finding a partner or group to work with in the classroom. There is often only one female student in a class of eleven to fourteen male students. This leads to a feeling of loneliness and isolation. I realized that as a teacher, I was in a position to do something about this.
With the support of the directors at ELS and two other teachers, Amy Faeth and Maria Del Mar, I began a women’s conversation group in February 2013. The Crescent Moon Women’s Club meets every other week on Wednesdays, from 4 to 5pm. The purpose of this informal group is to give the female students a nurturing space where they may communicate freely. We want to encourage them to discover their similarities and celebrate their differences.
Our last meeting was an exceptional one. Faeth presented a new video by Dove, in which a sketch artist draws two pictures of a woman without looking at her. For one drawing, the woman describes her own features; for the other, another person describes that woman’s features. The differences are astounding. The message is that we women are often too hard on ourselves. Other people see us as more beautiful than we see ourselves. After watching the video, the room was silent. For some, it was difficult to hold back tears. But after a few minutes, students of each language represented wrote “you are beautiful” on the white board in their native languages.
(Photo courtesy of Amy Faeth)
Female students at ELS have expressed a desire to create relationships with American women. They want to know what it’s like to be a woman in the U.S. If you are interested in being a guest speaker or a conversation partner, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org