Meet CC English Teacher Jan Summers: “Language Helps Us Learn So Much About Culture”

My name is Jan. I was born and raised in Chicago. I am a retired nurse and worked in multiple settings, but my favorite job was working in educational settings. I taught in nursing schools and also worked as a school nurse. I moved to Colorado 22 years ago in search of wide-open spaces, hiking, and making new friends. I love travel, fiber art—especially knitting and felting, and have met many friends with similar hobbies.

Once retired, I decided to volunteer as a way of participating in my community. I worked on a goat farm for four years, quitting due to COVID. When I saw a listing on the volunteer page of my local newspaper, I decided to research CC English. I enjoy language and learning about other cultures and saw this as a wonderful opportunity to accomplish this while working from home. After talking with Jon at Intercambio, I felt excited to begin a new volunteer career. When offered the chance to work with Fatima, a young Afghan woman who escaped the war in her country along with her husband and young son, I was all in!

Fatima and I get along extremely well, and we enjoy having the CC English curriculum as a guide for her to learn English. The books are well-written, and I am amazed at her speed in learning and her dedication to beginning a life in the United States. I like the style of teaching and the freedom to include my own style of interacting. We have developed a friendship in the process. I asked her to teach me Dari words so that I could also learn another language from her and that is a plus for both of us. She was delighted and we include that in our lessons. She uses her English to explain the words and I phonetically write them down.

I learned that Fatima is also an artist and draws beautiful pencil drawings. I asked her if she would teach me how to draw an eye. That was a wonderful class. She used her English along with her drawing skills to teach me. She surprised me with her first cat drawing that she created after meeting my cat online only a few times. Her husband delivered the drawing to my house and told me, “You have made Fatima very happy. She enjoys your class and likes you very much.” Then he hugged me. I assured him that I felt the same way. I likewise surprised her by knitting matching hats for her and her son. We move at Fatima’s pace and always include small talk throughout our class. She claims she is too shy to speak English outside of class and I encourage her to consider trying it out at her local Afghan restaurant where she feels comfortable.

I encourage anyone who has an interest in teaching English to an adult—while learning as much from them as we offer—to become a CC English volunteer. You don’t need to have a teaching background because the curriculum does it for you. Language helps us learn so much about culture, including our own as we investigate and explain our words to describe the world. Intercambio’s curriculum offers the opportunity to get to know someone who I would have likely never met. Teaching English is not something I ever considered doing but doing so and meeting Fatima at the same time has really enriched my life. I always look forward to our classes, to the fun we have, and to see her navigate and integrate in American society.

Interested in teaching English?

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