Thursday, July 28, 2016

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #9. A zest for life: find it now (or forever hold your peace) by Shannon Norman

There’re about 65 gazillion facts in this world. Just kidding! I mean, hello! How the heck would I know? Luckily for you, I’m not going to be harping on about 65 gazillion facts. You may breathe now. Instead, I would very much like to share with you just four facts that I’ve learned since becoming a TEFL trained teacher (and why you should do a TEFL course).


Fact #1: Mindset is everything…literally

Being in the TEFL industry, and more specifically, teaching at The Knowledge Workshop for almost a year and a half has expanded my mind and has changed the way I see the world. The reason for this is that TEFL takes you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to think differently. It goes without saying, therefore, that mindset matters if you’re thinking of becoming an EFL teacher.  It is important to approach TEFL with an open mind and to embrace the challenges that go hand-in-hand with doing something new. Sometimes the hardest thing about doing a TEFL course is grappling with new ideas. Once the mental shift is made, you become free to explore all sorts of options you might not have considered before.

Shannon observing ideas unfold

Fact #2: Creativity has no limit

I can’t draw to save my life, unless you count stick figures, and anyone who knows me can vouch for this. Despite my artistic shortcomings, I still consider myself a highly creative individual because of the different facets of creativity I’ve been able to explore since I entered the industry. Whether you’re a teacher or engaged in some other profession, it’s important that you seek new ways of being more creative. Creativity is not just about being able to paint, draw or sculpt. Creativity knows no bounds. In fact, you are limited only by what you cannot imagine. So when I encounter new TEFL candidates who find their creativity somewhat lacking, I don’t worry about how they’re going to get through their training. I know that our course has the power to change things around for them, and very quickly, they exceed their own expectations as creative thinking takes hold.

 Fact #3: Interpersonal skills are a must-have, okay!

It’s alright to be introverted, says me, the extrovert. But it’s not alright if it prevents you from working and communicating within a group. Adults are often the worst when it comes to this. There are adults who distance themselves from others and there are adults who take over like a 90s boy band. The thing is, if you want to be an EFL teacher, and a successful one at that, you must understand the power of working in a group and interacting meaningfully with all sorts of people, regardless of your personal preferences. Herein lies the opportunity for growth – we learn from each other!

This is what happens when TEFLers and students get together

Fact #4: Giving up is for sissies (and you’re not a sissy)

Friday, May 13, 2016

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #8: What the heck just happened? by Shannon Norman

What the heck just happened? Shannon Norman

When the unexpected hits you it tends to leave you quite surprised, doesn’t it? Whether you like surprises or not, you can’t really run away from them. Granted, some surprises are definitely better than others. There are those which cause heartache, frustration even rage. And then there are those which keep you smiling, laughing and reminiscing days, weeks and even months after the fact. Regardless, it’s important to realise that a surprise keeps you on your toes and reminds you that life is meant to be celebrated whether you’re the centre of attention or not. I discovered this not too long ago when I came face to face with my surprise…

Setting the scene

It was a Monday evening when I received a text message from Naureen, TKW’s Office Manager and Student Liaison. Her message was simple. She asked if we could go for dinner the following evening.  In fact, she wanted to speak to me about something serious and naturally I said that I would be all ears. I felt quite pleased to be the person that she wanted to confide in.

The next day was quite busy here at TKW and I never thought about the dinner until much later in the afternoon when I asked Naureen if our ‘date’ was still on.To be honest, I was just dying to get more details out of her, but I managed not to ask too many questions.  

Lights, camera, ACTION!

“Timbuktu,” I said out loud as we approached the entrance of the restaurant. “This seems interesting,” I said excitedly, pointing at one of the quaint ornaments in the walkway.  

“Could we have a table for two, please”, Naureen asked. Despite the very specific request, we got quite a large table with a ‘reserved’ sign on it, which the waiter removed after we sat down. I thought it a little  strange, but didn’t dwell on it for longer than a couple of seconds. We spent the next few moments admiring the unique, cosy environment, filled with African masks and sculptures. I knew I was in for a treat. I later learned  that it was an authentic Ethiopian restaurant, a first for me.

Naureen gestured for the my complete  surprise, a group of TEFL graduates appeared before my eyes and not the waiter I was expecting to see. They had graduated a week before, so I was taken aback when I saw them approaching our table. There was Jayd with guitar in hand, Harry with a bunch of flowers, followed by David and Tylan. I still had no idea what was going on. I was about to tell Naureen that her boyfriend, Harry, was about to propose because that’s honestly what it looked like. But before I could get a word out, the bunch of exquisite flowers was neatly placed in front of me and the group of TEFLers broke out in song:

“We thank you, Shannon, you gave us confidence
We admire you, Shannon, you are exceptional
We admire you, Shannon, you are remarkable
We admire you, Shannon, you are irreplaceable
We thank you, Shannon, cos you believed in us
We love you, Shannon, you made it look effortless.”

Listen to the song on soundcloud!

April TEFLers singing their original composition, Thank you, Shannon.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. “All of this for me?” Jayd strummed her guitar and everyone sang to the tune, which I thought was one helluva cool tune. It was obvious that they had all made an effort to learn the song in order to pull off such a fantastic surprise.

There were a number of emotions coursing through me. I couldn’t decide whether to cry tears of joy, laugh and enjoy the moment, or bury my face in my hands.

You see, I don’t deal well with compliments. I had difficulty accepting that they appreciated my mentorship and my teaching. I mean, they were literally singing my praises, yet I couldn’t give myself a pat on the back. It was only later that I began to accept that it’s absolutely okay to feel special and regard yourself as a good teacher when moments call for it. It's important to recognise your hard work and celebrate your successes, and truly feel proud of yourself. This industry is not for lazy folk – you must be prepared to go the extra mile. And trust me, when you do, it feels good, especially when you get recognition for it!

So, to wrap up, we had an excellent evening! I asked how they managed to pull it off. It turned out that they had discussed it after their practical training. Harry organised with Naureen to get me to Timbuktu. In the meanwhile, they had composed a song, bought flowers, and a card in which they wrote special messages... Apparently I was 'very easy to work with'!

A big thank you to ALL the guys on the April TEFL course. You rocked my socks off and I will never (ever) forget the lengths to which you went to make me feel appreciated.

A very surprised and happy Shannon with
flowers and card from her April TEFL group.

Monday, April 4, 2016

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #7:The Home Stretch by Shannon Norman

The Home Shannon Norman

While all eleven TEFLers were a lot wiser after completing the theory training, a fair amount of growth still needed to take place. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of practical training at The Knowledge Workshop: GROWTH!

Practical training is challenging – hard work is required – but it is also extremely rewarding. Prospective teachers have the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge in an actual classroom and learn, very quickly, what it’s like to be an English teacher. I’ve mentored many teachers as the resident EFL Teacher at TKW, so this process wasn’t unfamiliar at all. Now, as TEFL facilitator, I was able to see more of the progress, and I did. This is what made my observation and experience of practical training that much more special.  I cannot think of any other situation where you’re able to learn the amount that you do in such a short space of time.

It all came together

The first group of TEFLers arrived at TKW looking rested and some of them slightly nervous. On their first day, TEFLers are eased into the process; they have a full day of observation starting with General English in the morning and English Conversation class in the afternoon. In their feedback session at the end of the day, it was evident that they had had a good day. However, there was something specific that I wanted to hear and I’m happy that I did. “It all makes sense now,” is what was said. BOOM! It was as if someone had poured honey into my ears. They were absolutely right – this is exactly what’s supposed to happen. As the abstract, theoretical notions started piecing together, a bigger picture began to emerge – and it all made sense! Imagine that! Anyway, the now more informed TEFLers began teaching the very next day. I could actually see the thought bubbles above their heads as I briefed them. Their creativity was well and truly ignited; the ideas were flowing. It was fantastic! And so the week progressed…

Each day, our resident teachers, Helen and Naureen, would relinquish more and more responsibility for their lessons to the trainees, until they were pretty much sitting back altogether on the Friday. It was at this point that the TEFLers would take full control of the lesson, but under the guidance of myself and the other resident teachers. This ensures someone is always on hand to manage the damage, and I believe this is what eased their minds. Nevertheless, they had most of the responsibility now on their shoulders and it was brilliant to see how my first group of TEFLers managed to do this like champions. You see, there’s something we tell the trainees all the time:  ‘Trust the process – the process is what will get you there’. It was clear that this group of trainees had taken this advice on board. They started at the bottom, but slowly, not without effort, made it to the top.

Shannon and some of her January TEFLers putting on their 'teacher' faces for their practical. 

…And that’s a wrap

Right, so as we all know, what goes up, must come down! J By the end of the week, everyone was quite happy to be able to say, “We did it, and we’re done!” Even though they were glad that practical training was over, they were equally just as sad. When you set foot into The Knowledge Workshop, you instantly become part of the community, and with practical training now over, they were saying goodbye to family.

All in all, it was week to remember. There were tons of laughs and many strong bonds were formed. Most importantly, our trainees were now ready for the world. I get excited at the thought of these newly qualified teachers in a classroom in some other part of the world planting their first seeds - actually teaching foreigners how to speak English!

The second group of trainees was soon to start at this point and I was happy for this process to unfold all over again. Come at me TEFLers! I’m ready for you! J

TEFLers, teachers and students at the end of January practical week 1.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #6: Buckle up! It’s going to be a ride by Shannon Norman

Buckle up! It’s going to be a Shannon Norman

“Good things come to those who wait.” I completely believe this adage…

I was meant to go abroad a while ago, but there was some sort of magnetic pull keeping me here. I say that with a smile on my face, though.  Had I not listened to my gut, I would not be getting the experience I’m getting right now. So, as you may or may not know, I’ve recently become the new TEFL facilitator at The Knowledge Workshop. As I sit back in my (newly acquired) black office chair and think back to the 11th of January 2016, I can finally say “120 hours of teacher-training done and dusted.” I’ve spent weeks and days preparing for this eventuality and I’VE DONE IT. The mountains I thought I would need to climb seem more like molehills now, and the deep waters I thought I had to swim, seem more like fun puddles of water that you just want to splash around in. 
Knowing that I successfully trained 11 teachers, on my own, feels like quite an accomplishment. You know that feeling when you take that new red pen of yours and scratch out that ‘thing’ on your To-Do List? That’s the feeling I have now, that feeling of self-satisfaction, except this feeling is a gazillion times better. 

I might have moved too quickly here, so let me explain all of this in a bit more detail. The TEFL course at TKW is honestly one of the best courses that anyone could ever experience. I say this having done the course, having taught it and most importantly, I say this having witnessed countless teachers express their feelings towards it. There is this opinion that if you do the TEFL course at TKW you are going to learn how to teach English to foreigners and that’s it. Of course, learning to teach English is the main objective here, but this course equips you with far more than just the skills needed to teach English. When you do this course, you walk away with skills that you can use in any facet of life. I’ve had TEFLers come up to me and say that they are who they are now because of this course. Those that were shy, now dance to Justin Bieber in a game of Musical Chairs. Those who were not open to new ideas are now able to present dilemmas to groups of foreign students that ultimately get them to question their own thinking. And those who had their creativity stripped from them at some point in their lives are now able to create games and other resources that have students talking about it for days after. This course propels you out of your comfort zone and takes you on a journey both figuratively and literally. 

The 11th of January 2016 was the first day of my new job. I arrived at TKW about six hours early. The way I picture a machine operating on full-power is what was happening to my mind - and my mouth. I couldn’t shut up. I feel sorry for my colleagues who had to listen to me babble. But I needed to get rid of the butterflies in my stomach somehow. I didn’t completely talk their ears off though. For the remaining four hours or so, I did a dry-run. I basically lectured a class full of…well… no one. It was my way of getting it right – and so I did this almost every day for the next two weeks. Yep, I put myself into an empty classroom and spoke to no one – practicing everything I needed to say that evening. You see, you’re not the only crazy person out there. 

 So, what happens on the theory component of the course? Here, prospective teachers learn how to put together a four-skills lesson plan. Week one deals with what happens in the classroom and the choices that need to be made while teaching, and week two deals with the major methodologies that teachers can make use of in an EFL classroom. We also look to the four linguistic skills and the activities used to allow students to practice with these skills. There are two major lectures on the course which I had to present to the TEFLers. Usually I am quite hard on myself and ruthlessly critique myself, but thinking back to those nights, I really feel that I did a great job. For those who know me, this is not something that I do very often. I don’t really give myself much praise. So please can we have a moment of silence while I pat myself on the back. BTW, don’t let what I’ve just said fool you into thinking that we don’t have fun on the theory component of the course. Believe me; FUN is integral to everyone’s sanity!

 It’s been a ride, for sure. I’ve been teaching in an EFL classroom for a year, so delivering the course wasn’t something abstract or alien. But a lot of work was still required to get myself ready and prepared regardless. I wanted to make sure that I delivered the best TEFL course imaginable. I guess that’s just part of being a teacher. All in all, I’ve learnt more than I can write in this blog post. I know that the next few courses will enable me to continue learning. I cannot wait to train a few more teachers. I hope you are all ready for me because I am ready for you! (Insert evil laugh). 

But let me draw the line here for now. I’ll be back soon to share some details about what went down during the practical training weeks as a TEFL facilitator. Until next time!

January 2016 TEFL Graduates with Shannon