My Most Memorable
by James Parmelee, founder of TEXT-AND-TALK Academy
High School bound Kornvit used to vomit
after just about five minutes into each new lesson!
In all of my years of teaching EFL/ESL, I have probably had more than my fair share of happy and rewarding teaching experiences – which, though they don't occur all the time in an obvious way, are what make our jobs not just a means of making a living, but also a source of spiritual enrichment. And that counts, for those of us who have devoted our lives to doing something we believe in, namely imparting the gift of English to persons of other nations who need and want it.
The teaching experience (or rather the experience that resulted from my teaching) that stands out most in my memory as rewarding occurred several years before I founded TEXT-AND-TALK Academy, and quite some time before we developed our own popular TEFL course.
For four months, I made my way through heavy traffic to reach the home of a very wealthy family, whose son, I will call Kornvit (pronounced 'Gawn-wit'), was scheduled to begin attending high school in the United States from the fall of that year.
The house was like a mansion, prestigious but not gauchely new (as the 'Super Rich' might say), which sat on the right as one entered the gate of a large compound. The latter included, besides maids' quarters and pens and coops for various animals, a running area for several dogs and a smaller house to the left of it, in which the 'victim' of my English lessons was to be taught privately by me for a period of one and a-half hours each weekday.
I say 'victim' because poor Kornvit, age 15, not only spoke no English (despite extensive teaching of the subject at school), but seemed to be lacking in all but the most rudimentary knowledge of English vocabulary, grammar and structure – and now, in just four short months, he and I were to achieve the miracle of getting him ready to compete with American high school students of his own age. God help us both! (Of course, I silently sympathized with the boy for being under this pressure, but was aware that a lot of other Thai kids, as well as seasoned teachers, have had assignments like this thrust upon them by obdurate parents. There was no way out, as kids would always subject themselves to their parents' wishes, and parents would always procure a teacher who was willing – and, one could only hope, able – to achieve their target objective.)
As it turned out, though, Kornvit was a bright kid after all, and appeared to learn quite a lot despite the fact that most of the 'homework' I assigned to him was either not done or turned in late.
Kornvit was, without doubt, 'expected' by his dad to succeed in his studies, and each day would excuse himself to go into the toilet and vomit after just about five minutes into a new lesson! He never complained, however, and fully understood the need to learn each part of the 'course' that I was teaching him.
These parts consisted not only of practice conversations incorporating 'normal' American teenage usage and slang (to help him fit in with his peers), but also the type of 'proper' English which he would need to use in more formal situations, such as in talking with teachers.
To underpin all of this with the vital basics, a virtual 'book' of vocabulary and word building instruction and exercises, along with basic grammar and structural information and reading comprehension and writing practice work, was developed by me in order to help Kornvit (and his father!) achieve his special objective. No existing book would have sufficed for such a four-month crash course.
Kornvit progessed rapidly, though he continued to vomit at the beginning of each lesson – after each session of which the best I could do was teach with kindness and act like nothing had happened. After class, however, we were just friends, playing with the family's dogs.
Having reached the end of my 'semester' with him, I was duly thanked and rewarded by both Kornvit and his father, and I left their house a final time not knowing if I had achieved a lot of good, or a lot of harm, or maybe just nothing at all.
Not long thereafter, I took a full-time teaching position with ELS International, in which I taught both conversation and reading, as well as writing, classes. I was enjoying this teaching work when one day after about 10 months of time had passed by, I was quite startled – as who should walk right in and interrupt my lesson planning efforts but my old student Kornvit himself!
Kornwit, who had enrolled in a course at ELSI to keep up with his English while on summer vacation, marched straight over to me and hugged me as tightly as anyone had ever done in my life. He then said, in absolutely perfect American English, "Acharn James, thank you, thank you so much for your teaching! I needed everything you taught me, and I am doing very well in school!" He then hugged me again.
Well, I've been hugged a lot in my life, and I especially love getting hugs from my wife, my daughter and my son – but never in my life have I had a hug like that, before or since, which made me actually want to cry, so happy was I for my former student!