Low and Slow

At the beginning of another year volunteer Sarah Appleton reflects on what working as a volunteer teacher with Hope English School has taught her. 

The last lesson of term in the class I’d been helping at was really special. We handed out certificates and asked the ladies what they’d learnt. Their responses were beautiful and encouraging. Saira* recounted excitedly how she had been able to order coffee on a trip to York, whilst one of the other students told us how Hajra*, one of the absolute beginners who I taught, now was able to introduce herself and have a basic conversation.

It was really amazing during the term to see the women’s enthusiasm and dedication to learning. The four ladies that I taught regularly asked me to record the vocabulary from that week’s lesson on their phones so that they could listen to it at home, and one of my favourite moments was coming into class and seeing Hajra* spelling out-loud the writing on her mug.


I’ve been really touched by how much these ladies valued the lessons, and building relationship with them over the ten weeks was really special. One of my favourite moments of term was when one of my students, Maria* came into class and said something to the other ladies. They translated it to me:

“that’s my teacher, she is really nice. I like her a lot”.

This was a real breakthrough moment, as up to then I’d been seriously doubting whether my teaching was actually making any difference to them!

But I realised that just as important as my ability as a teacher is my ability to love and honour my students. To smile at them, to haltingly repeat after them as they tried to teach me Arabic in return, to recognise that these amazing ladies have a story and experience which, at 22, I cannot even dream of!

One of my favourite sayings is ‘go low and slow’. Prioritise relationship. Don’t go in thinking you know everything, but approach people aware of the richness of what they have to offer.

In our final lesson, after handing our certificates, we shared food together, which the ladies had prepared. We sat and ate together as friends, sharing each other’s’ cultures and enjoying being with one another.

For me, teaching these ladies was truly humbling; seeing their gratitude to the little that I have to offer, and their enthusiasm for what we can so often take for granted has made me realise the privilege it is to be part of Hope English School.

I have learnt that we should never go into anything seeing only our agenda, but we need to recognise and value where people are coming from, to listen to their stories, to recognise their wealth of knowledge and experience and to love, honour and respect them.

As we start up for a new term, I’m excited to see new relationships built, new stories shared, and more people come to know honour and respect as we go into our classes ready to love and listen.

Why not consider being like Sarah and joining the Hope English School Team?