I was in the car today driving home after dropping my parents off and I had the radio on, listening to a talk radio show on CBC Radio. The show was a special follow-up to some of the investigative stories they had covered recently. One of the stories was about a 70-year-old man here in Canada whose wife was taken to the hospital and then on to palliative care before she passed away in October 2013. Shortly after that, he received a $5000 bill in the mail for the ambulance services since it wasn’t covered under insurance. For him, this was far too much. He couldn’t even pay the $30 per month minimum required by the province.
At this point, I was already thinking about how poorly we treat our elderly and how tragic it is that someone at this age can’t even afford to pay $30 per month. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. After his story aired on television back in early 2014, lots of people came forward to share their stories and to help pay off his debt. One story in particular really hit me hard (in a good way). He got an email from a person in Ontario who asked him to call her. He eventually did and wouldn’t you know it, she was an ESL teacher who was in the middle of class at the time he called. She answered and asked if she could put him on speaker phone so he could talk with the class and share his story with them. A week after that, he got a letter from this teacher and the rest of the class along with $100 toward paying his bills. I pretty much lost it right there (it’s hard to drive when tears are blurring your vision). He called back to thank them and got her in class once again, so he went back on speaker phone and talked with the class once again to thank them.
Before I get any further with this, if anyone knows who this teacher is and/or the class, I would love to know.
I loved this story for obvious reasons, but it really struck me how important it is to involve our students in difficult issues outside of the classroom. This is a perfect example of how critical pedagogy connects with the language classroom. Not only did this teacher give her students exposure to authentic language in context, but it helped these students, who I am guessing are settling in Canada, connect with their community. This man was so touched by their kindness, he went on to say that he was moved by the generosity of Canadians, not immigrants. He identified WITH these people who are often seen for their differences. That teacher didn’t just make a difference for her students, she made a difference in the life of this man as well.
There is a lot of discussion about what our role as teachers are in the language classroom. Are we just there to teach grammar, vocabulary, and so on? I certainly hope not. I work with a number of teachers who go above and beyond for their students and don’t get the recognition they deserve. In the case of this teacher in Ontario, she heard this story, reached out to this man, and then let the rest just happen. I don’t know what when on in the classroom before and after his initial phone call, but I would like to think she made that connection between the classroom and her community, the language and society.
I don’t really have a really profound point to this post other than I wanted to honour this teacher and this class for making a real difference, all while learning a language.