My mum was a chemistry teacher and within years I observed how much time and effort it cost her. So I was resisting as much as I could.
And then it got me. I must have carried it in my genes the entire time. One day I simply knew, I am going to be a teacher.
But one thing is what the destiny has planned for you and a completely another thing is how you get around to it. I knew that this is what I would do but… somehow I didn´t know what I was doing. My first attempts were a complete disaster!! So, on the one hand I felt that this is the only thing I could be doing in my life and on the other hand I knew that I sucked at it. Big time:)
And here is the story of how I fought with myself to overcome my limits and become an English teacher who loves her job and loves her students.
Why my first classes were such a dramatic and negative experience? Cause I started to teach without any knowledge of what teaching was. I studied English Philology so obviously one of my subjects was ´teaching methodology´. I can assure you, it was as boring as it sounds. Learning about what seemed to be obvious didn´t make me appreciate the experience, knowledge and ideas the lecturers were trying to share. And let´s be honest – lectures and theories were the last things on my mind during the class on Friday afternoon.
So what I did was just going with the flow and thinking that it can´t be that hard – if others could do it why wouldn´t I be able to nail it. Quite a modest approach, I know. Imagine my surprise when after couple of months of my disastrous classes at the University of Third Age´ I realized that not only weren´t my students advancing but also they weren´t actually enjoying my classes as much as I thought they should.
What I did was, repeating all the mistakes I had observed while being taught in the past, plus committing some new my very own ones.
I used to spend class after class doing grammar exercises with my basic level students, because of course I thought that they wouldn´t be able to have a conversation, since their level was so low. To make the classes ´even more interesting ‘I invented a warm-up activity in which I wrote a very cliché proverb or a line from a song about life and explained the grammar using it (even if it was passive voice or second conditional…) Jeez, what was I thinking??
I think it was the lack of enjoyment and boredom that I saw on their faces that hit me and disappointed me the most. And I felt ridiculous and embarrassed that I made people yawn with boredom.
And then I thought that if this is really what I am supposed to do then I have to change. And I understood what my problem was – I was afraid to do something different. I expected my former teachers to entertain me and keep me interested but while I was standing in front of the class I was hiding behind the old and boring method, cause it was the only one that I knew. And then I forced myself to open up and experiment. I thought of all the things that I hated about my classes and tried to delete them from my lesson planning and added as firsts the things that I thought were impossible.
And this is what I´ve learnt:
• Speaking is possible at any level,
• Not overwhelming my students with too much theory, just the necessary basics. Who cares if they don´t know the name of the grammar tense they´re using as long as they´re using it.
• They don´t have to be perfect. Who cares if they sometimes forget about the 3rd person ´s´ when they tell me about their friend´s daily routines – I know they know it and eventually they´ll get it right but what is important that they can actually TELL ME ABOUT THEIR FRIEND´S DAY and that I GET WHAT THEY´RE SAYING.
I try to make them feel that anything they´re saying is extremely interesting to me, even if it´s just a simple thing like brushing their teeth after breakfast – at basic levels – or when they tell me about economy, machines, labs– at higher levels. I discovered that when people feel that others listen to them they are willing to tell you even more. Adults very often try to limit what they´re saying to the necessary minimum cause they think that in this way they will make fewer mistakes. However, once they stop feeling that you are fishing for mistakes, they open up because they see that you are interested.
Having a class with an adult is not that much different from meeting a new person in everyday situations. Sometimes you just click and instantly you know what kind of person you´re dealing with but sometimes it takes time. Therefore, I try different types of activities and check how far I can go, how relaxed and at ease they can feel with me. I love when my students trust me and allow me to do any activity I have prepared without feeling silly or out of place. But I can only do that if I myself feel comfortable with the activity I´m suggesting. And I am not the most outgoing person… I´m sometimes ´socially awkward´ and often I´m even proud of it:)
But classroom is different. I´m in charge there so all my limitations just disappear and I try to make my students get rid of their awkwardness and stress. We have to remember that their situation is more complicated as they are required to suddenly show that they are not perfect, that they make mistakes and have difficulties understanding.
It happened to me quite a lot of times that I was skeptical about some speaking activity because I was afraid they would not want to do it or I would not have the energy and cheerful attitude to encourage them and that it would just be weird. And then I made myself do it and I loved it! And the most important – they loved it! Obviously, not every idea can be a hit but the important thing is to try new things and never give up!
Here I am going to quote Sandra (our lovely Italian/Canadian teacher) who once said that adults create a bond with their teachers that can be very special. There are exceptions to each rule but from my own experience I can say that most of my adult classes have been such a great experience because we simply get along. This is essential cause it doesn´t matter how long the class is, this is the time I spend with them so it has to be pleasure. I think of a person I like to spend my time with and I balance between being serious and strict (cause oh my! that´s necessary sometimes) and joking around (sense of humour is one of the musts in my class).
I don´t think I will ever get bored of teaching cause each class is different and each of my student is different , thereforeI am different with each and every single one of them. I evolve as a teacher, they evolve as ESL students and that is what this is all about.
JOANNA (Spanish team)