Reflections of a Longtime LETC Volunteer: Interview with Chris Frangione

Volunteer Chris Frangione recently took time to sit down with Ashley Lipps before his Monday evening advanced class. We thank Chris and hope that other volunteer teachers and tutors will step forward to share their experiences at Language ETC.

How long have you been volunteering at Language ETC?

It will be six years at the end of this term. I taught 3B a couple of times, but most of the time I’ve been teaching the advanced students.

If you ask me why I teach, probably the answer everyone wants to hear is because I like giving back, and I like helping other people, which is absolutely true. If I can do a little bit to help the students, especially because they’re so far away from home—if they’re willing to go to work all day and then come here for two hours every night, I feel like I can give up a couple of hours to help them. I get to learn about different cultures, and I’ve made some good friends that I hang out with outside of here. The advanced class is a bit unique because there’s nowhere for them to go, no higher level, so they repeat. Some students I have for a few years straight, and those students I’ve become personal friends with. I try my best to help them get jobs and whatever else they need. I do it because I like to help people, but I probably get a lot more out of it than they get out of me.

Have you seen any success stories?

Because I have the same students over and over, I’ve seen students get promotions. One of my students a couple of years ago, she came here by herself when she was 16, knowing not a single word of English. Now she’s the manager of a Chipotle. To some people it wouldn’t be a big deal, but she’s making a very good salary with good benefits, and she oversees a staff of 30 or 40 people. With other students I’ve had, I could just see them get a ton more confidence in the classroom. They’ll open up and start talking and start teaching the other students. One of the things I like about this level is that the students learn from each other as much as they learn from us teachers.

What do you like most about teaching at Language ETC?

My favorite part is meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and having great places in this world to visit because of my students. I went to Algeria with my wife a few years ago to visit a friend of hers who was there. One of my students was Algerian, and we ended up meeting her nephew and his wife in Algeria and hanging out. We went over with big suitcases full of baby clothes because her nephew had just had twins. So meeting new people and having those people in my life. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true.

What do you find challenging about teaching here?

The biggest challenge, I think, is being flexible. Every student learns a different way, and every student has a different level of formal education. Every culture learns a different way and thinks that different things are fun or not fun. Often we’ll have three or four hours of activities in our back pocket so that if one does fail, we can switch it up very quickly and substitute something that might be more successful. I think that’s the biggest challenge: getting them to respond and recognizing what they’re going to respond to. For example, my current class loves idioms, so we start every class with a worksheet on idioms. Students come in between 7:00 and 7:15 p.m., and we give them a worksheet at the very beginning. So as the other students straggle in, they’re doing something, and we’re not wasting their time.

I think this school is really impressive, and I think they’re doing great work. If I can help them be more successful, I try. My wife and I threw a fundraiser this summer, just to help a little bit.

Thanks so much to Chris for sharing his experience with us! Want to be interviewed for the blog? Contact Ashley Lipps.

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