Training for Community Volunteers Teaching English to Newcomers

The Cause

Since 2003, CCI-LEX has been supporting newcomers and building community connections with its English language programs and emphasis on cultural exchange.

At the time of the Syrian refugee crisis, CCI-LEX was an active participant in meetings with the Syrian Stakeholder group, as well as the Edmonton Local Immigration Partnership (ELIP). Through this, we realized that a key challenge lay in the lack of training/support and lack of resources for community-based volunteers teaching ESL to newcomers.

With CCI-LEX’s extensive background and expertise in supporting untrained ESL volunteer teachers, as well as in creating curriculum and lesson materials for use by volunteers, the BEL Program (Basic English Language) – ESL in the Community was born. The idea was that CCI-LEX could support those working at the grassroots level, and who were helping newcomers that traditional programs could not.

Over the past year, CCI-LEX has developed, refined, and delivered a training workshop to casual and untrained volunteers and teachers teaching ESL to newcomers in their local communities. These workshops provide basic teaching tips, inter-cultural competency, and easy-to-follow, ready-to-go lesson outlines with identified teaching resources. The identification of teaching resources is important, as it can be overwhelming for an untrained teacher to identify appropriate materials from countless offerings on the internet or in libraries and to structure a logical lesson.

We have been repeatedly told that these workshops are filling a long-standing gap in the settlement landscape. Specifically, survey results show that 60% of the community teachers who participated in our workshops had not received any training prior to attending our workshop, further, only 18% had attended a formal orientation or workshop prior to teaching ESL to newcomers. This demonstrates our success at targeting those who are most in need of training.

In June 2018, pilot funding for this program runs out. We are looking for support to continue offering this valuable workshop, as well as offer new opportunities to meet participants’ needs. We hope to build a community of practice where volunteers can get further training, find out about community resources, and share their experiences. We believe with the core materials and introductory workshop well-established, we can continue to offer this as well as new opportunities on a small budget.

Who Will it Benefit?

As for the demographic that will benefit, the participants of our workshops are the direct beneficiary. Past participants have been private sponsors of refugees, members of faith-based organizations, ethno-cultural groups, and volunteers from community organizations that do not have limited to no support from TESL professionals. We see seniors, working professionals from a range of backgrounds, and individuals that are immigrants themselves, The common theme is that they are casual teachers or volunteers that are teaching English to newcomers to Canada that as noted above have little to no training and are receiving little support. Our workshop provides practical skills, tips, and resources for these individuals to be more confident and have more productive, successful lessons, and this also hopefully leads to longer periods of service in helping newcomers.

An incredibly important component to consider, is that aside from the workshop participants themselves, our workshops and training also benefit newcomers. The majority of past participants are teaching groups of learners, not just one individual. In addition, they are typically teaching newcomers that cannot access traditional learning programs.

We particularly have served and hope to continue serving those English language learners who face barriers that prevent them to access larger, structured programs, and instead are being supported by community-based organizations neighbors, private refugee sponsors, or faith-based organizations. These barriers may include access to childcare, access to education, jobs that entail shift-work (often at bare subsistence levels and minimum wage), fear of venturing too far from home, cultural adjustment challenges, and many more. Simply put, we believe that encountering these barriers should not reduce the quality of instruction experienced by learners, and are building a robust community teacher support system to address this issue.