Shadowing the English Teachers

I’m back! Sorta. Still a bit under the weather. Posts will probably be less frequent now, too, as events are happening a bit slower.

A month ago there was a local welcome event for new international students. I wasn’t really checking out the tables for the different groups, but in passing I saw a table advertising English classes. Later I realized, “Hey, wait a second. I should talk to them!”

So I tracked down their web site and sent off an e-mail asking if I could shadow a class. I was curious to see how this whole teaching-English-using-only-English thing worked. I mean, I took some high school Spanish but I was being taught in English. Does that make sense?

Instead of giving you the play-by-play like I did with my last English-teaching research, I’ll just give you some summary and highlights.

First off, I don’t know if these classes are considered TEFL or ESL. But, also, I don’t really know what the difference is! Either way, you’re teaching English to people who don’t speak English by using only English, right? (By the way, I’m still using ‘TEFL’ as a catch all term for teaching English as a foreign language, not necessarily advocating that specific certification program. I know, I should probably call it something else but whatever.)

The classes met at a church building (though this program has no church affiliation that I’m aware of) a few blocks from my home. The teachers were all “little old ladies”! Well, and one little old man. I learned that many of them were retired teachers. They were all very nice and obviously enjoyed their work.

Sidebar: I’m very impressed with these folks. I can’t say that I think much of the idea of “retirement”. Primarily, I can only stand so much idleness before I just go plain silly. Also, the idea that you need to put in forty years of hard work before you finally get to sit back and enjoy doesn’t sit well with me (hence why I’m looking at running away to see the world in my 30s, of course). Definitely you should save up in case you can’t work due to old age, but I hope to always be doing something.

I observed two classes: level 5 for the first hour and level 2 for the second. (Pictures are from their web site. Didn’t want to be rude and disrupt class with photography.)

Level 5 had eight students (with I think six different native languages) and three teachers. The students all spoke pretty good English, just needed some refinement on grammar and verbs. They didn’t work out of any formal books. For part of the class they looked at Native American proverbs. A student would read the proverb aloud and explain in their own words what it meant.

The level 2 class had just two students and two teachers. The students had very good vocabulary but needed help with grammar and pronunciation. We read a short excerpt out of a workbook and answered true or false questions, correcting grammar and pronunciation as issues came up. (e.g., “Maria lives in Wisconsin right now.” False, Maria used to live in Wisconsin.)

During the coffee and snack break between hours, I asked one of the teachers if she had any kind of certification for this teaching. Nope – but I did notice a few of the learning books marked with “Cambridge” in the corner – does that mean they were CELTA? I don’t know.

I thought it was interesting that all of the classes were taught by teams rather than individual teachers.

Overall, I was very pleased with the observation. The students obviously enjoy the classes and so do the teachers. One student showed pictures of her with classmates and teachers having a get together at her house. Definitely there are friendships being built at this school as well as language skills.

So… what does it say about me that as I was observing the lessons at times I thought of ways I could teach things better – that I would be a good teacher or that I’m just arrogant?

Like when a teacher wrote down the phonetic pronunciation of a word on the board. Is that really helpful for a student whose native language doesn’t use a Roman alphabet? Maybe it does and I don’t know it.

Or when we read through a handout that English speakers would find funny but students may just find confusing? Basically, some one-liners like: “Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly, or peccable?” I cringed when I saw a student next to me type “peccable” into her electronic translator and then write it down with a Chinese definition in her notes.

However, something these teachers were MUCH better at than me: understanding accents. I’ve always struggled with that and it could be my downfall. Especially east Asian. I wish my brain and my ears would work together better! Maybe it takes more practice?

Another thing I need to work on: constantly reminding myself that not speaking my language does not mean unintelligent. I mean, 95% of the time I’m aware of this but sometimes I admit I forget that just because I can’t communicate with people doesn’t mean they’re not smart. Am I the only one that struggles with this? They’re trying, which means they will make mistakes (best way to learn!).

Actually, I think my problem is that I’m envious of them and the risks they are taking. I can say a few phrases in Spanish, but they’ve immersed themselves in a culture that doesn’t speak their tongue. Seriously, these people are amazing. I hope to one day be that brave.

I still think teaching English could be quite fun. If I could find a good program. And make a livable wage for the short term.

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One Response to Shadowing the English Teachers

  1. Pingback: It’s all Greek to me! [or] How Personal Fears Impact the Big Decisions « The Big "What If…?"

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