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