Billie and Dave Kull are a retired couple who are in their second year of teaching in the English Language + Literacy Program (EL+LP) at LearningWorks. When they moved to Portland from Arizona a few years ago, they began looking for volunteer opportunities. They had a long history of collaborating on projects, so they wanted to do something together and were interested in serving their community utilizing their areas of expertise. They found LearningWorks.
Billie’s background is in teaching—you can see this in her natural command of the classroom. She taught 2nd up to 6th grade during her career in New York, while Dave’s professional career was in writing and tech consulting. For their first year volunteering with EL+LP, they taught a semester of English language classes as well as serving as one-on-one tutors for multiple English language learners. This year they took on the task of co-teaching our new “Culture and Conversation” classes at the advanced level. Billie says that it has been a challenge, but a good one.
Billie and Dave enjoy taking on this challenge together, learning how to teach adults and how to communicate with people who don't share a common language. They also enjoy meeting people from all over the world and watching their students work together and support each other. As Billie says, it’s inspiring to watch people with no car, financial struggles, no local family and an inability to fluently communicate or read the signs in their neighborhood to persist, as her students do. “They really try and they stay so positive. I have great admiration for people with that kind of drive and desire. If I can help them, that’s meaningful to me.”
Billie and Dave do help. Apart from teaching English conversation skills, they also teach their students about everything from local holiday traditions to searching for jobs. Several students from their class, along with family and friends, recently went on an outing to a Maine Red Claws game to have some fun and to connect as a group. Later this year, they plan to teach a unit on financial literacy. From the happy buzz that emits from their classroom, it’s easy to see that they are building community. “We’ve learned as much as they have,” says Billie. “It’s been very educational.”
Moving forward, Billie and Dave hope to continue to learn more and to build the skills necessary to teach these kinds of classes. They explain that it’s a learning process to know when you are moving too fast or building on language at a good rate. They work together— Billie takes on the task of creating lesson plans and leading discussions. Dave helps by queuing up photos and videos to help illustrate an idea or by clarifying questions as they come up. They're an amazing team.
Culture and Conversation classes are in their first year at LearningWorks. EL+LP has shifted its focus away from traditional academic reading and writing tasks and towards developing conversational skills after discovering that this service was in high demand in Portland. The classes also aim to help integrate new Mainers into local culture and introduce them to resources that can help them acclimate to their new lives. The hope is that students not only walk away with language skills, but also the confidence and connections needed to build rich social and professional lives. The laughter and smiles that trail out of the classroom show that Billie and Dave are not only teaching English—they are helping build a community of learning we all feel lucky to be a part of.
Photo courtesy of www.hilaryanncampbell.com