I spent the last few weeks of last year doing little else during working hours but eating. Or that’s how it feels anyway! Many of our Talking Together English courses came to an end in December, and as the Project Co-ordinator it’s part of my role to visit the final class of each course and hand out certificates to the learners.
We like to make these final classes a celebration of all the group has achieved and so many learners will bring in copious amounts of home cooked food as part of this celebration. As our learners come from a wide range of countries (including Bangladesh, Somalia, Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan), the range of food on offer has been incredible. Not only has the volume of food been astonishing, but also the quality is impressive. From homemade pakoras, biriyani, spring rolls and samosas to cupcakes that look like they could have been shop bought!
The final class is also a chance for the learners to say thank you to the volunteer who has taught and supported them over the past 12 classes. In some cases, the class have even grouped together to buy a gift for their teacher: flowers, chocolates, and even perfume. At a few classes I also received a gift including a plant which now sits beautifully on the windowsill next to my desk!
Their gratitude is also evident in the feedback that we get at this last class. Here’s a sample of what a few of our learners had to say about the course:
“I made new friends and I improved my English speaking.”
“I like English class. I think the 2 hours is too short because I enjoy the English. Because when I’m here, I’m not alone.”
“My confidence has grown since I came here.”
“I enjoyed learning. There is nothing I didn’t enjoy. I hope it’s more often.”
Despite the tremendous achievements of our learners and all the happiness that the celebration class brings, the last class of each course can also be a bittersweet occasion. At each class I am begged by the group to allow the class to continue and their limited English means it can be difficult to explain the limitations of our programme and why continuing the course indefinitely isn’t possible.
Whilst we always aim to refer learners to other courses, either formal classes at colleges or local informal conversation classes, the learners are often concerned about making this change. This can be due to childcare issues (all our classes take place during school hours and some provide creches for younger children), fears of attending classes in a formal environment - particularly for those who have never had formal education before - or concerns about travelling to unfamiliar areas.
This is why we have been trying to work with other ESOL providers to help break down these barriers and encourage learners to access other courses once they complete our programme. A particular success has been in Harrow where we invited the Head of ESOL at Harrow College to visit one of our classes at a primary school in the area. Due to the high number of learners who are keen to continue, the college can set up a higher-level course to start in February which will be delivered at the school! This will be an accredited course, held in a comfortable and familiar environment for the learners where they will be able to all continue learning together. A win win for all!