The Joy of Teaching English

Teaching English as a Foreign Language-that’s how it all began for me twenty years ago. After having grown up in Canada and then finishing university, I decided to return to my “homeland” in Italy for a “short” period of time. So my last year in Canada was dedicated to preparing myself as a TEFL teacher. It was during the course that I realized how much I loved teaching, and the confirmation of this came a year later when I moved to Italy and actually began my new job. The “short” period turned into 20 years of teaching in private schools at first, then small companies, and bigger ones, elementary schools, after school programs, high schools, adult training centers, and third age university associations. Actually, the list goes on, but as I make this list my smile gets wider and wider because I have loved every single minute of it.

I’ve realized though, that it’s not TEFL anymore, that is, it’s not teaching English as a foreign language. It’s teaching English as a second language, which is actually how you can look it up on Internet. English as a second language, as an important language, as a beautiful language. It’s funny, this year I haven’t been teaching because of health problems and I had to “give away” some of my courses. I received a call from one of my students a few weeks back and she told me that the course was going well but that no one this year has told her how beautiful English is. She told me that that’s the main idea I was able to get across to her and she needed me to repeat it. That’s where I think we as teachers have to begin. By transmitting the love of the language and the joy of teaching it. We have to love what we do and our students will feel that and as a result they will love learning from us and most of them will continue for a long time.

There have been difficult moments as well, for example in the beginning as a teacher I was sent to businesses where employees were obligated to learn English for their jobs. Some weren’t happy about this. Other times when students would begin a course within a large group and feel intimidated by others who spoke more fluently than they did. Some lessons went well, others went terribly-especially in the beginning years. These were all learning experiences for me. There were moments when I thought I was a terrible teacher and others when I left the classroom feeling wonderful. That’s a bit like life, though. You learn from the bad experiences but you also learn from the good ones. At this moment, I feel like I’m ready to share what I’ve learned in the hopes of helping those teachers who have just begun and who have moments where they feel like giving up.

Understanding the student’s reasons for wanting to learn the language. That’s where it starts. This can be in an individual lesson, in a small group or in a large group. Each person comes from a different background and has a unique personality. It takes a while to understand each student but it’s worth it. From that point on you as a teacher can work together with the student and make it a valuable experience. Learning as an adult, despite all the negativities that surround us can be very therapeutic. At times I notice how some students’ mood change from the beginning of the lesson to the end. Realizing that you can still learn something as an adult makes you feel alive and gives you that boost of adrenaline that can even help in facing daily life. I find it amazing when students do everything they can to get a bit of homework done (some actually ask me for homework!) or when they ask me to lengthen the courses or even ask  how soon the next course will begin.

On the other hand, when I find myself in front of a student who is obligated to study English for work, I do my best to make the student see the importance of the language outside of work. I try to make the experience as fun as possible. The same goes for the large groups of students who are studying to pass the First Certificate Exam in high schools. Preparation for an exam may sound boring but by using language games and adding them as an essential part of each lesson can be rewarding and fun for the students.

Games, songs, picture dictations, debates…..the list goes on and on. There is a lot of material on Internet for those who aren’t creative or who just don’t have much time to prepare lessons. I keep a notebook of what works and what doesn’t. The most important thing to remember is that the students count on you, the teacher. Children can get used to changing teachers many times, but adults create a bond with their teacher that can be very special. We have to remember that. No matter what we teach, how we teach or whether the lesson turns out well or not, we have to put our hearts into it and the lesson will be a success in any case.

In my future entries, I will note down some games and activities that have worked really well for me. Sharing ideas among teachers can be really helpful; it always has been for me and I love learning from other teachers.

That’s all for today…..happy teaching to all J

Sandra Manzone (Italy)