ONE GIANT LEAP
Love of teaching leads ESOL instructor to China
By Carla Kucinski
GREENSBORO — Life is not linear. There are twists and turns as we zig zag through each day searching and wandering, losing and leaping.
For Dioni Wise, her life’s path became clearer this year when she chose to leap.
In January, Wise started her first teaching job as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) instructor at Guilford Technical Community College. She taught two classes Monday through Thursday for 10 hours a week, while working full time as an associate editor at Pace Communications in Greensboro and writing freelance articles on the side.
Like all things Wise commits to, she dove in to teaching. She expected it to be fun. (It was.) She expected it to be challenging. (It definitely was.) What she didn’t expect was to fall in love with teaching, and fall out of love with her day job.
“A lot of people, the way they learn about their passion is they moonlight in the evenings to see if this is something worth leaving your 9 to 5 for,” said Wise, 29 of Greensboro.
For Wise, it was more than worth it.
On Aug. 1, she left her 9 to 5 to pursue her passion and teach full time on a larger scale 7,000 miles away. She flies from Raleigh on Sept. 6 to start the next chapter in her journey teaching English to kids and teens in Guangzhou, China. Because of GTCC, Wise found her purpose.
“GTCC helped me pursue this passion,” she said. “It gave me real hands-on experience. It gave me mentorship. Without that hands-on experience, I would have never had the courage to say, ‘let me pack up everything and go.’ GTCC is crucial to this whole piece; it’s my launching pad.”
Helping others is innate in Wise. It comes from her grandmother, Flora, who just turned 87 in July. A constant in Wise’s life, she started taking Wise to church when she was a newborn. That’s where Wise learned about community and helping others. She tagged along with her grandmother delivering Thanksgiving baskets or working at the community pantry in her hometown of Kinston, N.C. Giving back to the community is second nature to her.
Wise realized early on that not only did she enjoy teaching, but she also was good at it. Her students cemented the experience. Their relationship was based on reciprocity; she learned from them as much as they learned from her.
“It was a beautiful relationship,” Wise said. “I was helping them; they were helping me. I felt like I was stumbling through things. … It was tiring but invigorating at the same time. I really felt like I was of service. My students could leave my class and go talk to someone. I loved that aspect.”
Her love of teaching continued to flourish. By February 29 — Leap Day, coincidentally — she started taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) online course through the International TEFL Academy in Chicago to become a certified instructor. Once she earned her certification and was offered a teaching job, she moved forward with her plan to teach abroad.
A week before her departure, there is still a lot left to do. Empty her apartment. Sell and donate her possessions. Repaint the walls. Pack. She says she’s not scared, “I’m confident.”
Wise is used to leaping.
“If I feel unhappy in one area of my life, I don’t hesitate to change it,” she said. “You only have one life to live. I could be stationary, but there’s so much of the world to see. And what I get from my students is amazing.”
From the first day of class, her students welcomed her with warmth. She genuinely wanted to know them and get a feel for what they wanted to learn. Did they need help with what to say at the bank, the doctor’s office, or the grocery store?
She built rapport by hosting potlucks in the classroom that brought everyone together. Each person shared cuisine from their culture. They told stories, shared opinions. She took them to chain restaurants like Chile’s and Applebee’s and Golden Corral to teach them how to order and what a buffet is, simple things that Wise says we take for granted.
“I taught them restaurant etiquette, things that we think are so little, but it’s so big to them,” she said. “When you’re a native English speaker, you don’t think about what you’re saying; you just know this is the construct; this is the rule.”
Teaching ESOL was an eye-opening experience for Wise, she said. It gave her the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world. One of her classes had students from Congo, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Columbia, Brazil and Italy. “We had the entire globe in my class,” she said. Going into it, she knew she had knowledge to share; but she didn’t expect to grow and to learn alongside her students.
“I underestimated the amount that they would pour into me. … I learned a lot about gratitude, and where some people are from they don’t have as much,” she said. “… I was grateful that they kept coming back to class. They have kids, they have jobs or they may not have jobs. … Both of us had to come to the table to make this thing work.”
Teaching ESOL also reminded her that although we may have differences, we share commonalities.
“We all like to eat. We like to laugh and go on adventures. We all love. It makes me appreciate all of the similarities we have,” Wise said. “It’s a circle that shouldn’t be broken. People, they teach you stuff, and it’s only right that you teach others.”
Saying goodbye to her students at GTCC was bittersweet. They surprised her with pizza and a beautiful card. They gave her a journal and little trinkets. They took selfies together.
“It was a little bit sad, but it was really joyful,” Wise said. “I left on a good note. I felt like my students were going to be OK. And they just really wanted me to go for it.”
They told her: “You can do it, Teacher.”
And she will.
Aug. 26, 2016