Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets
I wrote back in February about my mild panic facing my first week as a TEFL teacher. Although the week was largely successful, I have had to learn to live with a small touch of anxiety over the last couple of years. No matter how intricate and detailed a lesson plan may be, there are always huge variables in any class. Are the students engaged in the lesson? Are the students all at the same level? Are the students going to get stuck on an off-topic language point? Are they nice people? DO THEY EVEN LIKE ME?!?! Ok, so perhaps the anxiety is not so mild after all.

The truth is that experience (and specifically, range of experience) has helped me no end in approaching lesson planning in a constructive, flexible and positive manner. I think of them as ‘tricks of the trade,’ certain techniques that any teacher picks up when dealing with a wide variety of classes. Activities to do that require less preparation time, ways to explain and elicit language and useful classroom management skills have all been learned and utilised over my last two years as a teacher. As I mentioned in my previous post, we have the ‘Study Holiday in Thailand’ course at IH Bangkok. This was a particularly useful proving ground as a new teacher, because this course in particular tends to have the greatest number of international students.

Languages can be incredibly diverse and learners from different language backgrounds tend to have different problems when approaching a new language. European languages usually share either Germanic or Romance (Latin) roots. It is often easier for a native speaker of English to learn German, or a French-speaker to learn Spanish, as those languages share similar roots. It follows then, that it may be trickier for a native speaker of a language which does not share these roots to learn a Germanic or Latin-based language, and vice versa. Also, the particular skills that are focused on tend to vary too. English grammar, for example, is given a greater focus in some education systems, whereas speaking is given pride-of-place in others. The Study Holiday includes students from a rich variety of language backgrounds. I have taught students from France, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, China, Thailand, Myanmar and many other countries during my time at IH Bangkok. The strategies that you develop when dealing with such a range of learning and language backgrounds cannot be gained just by doing the CELTA, but through experience and ongoing professional development. In addition to Study Holiday, off-site Business English classes and exam/interview prep classes have been invaluable in raising my levels of experience in the last two years.

I still find that that same old feeling of anxiety does occasionally reappear when I get a brand new class, but I am now comfortable in the knowledge that the skills I have gained will safely see me through. I have heard it said that a good teacher knows they are still a learner. This has certainly been a most valuable lesson for me.