F* shares why he is serving as an English teacher on an Indian Ocean Island.
My students look nonplussed. One checks her phone. Several narrow their eyes in confusion. “Teacher,” one says, “I don’t understand.” So, for the umpteenth time, I labour to explain the uses of the present perfect tense in English. If you don’t know what the present perfect tense is, you probably don’t need to, as you’re a native English speaker. Foreign students globally will be keenly trying to understand and use it as they learn to speak English. “At least he said he didn’t understand in English,” I strain for positives as I wrack my brains for different ways to explain it.
Where are you?
That’s a question we can’t really answer for security reasons. These islands in the Indian Ocean are strongly influenced by Islam. Open proclamation of the gospel invites opposition for our missionaries, and conversion to Christianity can bring persecution for locals.
Connecting with people
It’s a typical experience in the classroom to see students misunderstanding. But there are successes too. They work hard to improve. They pass exams. They go on to use their English elsewhere. The best thing though is that from very early on you discover things about your students. Factually you teach them to tell you about their families, their jobs. You observe their personalities and whether they like to show off or fade into the background. They get to know you too: your personality, your teaching style, your life.
We share in our students’ joys and pain. A young man tells me he is engaged. A lady explains to us how her son was taken to another island when her husband divorced her. A young girl expresses her frustrations that her parents are forcing her to curtail her education so she can marry a much older man. Another student, his desire to study engineering abroad. Not all of this is expressed in English, but it is
“…we find ourselves as trusted confidants in the lives of these people…”
because of those relationships forged on the platform of English teaching that we find ourselves as trusted confidants in the lives of these people, standing with them in these key milestones in their lives, ready to help where we can, to love them and to try to share the hope that we have with them.
And that’s why we do it. Not because teaching the various uses of the present perfect tense are inherently important, not even because we hope it will serve these people well in the future and give them opportunities to travel, study and work abroad. We do it because it opens doors to share life with people, to interact closely with them and, in doing so, share our most precious possession, the gospel of Jesus.
*name hidden for security reasons