● What teachers have you had that influenced your own teaching style?
Hm, I think this goes right back to my school days; those teachers for whom education wasn’t so much about simple results, but about encouraging an interest in the subject. I think that’s something to be kept in mind when teaching English – there’s a reason most of our students want to learn, something more than simply ‘to be good at English’. When students are concentrating more on their reasons for learning, and worrying less about
the pursuit of results, they naturally do better and enjoy the subject more.
● Who have been your favorite learners to teach so far?
When people ask this, the expected answer is usually ‘young learners’ or ‘adults’ or ‘students from X country’ – but my favourite students can be of any age or from any country; my favourites are those who are keen to learn. Whether it’s very young children who are keen to communicate without really grasping the significance of the language, or older learners who enjoy being able to dissect and reuse pieces of language, enthusiasm is contagious, both from student to teacher and vice-versa.
That said, young adults who are keen to use their language to travel the world, meet new friends or make new skills often possess this enthusiasm in abundance!
● What do you like about teaching young learners most?
Tying into my above point – young learners can be much less inhibited about showing their enthusiasm. When children get excited about something, they let you know, and that can bring some fantastic dynamism to a language lesson.
● Tell us about your tour guiding for English-language summer camps!
For the past couple of summers, I’ve been working at a British school where I both taught ‘conventional’ English lessons and also led students on sightseeing tours. They came from all over the world, so these tours were a chance for them to experience British culture, see the country and have more ‘open’ English practice, as they got to use what they had learned to ask questions about what they saw.
Of course, being responsible for teenagers who may only speak limited English could be very stressful, from mundane worries like scams and lost phones, to the more dramatic (“The students wanted a photo of a protest and now the police are kettling everybody!”), but it was a fantastic opportunity to experience the kind of cultural encounters that language teaching facilitates. I once had to take children from a very conservative middle-Eastern country to London during pride, and their curiosity and respect was an important reminder that we shouldn’t judge people based on the actions of their governments, and that greater cultural mixing leads to greater understanding.
● What is something you learned in your CertTESOL training that really stood out or made an impression on you?
The idea that, aside from the foundations of the language itself (grammar, spelling, etc), teaching really rests on just a few pretty simple concepts such as minimising teacher talk time, letting students work out rules for themselves, and tying language to real-world uses. You may spend your whole career discovering new techniques, developing and refining them, but it all rests on some very simple foundations.
● Likewise, what is something you’ve learned about teaching from actually doing it?
That it’s important to have a plan for when things go wrong! Not necessarily a ‘formal’,written plan, but a collection of adaptable backup activities that you can use to kill anything from a minute while a frozen computer restarts to an hour or two when you suddenly have to take over a totally different class. Sometimes, these ‘backup’ lessons can be some of your most successful, as they very often depend on listening to and reacting to the students’ interests and needs at that particular moment.
● You don’t present like an “average teacher” in terms of looks and appearance – has this ever influenced your teaching (for better or worse) and the way your students respond to you?
Yes, but not as much as I expected it would. I was prepared for a very tough time finding work, and it has certainly caused problems in other jobs I have had. In teaching, however I’ve only had one bad experience when an older, more conservative student demanded somebody more conventional, and my looks have scared a couple of very young learners, but my school helped me work around that!
I find TEFL to be a very welcoming and tolerant environment – we work with those who are naturally keen to experience other cultures and meet different people. I think my style has even been a benefit a lot of the time – it can put people at ease if the teacher doesn’t come across as ‘stuffy’, and a relaxed environment is very important in giving people the confidence to learn and use new language.
And, I should of course add, in Berlin people are used to some unusual styles!
● In addition to handing out stickers (which I agree works for almost any age group!), how else do you motivate your learners?
‘Motivating’ somebody has quite negative connotations – the idea that they have to be encouraged to do something they don’t want to. I feel it’s important to make language learning enjoyable, and feel as little like a chore as possible. Most people quite enjoy solving puzzles and feeling that they have achieved something on their own. For example, if you present a student with similar sentences and allow them to work out the grammar for themselves, their natural curiosity will do the hard work for you. Almost everybody enjoys games of some sort, and the more you can disguise learning as a game or puzzle, the more less of an uphill struggle it is for the teacher.
● Question from outgoing Blog Editor: How and why did you first get involved with ELTABB and what prompted you to want to help out?
As a new teacher in a foreign city, I had no sense of community or contacts. Previously, I’d had colleagues and friends with whom to share tips for teaching and for employment,as well as to have a simple sense of camaraderie. I discovered ELTABB’s website and thought it would be both enjoyable and useful to be a member – and it has been! Eventually, I wanted to get more involved because it seemed like a great opportunity to keep developing my own skills, to get some interesting experience, and to find a way to apply all of this in a way that could be beneficial to others. It can be a very competitive and daunting world, teaching in a big, international city, so it’s important we help each other out.
Edited by Stephanie Anderson