Melody Ruddell believes it was meant to be that she ended up at Prestige Learning Institute teaching English as a second language in Bellaire, Texas. As an instructor, she takes time to listen to the 20 women she teaches, who come from five different countries, to understand their cultures, and connect with them on a personal level.
“It is an honor that they trust me with these parts of their lives,” Melody said.
Meet Melody Ruddell.
ProLiteracy: How long have you worked with Prestige Learning Institute?
Melody Ruddell: I have worked with PLI for just over two years.
PL: Why did you decide to start working with Prestige Learning Institute?
MR: I have a degree in English education, and I taught high school English for several years before moving into the corporate world, but teaching ESL was always something that was in my heart. I started volunteering with an ESL ministry at my church, and I loved getting to teach my students English, but I loved being able to build relationships with them and invest in their lives even more. Then, in early 2021, a company restructuring combined with a global pandemic left me without a job. In addition to my love for teaching ESL, God has also given me a heart to care for those who tend to be marginalized or overlooked by society. When I saw that PLI, an organization I had supported for years, was hiring, I felt like God was leading me to apply.
PL: What do you teach and in what setting?
MR: I teach English as a second language to a group of intermediate adult students at a nonprofit that serves a large refugee population. My class consists of 20 women—three from Eritrea, two from Pakistan, two from Ethiopia, one from Bangladesh, and 12 from Afghanistan.
About Your Experience
PL: What have you learned about yourself by working with your students?
MR: I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to make mistakes. Most of my students come from an honor/shame culture and want to get things right all the time. When I show them that I am far from perfect, it gives them more freedom to take risks and to be willing to get things wrong. I tell them all the time that we learn best from our mistakes.
PL: Tell us about a favorite/impactful/memorable teaching experience.
MR: I have so many, but there are a couple that stand out:
- I had a group of students that was together for two years, and when they first started attending my class, they tended to not interact as much with students who were not from the same country, or, in some cases, even with students who were from a different part of the same country. As they spent more time together, though, they became more like a family, and it was fun to see a lot of those barriers come down.
- I have a few students this year that are beginning their third year with me as their teacher. In the first week of class, when we talked about our goals for the year, one of the students, who tends to be quieter, said that she wanted to speak up in class more this year, and she has! I have loved watching her grow more confident and seeing her be willing to take risks.
PL: How do you keep students motivated?
MR: I don’t want to just be my students’ teacher; I also want to be their friend. I make them feel loved and welcomed when they come to class. I ask them about their families and what’s going on in their lives. God’s Word says to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. I have celebrated with my students over births of new babies, getting their U.S. citizenship, and their children’s birthdays, and I have grieved with them over health problems and deaths in their families. It is an honor that they trust me with these parts of their lives.
The Other Stuff
PL: Name someone who inspires you.
MR: My students inspire me. Many of them have left their families behind in countries that have been torn apart by war, and when they come here, without the support system they are used to, they bear the full responsibility of taking care of their children and their home while their husbands are working. And some of them even have jobs outside the home. In spite of all their responsibilities, they still make coming to class and studying English a priority because they know it will benefit them and their families.
PL: Where would you go on your dream vacation?
MR: Where wouldn’t I go? I love going to new places and experiencing different cultures, and there are so many I have yet to see!
PL: What is your favorite book of all time?
MR: My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. Even though there are some things I’ve found problematic with it in recent years, this quote has always stuck with me: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” One of my biggest strengths is that I am able to see things from multiple points of view, and it makes me more empathetic to the people around me. I hope and pray that I will always support and advocate for those who might not be able to advocate for themselves.
PL: What are you reading now?
MR: I wish I had something more poignant to share, but right now I’m reading books that are more for escape. I’m listening to the audiobook of Matthew Perry’s autobiography (though it’s become a lot sadder in recent days), and I’m reading the latest Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith.
Instructor Spotlight is a monthly feature on the ProLiteracy website and blog. Nominate an outstanding instructor from your program to be featured!