How Will My Personal Teaching Experiences as a Russian Teacher Help Me as an English Teacher?
You have to put the emphasis on the right syllable," I said, finishing my demonstration.
My very first class of students learning Russian had expressed their disdain for their books with stress notes denoted on every word. They started reading from the copies without the stress marks and consequently were butchering the pronunciation. After bringing up this issue during a study portion of a lesson and getting some pushback, I read to them in English, purposefully messing up the pronunciation, and finished the demonstration with the correct phrase, "You have to put the emphasis on the right syllable."
They had a good laugh at how ridiculous I sounded and recognized that they needed to practice the correct pronunciation of words more before they moved on from the stress-marked books. I left that lesson feeling great about my teaching ability. I had built up my rapport with the class and successfully conveyed an important language principle with one activity.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author, an alumni of ITTT (International TEFL and TESOL Training). They do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of ITTT. The content provided in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as official endorsement or representation by ITTT.
Challenges in the Second Class: Timing and Assumptions
So, imagine my surprise when I attempted to conduct the same activity with my second class of Russian learners. In this scenario, during a group activity, I overheard some of the students talking about how much more professional the books without stress marks looked, and how they wanted to start carrying those books around. Fearing that the students would fall into the same trap of mispronouncing words, I stopped the group activity and demonstrated my syllable emphasis activity. Afterwards, the class was a bit cold to me, and students were less enthusiastic about participating in the day's activities.
I was blindsided. How could this teaching activity work so well with one group and go disastrously with another, especially when I was a much more experienced teacher? Reflecting on the situation, I realized some key differences and how I had made several mistakes.
Learning from Mistakes: Lessons for Effective Language Teaching
With my first class, I presented this activity during a study session as a piece of the lesson, whereas with my second class, I interrupted an activate portion of our lesson. This allowed me to set up the corrections in my first class in a successful way, while just springing corrections onto my second class out of the blue. With my first class, I reflected on the issue and ensured that pronunciation was the problem. However, I just assumed that pronunciation would become an issue in my second class.
Apology and Humility: A Turning Point
Thankfully, I was able to begin the next session with my second class with an apology and an explanation of what I did wrong. They accepted my apology and actually gained respect for me being willing to be humbled and admit my mistakes. While I am grateful for how that situation played out in the moment, I now see that the most beneficial piece of that story for me is the lessons I will always carry into teaching.
Valuable Lessons for Language Instructors
The first lesson is that you need to let the students make mistakes. Allowing them to make mistakes means they are using the target language. Even broken speech is better than no speech. If you correct any mistake made or a foreseeable mistake, you will only instill fear of language production into your students.
Second, corrections should never be improvised. You need to enter a lesson where you correct a known mistake fully prepared. This will allow you to set up the correction so that the students know you are encouraging them to do better instead of discouraging them from making attempts. It will also help you pay attention to how the class is feeling and thus be better at maintaining and improving your rapport with your students while correcting. Finally, you need to be willing to admit your own wrongdoings and apologize. When the students see you being humble, they will feel safe around you. If the teacher can make mistakes and it is okay, so can they.
Carrying Lessons Forward: Teaching English with Confidence
So, I am grateful that I am entering the world of teaching English with these lessons already learned. I know it could be harder to let mistakes slide in my mother tongue because to me speaking correctly is so obvious and simple. So, I will try even harder to remember and employ the lessons I learned years ago in my Russian classes.
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