Monday, February 23, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #3 - by Georgina Selander

Inspired insights from a TEFL teacher

Cultivating confidence

We’ve all encountered that teacher. And this has nothing to do with awkward dress sense (grandpa sweaters made a comeback, right?) but more about the palm-sweating, word-swallowing, eye-contact-avoiding type. The teacher whose shyness so overwhelms them that the spectacle that plays out is uncomfortable to watch.

Professing to be no self-help guru, (and a repeat-offender of awkwardness myself) I can’t tell you exactly what it takes to be self-assured. What I do know is that, standing in front of your class (wherever it may be) has earned you your stripes. You’re past the point of good impressions – it’s just a matter of living up to them.

So my advice to you would be: own your space.

When I first began teaching at The Knowledge Workshop, there were inevitably some first-time jitters. I wasn’t sure if I was really competent enough to take up this experience, or to be the captain of the proverbial classroom ship. But over time, I learnt to trust in myself and my ability. I learnt that my role didn’t require a complete personality shift – but rather allowing my unique teacher brand to shine through.

It goes without saying that we’re all distinctive individuals. And the beauty of this is that, because of that, we come to the classroom with our own set of interests, and a unique repertoire of cultural experience. So let that be your guide.

As a writer, I’ve often been told that the best place to start is with what you know. Applying that to teaching means that whatever your background – football fundi, food enthusiast or artist extraordinaire – there is a way to incorporate your personal skillset into the classroom.

Bring in materials that you’re knowledgeable about and interested in – and your personal passion will motivate your students. An inspired and insightful teacher is always a memorable one.

That being said, we also tend to be our harshest critics. When things don’t pan out as expected, or a game doesn’t garner the wide-eyed enthusiasm you’d hoped for, don’t let this bring you down. If anything, it’s an opportunity to assess what kinds of materials your class finds stimulating. And there’s no harm in re-working a previous activity to greater effect.

Don’t let perfectionism or self-doubt put you in a prickly perch. Even if it requires ten minutes of slow breathing before entering the classroom, or a morning mirror mantra telling yourself how absolutely fabulous you are (because you are).

It’s not that we all need to be the Regina George of the classroom. Heaven knows it’s taken me a long road to work on my sense of self-assurance. But it’s a process with a surprising domino effect – once you feel comfortable in your classroom skin, the rest will come so much easier.

So much of my life was dictated by an internal dialogue of unworthiness. Until I realised I needed to change my personal pep-talk.

So remember this:

You’re the captain of your ship. The master of your sail. Trust me, you got this.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #2 - by Georgina Selander

Inspired insights from a TEFL teacher

A few weeks into my EFL teaching, I stumbled upon an interesting quote:

“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see” – Alexandra K. Trenfor.

For me, this really summed up what it means to be a good (scratch that; great) teacher.

So I thought back to all the life-changing, above-and-beyond teachers I’d had in the past (and also the crummy, dispassionate ones whose names have joined the ranks of other forgettable faces) and saw a common thread. 

The best teachers subtly direct your focus towards interesting, exciting possibilities and points of view – without yanking your head in a particular direction (or force-feeding you their own agenda).

As you might have guessed, being a teacher means more to me than grammar. It’s more than syntax and mistaken concord and incorrectly used prepositions. 
In my mind it’s about awakening in your students an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and learning that goes beyond the classroom. It’s about students who voluntarily take out library books or approach me, after class, for an enthused chat. It’s about the moments when you get asked for homework. 

Immediately I think of one student who I’ve taught for the last few months. I won’t name names – so let’s call him James.

To paint a picture, James is a charismatic 19-year-old with the kind of curly, chocolate-brown hair that makes you instantly want to reach out and touch it (If you have the sudden urge to belt out Marilyn Manson’s eponymous cult hit, you’re not alone). He walks with a casual lilt and is known to belt out a string of hilarious asides. And although looks may be deceiving, James came to the school able to say only three things:

1.) His name
2.) His age
3.) How are you?

His limited vocabulary was evidently no deterrent to his learning. After two months, his level of English had put some of my old back-of-the-class, cell-phone-obsessed, spit-ball-throwing school mates to shame.

So what set this student apart? For one thing, his uncapped enthusiasm. For another, his proactive attitude to learning

During break time, while other students dashed off, James would engage me with probing questions – to the extent that I found myself pushed to bring in material appropriately stimulating or else have additional hand-outs at my disposal.

But another essential ingredient in his recipe for success is confidence.

Confidence – a grey for some (myself included). But do not be of the mind that, without a psychology degree, your skills aren’t relevant here. 

In fact, a large part of the teacher’s job is to create a space in which all students – shy or not – feel comfortable to express themselves. And this very action, this ability to contribute in a group environment, has a hefty impact on a student’s self-esteem.

Unrestrained and eager to learn, James would never shy away from discussion or participation. Wherever an opportunity to stretch himself was presented, he took it. And, in turn, encouraged his peers to do the same.

So let me get to the point of this. If there’s one tip I can give you, one parting word of advice before you set foot, it would be this:

Give your students room to grow. Feed them with the language skills they require. Nourish them with the knowledge that, no matter their strengths or weaknesses, doubts or fears, they all have a place under the sun to blossom. But most of all? Sow the seeds of inspiration from the get-go.

Bordering on wish-washy new-agery? Fair enough – 

“Tell them where to look but not what to see.”

Written for The Knowledge Workshop by Georgina Selander

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog post #1 - by Georgina Selander

Inspired insights from a TEFL teacher 

I guess it goes without saying that the hardest part of any challenge is just getting started. And so, when tasked with creating a ‘confessions-of-an-EFL-teacher’ style blog, I spent several minutes staring at a blank screen, wondering where to begin.

But now that I’ve cleared my throat, got the first words onto the page, let’s start with the basics.

My name is Georgina Selander. I’m 23-years-old. And I’m currently working as an EFL teacher for The Knowledge Workshop.

Arriving at this state was a potluck decision. After reaching the end of my tether at a series of boring desk jobs, I decided that the 9-5 grind wasn’t for me. At least for the time-being. 

Yes, I’m young and still figuring it out. And yes, I have no idea what to say when asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But who really knows anyway? It’s the journey, not the destination that makes life worthwhile.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a desire to explore; a thirst for knowledge and experience that, at times, took me to the limits of my sanity.

As a child, I spent hours swept up in imaginative games – hiding out in a dark cupboard pretending to be adrift in space or meticulously constructing ‘fairy gardens’ with an assortment of glittery trinkets.

And although the character of these made-up worlds varied daily, there was a common thread – an interest in the unexplored and a desire to visit places unknown.

Perhaps it was this, in addition to the rebellion towards office humdrum that brought me to the steps of an Observatory-based language school called The Knowledge Workshop.

In truth, it was also a longing for something fresh, and the promise of worldwide adventure. And although I’d never seriously considered a career in teaching before, once my three-week TEFL course was over, I was hesitant to leave.

It has now been five months since I walked through the door of this special school. Five months since I nervously climbed the flight of stairs and set foot inside. Five months since the school’s director asked me to “stay on to take some classes”. And I’ve never looked back.

I began teaching at The Knowledge Workshop in September 2014. Although having just completed my TEFL certificate, I had little idea of what to expect – of the life-long friendships I was to form with my co-workers and students, or of the unknowably enriching experiences that I would have.

Each day has brought a host of surprises. I have grown more as a human being and as a ‘working professional’, than I ever anticipated. And it’s a journey that continues to reward and amaze me, every step of the way. 

In the entries that follow, I’ll share with you the moments of triumph – but also the trying times, the – arguably hard-pressed – occasions in which I was once again a child adrift in space. But most all, I’ll try to capture, as authentically as I can, what it means to be an EFL teacher

Several months on, it’s hard to remember exactly those first few classes – or the first late nights spent vigorously planning. But I do remember feeling as if I’d found a perfect fit – akin to slipping on a ‘little black number’ that hugs in all the right places and instantly makes you feel like you could rule a small country.

When I look back on those first lesson plans, what I see is someone eager to please, unsure of whether I was ‘doing the right thing’. But I needn’t have worried – the relaxed atmosphere of The Knowledge Workshop and jovial camaraderie of the students soon set me at ease.

I do remember one of those first classes – a lesson (under the week-long theme of ‘hoaxes and conspiracy theories’) about the 1969 American moon landing. With a bit of prompting, I opened the floor to discussion – and was amazed at the level of critical thinking and insight given from a classroom of mainly high school graduates.

We soon found ourselves in rigorous discussion (and occasional fits of laughter as preposterous theories came to the fore) and, for the rest of the week, there was a keenness among the students to share their points of view.

It was that lesson that really broke any perceived barriers down – that gave me the feeling that this newfound family was the place for me to test boundaries, rouse educated discussion and really get my students talking. The intention was never a history lesson, or a study in anti-establishment feeling, but the playful nature of the class – and those to follow – masked the difficulty of the day’s challenging grammar (subject-verb agreement).

I came home that evening buoyed by a feeling of happiness and surety that I’d found that ‘perfect fit’. 

written for The Knowledge Workshop by Georgina Selander