Cutter, a well-loved former Casa ESL teacher, recently left Texas for 2 years to travel to Colombia with the Peace Corps. We are very proud of Cutter and the positive change he is making in our world. Our ESL Coordinator asked Cutter a few questions about his experience volunteering at Casa Marianella, and we are pleased to share his insightful answers with you today!

What do you love about teaching ESL at Casa? 

More than anything else, I love the sense of community. At Casa, there’s not a division between students and teachers. As soon as you enter Casa, you are woven into Casa’s fabric. The class wants you to be there, they look forward to you being there. The students make this possible: they’re not only eager to learn English, but to learn about you and laugh with you. Many of them come to class after a long day’s work, but they’re eager to share in a vibrant atmosphere. This attitude is cultivated by the staff. Because they care so much about their residents, it frees the students to care about each other and invest in relationships. Even in the midst of traumatic journeys and pasts, the staff find a way to grow the hope in each resident, and build relationships with each other and with Austin.

How has the experience affected you? 

Of the many things I have learned, one of the most important is how to be a better team player. Each of my co-teachers are so wonderful in their own right, with their own unique skill sets and approaches, that I have learned how to lean on them instead of trying to do everything on my own. Knowing that Omar’s self-deprecating humor can bring out responses from even the shyest of residents, and knowing that Juan’s lively explanations can simplify challenging concepts not only pushes me to work more collaboratively in my class, but also pushes me to be a better teacher. There are few places where I have felt the Spirit’s movement as consistently as I have at Casa. Charity, generosity, and compassion fill each room, each conversation in a way that can’t help but point you to the existence of a higher power. For many God’s presence is just a concept, but because of Casa I have a visceral and abiding knowledge that God loves the people of the world, and that he shows his love through the love that we show others.

What are you most proud of in relation to your teaching?

I think my co-teachers and I take the most pride in lessons that bring out excitement in students. If we can find a lesson that draws out a willingness to share, we call that a good day. Our favorite lesson, one we repeat each term, is a hypothetical trip through the grocery store. We split the class into teams, who have to come up with examples of meats, vegetables, grains, etc. that they need to make their favorite food. Every time, we hear interesting responses: vegetables found only in Cameroon, meats from the street markets of Tegucigalpa, that we’ve never heard of before. Our students can take ownership over their culture and teach the class about their food. They take pride in being ambassadors of their culture, and we often go over time because students are so eager to tell each other about their favorite cuisine.

Any stories, anecdotes, or moments you’d like to share?

The best story has been seeing William’s English progression. When he first came to Casa, he wouldn’t speak in class. He would use the translator on his phone to search for words. About a month ago, Omar and I had a one on one class with William. Not only could he answer our responses in complete sentences, but he also made a few jokes! It was incredible to see the amount of progress that he’s made in the language in such a short time, and it’s all thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at Casa!

Thank you for you contributions to our residents and the immigrant community in Austin, Cutter!