I allocated an hour to writing this post, and even after 12 hours of fruitless toil, I am none the wiser.
What should every EFL teacher know?
I have been trying to find the answer to this question for twenty years. I always believed that I knew what it was and then I lost it again and had to look for it anew. But now I have realised that this search was the answer.
I have no intention of mystifying the profession of teaching English. Like every profession it has its honest labourers, visionaries, dreamers and those who keep their heads down and go with the flow. However, I believe that few professionals have so much support as EFL teachers. This is a mixed blessing. Besides the obvious advantages, we have much less reason to complain than other teachers, and we have so much more to keep up with, and so many decisions to make.
I made the executive decision that I would share with you five things I think I know about teaching English right at this moment. Whether these are things you think you should know is a question only you can answer. (This post was influenced by Ken Wilson’s great post about things he thinks he knows.)
1. It’s a great to be a language teacher
Whatever you touch is your material. It can be a poster on the wall of your classroom, it can be a film you saw last night or the latest edtech gadget – it’s your choice. How you choose to use it determines whether it becomes dead weight or a real rollercoaster of an experience for you and your students.
Photo credit: Roberta Taylor
You can experiment with ideas, methods and tools without jeopardising the aim, because language learning is in everything. We have the luxury to experiment, we have the support of the competing publishers, who, for the hope of selling us a few more books, give us samples, training, conferences, etc.
2. Learning a language is hard work
Photo credit: SuperFantastic
No native speaker should teach English unless they can communicate in a foreign language. If you have never felt the frustration, anger, disappointment, elation, pleasure, gladness the smallest thing can invoke, how are you ever going to understand what your students are going though? How could you share their successes and help them when they are down if you never felt the same? This might seem a cheap target and yes, it’s true that you don’t need to have had heart surgery in order to be a good heart surgeon but the patient is anesthetised during heart surgery while teaching is like vivisection. Having that empathy helps understand the effort behind the smallest achievement and is humbling.
3. It’s all about you
Although many books and methodologies try to neuter the teacher and present language teaching as a set of rules and procedures, the minute you enter the classroom you will know that it is only you who can make the best of this.
Photo credit: bookgrl
It – definitely – does not mean that teaching is about you taking centre-stage and entertaining the crowds, but it is down to your sensitivity to see what works with whom, when, why and how. No one can teach you this from a book or a series of DVDs; it’s in the smell of the classroom and the eyes of your students.
4. No one knows better than you
Your situation is yours. Many will have opinions about it and many will envy you for it even if you think it’s the worst ever. There is always a worse situation or there are situations others would consider much worse than yours. Listen to these people’s opinions but never for a moment doubt your own feelings. Because even if you are wrong about it, those feelings will determine your success or failure, as these are always in your attitude. I believe that attitudes – much more than circumstances – determine the outcomes of a situation.
5. You are not alone
Working in n environment where everyone seems to be going the same way (or rather stagnating) and you sitting in a corner left alone is a feeling all too familiar to most English teachers. If you are reading this you probably don’ t need to be told but it is actually amazing how many like-minded professionals there are out there. You still have professional development courses where someone tells you what they think you need to know? Just stand up and leave. Or if you are less of an agent provocateur just turn on Tweetdeck on your iPhone and interact with your PLN. Investigate issues you want to understand, learn about tools you want to use in your own way with your own students for their own learning.
For me this has been the greatest revelation recently. The last 10 months has been an amazing journey into thinking about and understanding what I stand for as a teacher, as a learner – as a person. This time has given me strength and determination to stir waters, start new frontiers, try new tools and methods, share ideas feelings and frustrations. I’ve met people who taught me more than university courses, heard about things that changed my life and opened up possibilities I had never even contemplated.
This is one of the hardest times ever to be a teacher. The foundations of education are shaking, academia is crumbling, the walls are shaking with the real world demanding its place in these institutions that seem to be far too obsessed with fortifying the walls to realise that they let the students and the teachers down – and in the long term the society suffers the consequences.
I feel privileged to be a teacher during turbulent times when real issues and real debates are shaping the agendas and more and more voices can be heard.
I think this is what every teacher should know and embrace.
I have been teaching English and working with teachers of English for more than 20 years.
I’m finishing a 3-year stint in the UAE and moving back to Hungary in March, where I hope to enhance my learning by working in the public education sector with teachers and students open to the challenges and opportunities our rapidly changing learning environment presents us with.
I am @tamaslorincz on Twitter.
My edublog is ELT Musings and Tidbits.