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More than 800 teachers, teacher trainers and university students got together to listen to several lectures, take part in various concurrent workshops, and discuss some modern problems in EL teaching and learning. I was one of the happy invitees at this amazing event.
The English Language Office of the US Embassy in Moscow introduced an impressive number of English Language Fellows who delivered talks on motivation, critical thinking and exam skills. Representatives from Oxford and Cambridge University Press were on hand to demonstrate new textbooks and teaching aids. Many Russian publishing houses arranged exhibitions/sales of their books, audios and videos. The Australian Embassy specialists spoke about studying in Australia. “ENGLISH” magazine, one of the numerous thematic publications issued by “September 1” house, sponsored two workshops and an Open Lesson, and then held a Round Table for discussions with the magazine editor Alena Gromushkina as chairwoman. I loved all the lectures, reports, workshops and presentations, but the open discussion proved to be the most fascinating and enriching item of the agenda for me.
First of all, in the densely packed auditorium there were teachers of all ages, experienced teacher trainers, ELT publishers, the Foreign Languages Faculty Dean, and pedagogical university students. Those very young future teachers, or perhaps I should call them Teachers of the Future, are in a way our “missing link”. When we talk about any problems, any topics in education, we traditionally focus on the usual triad, the triple diagram or image of teacher-pupil-parent. This is our reality, a fait accompli, a given. Yet here they were, very young people who all said they wanted to become teachers. What problems they envisaged professionally, did they have any worries, any apprehensions about their chosen profession? What did they think was lacking in their education? Is knowledge of the subject enough?
Motivation and discipline are indeed eternal topics. Subject-wise, there is a wide choice of textbooks and teaching aids; young people use ICT as a matter of course. But how does one learn to cope with behavioral problems? Is there a course of lectures in their university curriculum which teaches how to talk to parents? And can one learn how much exactly will fit into a forty-minute period? These are all questions which are not strictly within the scope of ELT, yet they are very real.
My own fifteen-minute speech spontaneously flowed into a two-hour informal question and answer session, and now I have new e-mail contacts. I would not call my opinions “advice”, but rather sharing my experience.
• No, I never wanted to be a teacher. But once I discovered that this was something I could do really well, I stayed with it. In addition to teaching, I have been writing articles and lesson plans, translating novels, conducting teacher trainer courses and taking part in various contests.
• No, I never had any discipline problems. I believe that one can cope if one first trains oneself. An inner attitude may do wonders. “Hello children, I am happy to see you” is among the first phrases I teach all my students and the adults I train as well. It takes a few sessions before I get the reply, “Hello teacher, we are happy to see you too”. This simple trick helps create a positive atmosphere, an anticipation of something new.
• Yes, I believe it is all in your own attitude. If you come to school expecting children to stay still and silent, reverently imbibing your every word, you have come to the wrong place. If your pupils laugh at your lesson, fine; if they fret a bit, you can cope. It is normal for any human being to express some emotions. What you need to master as a teacher is how to achieve the desired measure in all things. It means, literally, that if the pupils rush into your class over-excited, you should know that, a) you may allow not more than a minute for them to subside; b) the means which will help you to calm them down.
• EL lessons should be conducted in English. We may use our native language if needed, especially with young beginners, but our lessons should be different from all the others because a foreign language is continuously used.
• You are a beginner teacher or even a student who has to conduct a few lessons as part of the actual training. How do you communicate with parents, who are all older and more experienced than you are? Well, they are more experienced as human beings, and they are more mature adults than you are, but you are the Teacher, the person who can teach their children. You talk about their children’s successes and failures; you suggest some measures related to your subject. If you notice any aberrant behaviour, I believe it is better if you take your worries to the school administration. Most parents may react adversely if you tell them their child is not up to par in any respect.
• My classroom, my rules. Repeat this like a mantra to yourself, be clear about the limits you set regarding the pupils’ behavior. If you say “No”, it should remain “No”; if you say “Yes”, it is always a “Yes”. Even of you have to repeat it a thousand times.
• How do you motivate pupils? Look at every topic before you introduce it in class. Try to answer a few simple questions: What is the most exciting, fascinating, challenging aspect for you? Find something, and you will convey it to your pupils. Why exactly do they need to do this or that task? At times, the answer is very simple: they need it for the exam. On other occasions, you may have an ongoing project, a meeting with the native speakers, or a great event coming up.
• When in doubt, ask around or search the web. One of the teachers told me enthusiastically that she was using my lesson plan on “Romeo and Juliet”, which was extremely gratifying. If you are not sure you can manage to prepare a lesson, a thematic after-school class, or a performance for parents and teachers, click around. Chances are, you will find that there is a lot of material published.
• Contact an author of an article or a textbook directly. I often write to authors whose books I liked, and I get a lot of messages myself. And here is my answer to the question, “How do you manage to reply to everybody?” The thing is, the questions remain mostly the same through the years: discipline, motivation, confidence building, and professional development. Every new generation of teachers has to work though them anew, same as every new generation of pupils still has to plow through the same old grammar.
• Learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin. They never stop. We teach through learning and learn through teaching.
Nina MK, Ph.D.