Pair Spotlight: Janice and Mary

February 28th, 2018

Janice and Mary are wasting no time. The long time tutor and student pair crowd close over Mary’s composition journal, where she has written out sentences and Janice examines closely to check her grammar and spelling. Today Janice is breaking down the structure of sentences for Mary, helping Mary understand how to conjugate a verb depending on what the subject of the sentence is.

“You already told me the subject is ‘Amy.’ Am I ‘Amy?’ Are you ‘Amy?’ Who is ‘Amy?’” hints Janice.

Her careful student pauses and thinks. “Amy is ‘she,’” Mary proclaims. “Oh!” she adds as it comes to her. “’She’ is third person. So it is ‘Amy decides.’”

Janice smiles proudly, and the pair exchange a high five. “Yes. For third person you add an ‘s’ to the verb.” Janice laughs and leans into Mary, thanking her for her patience.

“I will tell you the truth,” Janice tells LCMC. “I love Mary. I want to teach the people who care about their jobs, and their future. Teaching is my passion, and I am lucky to have Mary.”

Janice, who also teaches Mandarin at a Taiwanese school in DC, is not exaggerating her love for teaching and for her students. “I had struggles with my language myself,” Janice explains, recalling her days as a graduate student at Virginia Tech after growing up in Taiwan. She becomes particularly animated recounting how she honed her own English by dedicating time every day to watching the TV news anchor in Charlottesville at the time, Bob Dalton. “Every day I would come home and watch him on the TV, and particularly I would pay attention to his pronunciation, the way he pronounced the words. And it really helped me get over my language obstacles.”

Now Janice has been tutoring Mary, from China, in English for several years. During the Cultural Revolution in China, Mary was unable to continue with traditional schooling, as she did not come from a wealthy family. After arriving in the United States, for years, Mary worked at a grocery store in Gaithersburg, making the salads for the lunchtime crowd, but knew for herself she had more potential if she could just communicate with English-speakers better. In her time working with Janice, she echoes a sentiment so many LCMC students describe – the feeling of wanting to give back. “I go to the Chinese Senior Center, and they have trouble with English too. I want to be like Janice, and be their tutor,” Mary explains.

Even more, Mary tells us, “My dream is, ‘how can I speak to everyone about anything?’”

Today, more than three years after they were paired as student and tutor, Mary and Janice are still working on perfecting the rules of the English language. As LCMC’s Executive Director, Gabe Martinez Cabrera, snaps a few photos, Janice reads over sentences Mary wrote as homework to practice using the singular versus the plural correctly. Janice reads aloud, “Men are stronger than woman.” Before she can turn to Mary to work through the correction, she chuckles and turns to Gabe. “I don’t know, Gabe, do you agree, men are stronger than women?”

Wisely, Gabe laughs and responds, “Not always. Very rarely, actually, I’ve learned.” Mary’s listening comprehension shines as she follows not just his answer but his sense of humor, and she and her tutor erupt into good-natured laughter.

Janice’s energy and Mary’s trust in her teacher make for enjoyable lessons every week, with jokes between the two of them and plenty of high-fives. Janice credits Mary’s drive, and Mary credits Janice’s patience. After witnessing their lesson together, LCMC would most definitely credit both.

Summing up the overwhelming feeling in the room as Mary triumphantly makes corrections to her homework and more high-fives are shared, Janice says, “I keep telling everyone, the friends around me, teaching is so fulfilling. You are helping the next generation. If you see, the happy face of Mary, reading her journal because she wrote her sentences with her English, you see her dreams coming true.”

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