Volunteer Voices - Home tutoring, a chance to connect. Martin Genet, English Language Partners.

A photo of Martin, a tutor, sitting next to a client who is pointing to a teaching resource

Story and photo by Angela Reid

A few minutes into a chat with Martin Genet about his volunteer work, he’s pulling out his
cellphone — he wants to tell me about a message he’s received. It’s from the first man he
tutored through English Language Partners.

“This is really nice,” Martin says as he searches for the text from the man to whom he taught
English for nearly four years. “I’m really looking forward to this. He said he wants me to
come along to his citizenship ceremony… So that will be a big moment for him.”

Martin (pictured above, right) has been volunteering with English Language Partners (ELP)
since 2016. He’s one of about 37 volunteer home tutors in Dunedin providing one-to-one
English lessons in their student’s own home.

The students, or “adult learners” as ELP calls them, are migrants or former refugees. They
may be new to the language or at a more intermediate or advanced level.

“It’s quite addictive, really,” Martin says. “I think the satisfaction of actually seeing people
learn and grasp skills is immeasurable.”

Being an ELP home tutor goes beyond the English language though. Connection’s what it’s
all about, Martin says. In some ways, he says, a tutor almost becomes a member of the family.
He’s stayed in contact with his second adult learner too and doubts they’ll ever lose touch.
Martin’s been working with his third adult learner for about four months. Martin seems to
have an appreciation of, and empathy for, what it’s been like for all of his adult learners.

Although he has a professional teaching background, he’s become a pupil himself, learning
about different cultures and realising a few things about his own.

“They can talk about it [their life experience] but I can only imagine what it’s really like to
uproot from one culture, the pain of uprooting from one culture and then sort of
transplanting to another one and becoming established,” he says.

Martin says learning English helps migrants and former refugees integrate into the
community and gives them confidence. This in turn improves their wellbeing and that of their
neighbourhood and community.

ELP helps them do this by offering a range of online and in-person group classes too. The
classes are tailored for different levels and specific needs: some focus on developing English
skills for everyday social and civic life, others cover English used for jobseeking, workplace
and professional situations.

Martin’s been voluntarily helping with a beginners ESOL (English for Speakers of Other
Languages) literacy class for about four years. The class involves a combination of whole-class
teaching, led by tutor Catherine, and small group work which allows Martin to focus on three
or four people. Small-group teaching requires different skills to one-to-one tutoring, he says,
and the classroom’s mixed-teaching approach suits him.

“I can basically use the techniques and the methods that I’ve been taught how to use, the
knowledge I’ve acquired over the years.”

Martin spent about eight years supporting adults at a community college in London, teaching
them reading and writing. He returned to his hometown of Christchurch to care for his father
before moving to Dunedin after the 2011 earthquake.

“I saw an ad in the Star [Dunedin community newspaper] looking for volunteers, and I
thought it suited me because I thought ‘I don’t really want to go into the job professionally
anymore. Volunteering sounds like a good way to keep my toe in teaching'.”

While Martin has a teaching background, ELP welcomes anyone interested in volunteering as
a tutor. The volunteers do not need to have any teaching qualifications or experience, just an
interest in helping adults develop their English skills.

Volunteers also need to be open to learning about other cultures and prepared to commit to
home visits. Martin visits his current adult learner once a week for about 90 minutes.

ELP provides “excellent” training and support, he says. They train volunteers for the NZQA-
approved Certificate in ESOL Home Tutoring, which involves attending training sessions
and independent study followed by a practical tutoring project. Martin says he “learnt a lot”
from the course.

Once the volunteers have been trained up, they’re matched with an adult learner. They’ll also
have access to ELP’s resource library from which they can borrow books, activities, games
and audio-visual resources for their tutoring sessions.

Martin believes anyone can teach: they just need enthusiasm, an interest in people, and the
desire to help others learn. Teaching’s a way of actively serving the community, which
contributes to happiness, he says.

He mentions a few traits that contribute to successful tutoring. One is patience, another is
kindness. There’s also the ability to get on with people. And then there’s the “comfort factor”.
“It’s trust, I suppose,” he says. “Ensuring that they [the learner] are relaxed and comfortable.
That they feel confident to say that they don’t understand something — that’s important.
That they actually really do believe that they are learning.”

Martin says his ELP tutoring’s reinforced his belief in the importance and value of education.
“It’s given me a purpose. It’s given me fulfilment. And by imparting that, by teaching, I feel
fulfilled and they feel fulfilled so it’s mutual benefit. And by the fulfilment they gain, they have
a greater sense of wellbeing” which in turn enables them to improve the wellbeing of their
family, friends and community. “It’s applying that teaching to improve the society around
them, isn’t it?”

Learning’s a never-ending experience and no-one’s ever too old to learn, Martin says. He
readily admits he’s still learning himself and his learners keep him humble. For instance, they
may suggest other ways of doing things, he says.

And there’s one other thing Martin realises about ELP tutoring. It’s something that happens
on days when he’s feeling down or doesn’t feel like going to a lesson.

“But when I go, they always cheer you up — students cheer you up,” he says. “I don’t think
I’ve ever walked away from a lesson and not felt happier. Every single time.”

For more information or if you’d like to volunteer as an English Language Partners home tutor, get in touch and we’ll get you connected.