On one of my last days in Krosno, a warm but breezy June evening, I walked from the Rynek to the Lubatówka River, whose greenway I visited nearly every day during my four-month stay. This time, I encountered a student on the way.
At first I was a little concerned, because this student and I had sparred a bit during the semester in my Listening and Speaking class, over politics and social issues. I asked her about her final examinations and she said she’d done well, and then she thanked me.
At East Carolina University’s School of Communication, I teach classes in communication history, but I am not a trained ESL teacher. Krosno colleagues suggested texts and exercises, but I felt more comfortable finding my own topics for my students and then prodding them to talk. I showed videos about U.S. current events, from parents buying their children’s places at elite universities to a mother’s lament over her sons seeing women in yoga pants at church. I told my own stories and asked them to tell them back. My group of first- and third-year students performed segments of plays and stories. But I was afraid they were not getting what they needed.
I feared the same for my Global Understanding and Introduction to Communication classes. I had taught Global Understanding at ECU at Greenville, USA and knew it was best to prepare the students and then get out of their way, but it seemed this time around I had to get involved a good deal, and I doubted that a native speaker of English fumbling with technicalities both bureaucratic and technical was an enriching experience for the students. To teach Introduction to Communication, I had to reground myself in some ideas and principles learned long ago, but I also had to find a way to talk about communication in the most basic terms for my first-year students.
These challenges were made enjoyable, not just bearable, by a number of new friends and colleagues, and by many other gracious people in Krosno. First, of course, the officials at PWSZ, such as Rektor Grzegorz Przebinda and Director of the Institute of Humanities Bartosz Gołąbek, who welcomed and supported me. I also have to thank Władysław Witalisz and Władysław Chłopicki; each in his own way helped me to adapt and to thrive. Slawomir Pelczar provided invaluable assistence in countless ways. Each of my faculty colleagues deserves mention for making me feel welcome but Katarzyna Dziemian helped me find ways to reach students and she came to my rescue on several occasions. Thanks, too, to Jack Lala for helping me through the examination period.
Through all of these friends and colleagues I learned a great deal about the land of my ancestors. I discovered via online research that my grandmother was from Oswiecim and grandfather was from Uciechów, near Wrocław. More important, I learned a great deal about myself and my country in relation to the rest of the world, from friends and colleagues but also from students. Becoming more enlightened about life in Poland – life elsewhere in the world — has informed my teaching.
So I hope. But I told my occasionally quarrelsome student that I was concerned I had not provided the instruction she needed to succeed. “The exact opposite is the truth,” the student insisted firmly. She said experience with a native-speaker had helped her.
I was gratified to hear later that my second-year students performed well in exams, too. One of the great joys of teaching is seeing your students succeed, in class or after. I look forward to following the exploits of several Krosno students who choose to stay in touch.
Teaching at PWSZ in Krosno was a highlight of my career. It made me a better teacher and a better person