Am I on the Right Track? Forking the Paths of Teaching
“You speak too much in the class,” “you always finish their sentences,” “you answer back to the teens,” “the classroom is a mess,” “your lessons are boring.” That was the feedback I would usually get in college during my teaching practice. So the final questions were always the same, “When am I going to be a good teacher?” What does it take apart from reading the theory?” “Why am I failing?” In this essay, I will briefly describe some of my experiences when teaching and the struggles on the way. I will also mention the importance of applying specific methods and techniques, taking different roles and the relation between lesson planning and the material to be used in class.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Cecilia B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The Natural Way
Once my teacher of Didactics came into the classroom and wrote on the board the numbers 1 to 10 in German. Without speaking, she showed us that we were to get the correct pronunciation for each word. We all felt anxious, frustrated, upset, and yet, willing to participate. That was the day when we learned about the radical Silent Way by Caleb Gattegno. While his methodology portrayed teachers detached from their students, a new method focusing on the learners´ wellbeing was developing. Georgi Lozanov first presented Suggestopedia in the 70s. It states teachers should provide students with a pleasant environment in the classroom so that they feel safe, comfortable, and willing to learn. From my personal experience, Suggestopedia is crucial because it controls and helps to lower the students´ affective filter. It also enables them to learn in a more enjoyable and relaxed way.
Another method I feel very comfortable with is the Communicative Language Learning method. Why? Because it allows students to use the target language almost immediately. Acquiring, for example, the “classroom language” at an early stage fills the students with a more proximate contact with the L2. The last method described in this paragraph will be ESA, and it can be used more linearly or flexibly (Boomerang or Patchwork). Teachers are highly recommended to start a lesson with a warm-up if they want to engage students. It can help elicit learners´ prior knowledge on a particular topic or just for fun. The Study phase is a more structured one where learners get an organized explanation and practice on a teaching point. While the Activate phase is still a controlled one in some way, students have the chance to be creative with the language more independently.
Teachers will achieve success if they use the correct method and play different roles in the classroom. Some of the leading ones I take in class are the Controller, Prompter, Organiser, and Model. Although the first one has its supporters and detractors, it is quite useful when teaching lower levels since they need a vast amount of exposure and input. That will eventually work if the teacher is willing to let it go gradually and give learners the chance to work out some aspects of the language by themselves. It is at this point when the Prompter takes place. Many teachers believe that “spoon-feeding” their learners will prevent them from failure, but it is the opposite. Encouraging students to figure out the pronunciation of a word or the building of a sentence will give them motivation and a sense of confidence that will improve their learning process.
The Organiser is valid at all levels because teachers will know what students are supposed to learn and how to work. Explaining instructions, pairing, grouping, or letting students work individually is what an organizer does during a lesson. Finally, the role of the Model mainly applies when working with grown-ups. Adults enter the class with many learning experiences but what it truly matters to them is to pronounce correctly. That is why the teacher must become a model on how to speak the L2 taking into account intonation, tones, and sounds very serious. Differences among regions and even gaps between countries (American and British English) are also quite significant.
Planning and choosing the best material may be the most challenging aspects of teaching. If teachers are not able to organize a lesson effectively, all efforts won´t be worth it. Setting goals and objectives, maintain a balance among the four skills, keeping the right timing between activities, be creative, and fun is hard training. As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, my lessons used to be boring and non-engaging, even when I would provide students with what I believed were mind-blowing lessons. Fortunately, my training in college and the years of experience have helped me improve my planning and view on what a good class implies. Planning and using the correct material go hand-in-hand with what is available to us in the classroom.
Why having a presentation of school objects with flashcards when realia material is right there on the desk? Why following the activities of a book that won´t fulfill the students´ needs? When we are inexperienced teachers, we don´t question the follow-ups of a book, and sometimes we rely on them too much. But when time passes by, teachers learn to become rebels in the classroom to let their most creative nature take place. Creating material is rewarding in so many senses. Not only because we have a better understanding of what learners genuinely need to learn but also because they realize their teachers care.
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In conclusion, I would be mistaken if I said I am an expert teacher. Despite the many years in front of a classroom, I am still experiencing the inexperienced. Teaching is an ongoing process that requires training, taking different roles and using appropriate material, but most of all, passion. I love my profession, and that is why I feel so committed to it. Every day is a new challenge, and I am willing to keep on working hard to provide students with a better version of me.
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