Student Stories

I Teach, You Teach, He Teaches...

Welcome to the next installment in our Summer Postcards series! We’re asking our students what they’re up to and how they’re making the most of this summer. Today we’re checking in with Nicolas Duque, who has spent the summer teaching English in Hong Kong.

-Jessen O’Brien and Susie Allen

If my summer with SummerBridge Hong Kong has taught me anything, it is that teaching is serious, difficult, and undeniably rewarding work.  Whether it’s getting up at 6:00 am to beat the kids to school on the other side of the city or staying up until midnight preparing lesson plans and class materials, working in an English immersion camp is a 24-hour job—one that I don’t regret for a second.

Before coming to teach at SummerBridge, I had just barely looked into teaching. I had tutored lower school students in high school and taught two classes with Cascade, a weekly University of Chicago teaching program for local middle school students. This program, while sharing Cascade’s desire to promote a love for learning and a strong emphasis on teaching socio-economically disadvantaged students, has proven to be radically different than any other teaching experience I have had. The students, the teachers, and the program’s student-centered teaching ethos have all contributed to make this experience my most remarkable summer yet.SummerBridge truly brings out the best in its students. Despite being taught as a core subject in Hong Kong, English remains an elusive skill for most students. They study in a system where harsh test scores drive the market, limiting speaking and listening exercises for more easily testable writing and reading skills. Unfortunately, the result is a set of students which has a great understanding of grammar, but which is shy to speak and often seems to have a limited vocabulary. While in some programs this perception may be their entire English experience, in others like SummerBridge many students are really able to explore English as a language. Here, they build confidence and actual communication skills, making them love rather than dread English.

My first day, Student Orientation, we teachers had 20 minutes to interact with each of our two classes and an hour to talk to them as a whole. In that entire time, I think it would be an exaggeration to say that a third of the students spoke once, even if only to say “yes” or “no.” A week and half later, nearly every student eagerly participates and volunteers, not only to read and write, but also to speak. Seeing these students build a sense of community and then find within that community the encouragement needed to grasp a hold of a new language inspires even the most cynical of people. The trust, respect, and gratitude placed on your shoulders transform you, wiping any foul mood or early-morning weariness.

On one of my hardest days so far on the job, I felt unprepared to teach having spent most of the night before arranging that Friday’s big field trip.   I’d gotten little to no sleep, and, surprisingly, the students seemed even more tired than I was. However, as I walked into our morning assembly, my most quiet, reluctant, and disinterested student walked up to me and gave me her homework from the previous night, her first original poem. This poem ended with the following couplet: “Tiffany is lucky, / to be in the SB Family.” Simple, direct, honest.

As I said before, the students truly shape and change your experience as a teacher. Despite their intermittent frustrating antics or occasional unwillingness to cooperate, they are undoubtedly the source of your most joyful moments as teacher. If you have any interest in education, challenging yourself, and cross-cultural understanding, then I recommend this job without hesitation. SummerBridge has, if nothing else, reinforced to me the importance of community and motivated me to continue teaching, perhaps as a career.