Teaching is learning; new skills

After a quarter century of teaching I can share a secret: I have never envisioned myself as a teacher. Like many children, my first dream was that of selling ice-cream (and eating as much as I wished daily). Then I got wrapped up in the dream of making toys; I read all I could find on the subject and tried to create my own dolls with accessories. Through all the ten years of school I was first a participant and then editor of the school newspaper. When I was fourteen, my father taught me how to type on any keyboard, and explained that with this skill plus a foreign language I would never be without a paying job. During the same summer I wrote my first letter to The Teacher’s Gazette, the national weekly published since 1924. And I started working as a translator since the age of sixteen while still at school. Translating books, especially books for children, became my dream. At nineteen I began teaching first-year students at Moscow University, assisting my academic advisor. No, I didn’t get the “teaching bug”, but I realized that sharing my knowledge was something I was very good at. I confess I never had any discipline problems; motivation was a separate issue which I managed to solve successfully with any age and level. I have begun composing my own lessons and lesson plans in the very beginning of my career. And I have been conducting teacher refreshment/teacher training courses/workshops, taking part in conferences and international projects for many years.
What have I learned, what choices does an EL teacher have today?

Tutoring is an obvious opportunity; many teachers substitute their low salaries with this occupation. I have never engaged in it. One, I knew from my colleagues that it essentially feels the same as the regular lessons. Thus there is no relief, no real change from the daily grind. It is a huge extra load: parents pay for the private lessons, so they are quite demanding and tend to blame the teacher if their offspring does not produce the expected results. Any additional teaching hour means extra work, extra preparation and extra stress. My main reason for not going in for private tutoring is simple: I believe that when there are four-six EL lessons a week with any class, I can teach them the whole national curriculum in the classroom. And yes, it is possible to compose individual tasks for various level students within the general framework.

Whenever you are faced with a manual you do not like or feel dissatisfied with, try to compose your own lessons, plans, tests. It is much easier today when everything is just a click away! You can find all the materials you need on the web and compile any lesson according to your students’ needs, including audios and videos. To get some remuneration you may take part in contests; send out your posts to national publications and educational sites. Do not be afraid to take part in any international projects. There are always coordinators, many teachers around the world are ready to share their experiences and lend a guiding (virtual) hand when needed. I have been doing that for many years; sharing is natural.

One does not have to be an experienced teacher with lots of years behind them to conduct a lecture or a seminar for one’s colleagues. When I started working at school, the administration visited my lessons quite often. At the end of the first half-year they suggested that I compose a series of lectures and prepare workshops for my colleagues. Their reasoning? They said my English was very good, I had a solid background in translation, and I was quite well-travelled. In other words I had enough to share. I was a bit dubious and quite nervous when I saw my much older colleagues, some of whom had been EL teachers at the same school when I was a pupil there. But their attention, their questions during that initial lecture cum seminar showed me that indeed I knew more about the language and some of the countries than they did.

The more you manage to learn about the internet, the more digital skills you acquire the better. Practically all the students today are more or less attached to a gadget. You don’t want to lag behind. If there is a very advanced teenager in your classroom, remember this: there is no shame in asking for their help with any technical problem. Children enjoy showing off and sharing as much as we adults do. A helpful tip: you can always pretend that you have a problem and let them work at it. “Kids, can you understand what the mouse is saying in this clip? I cannot distinguish all the words, its voice is too high!” Young children would listen carefully and fall over each other in their rush to help the teacher. “Which programme do I open to create this link?” Such a question would make every teen sit up and take notice. I don’t think this technique should be used with an adult audience.

Last but not least… Actually finding variety in what we are doing, and looking for some extra money is a never-ending process. We choose according to our own situations in life. If some additional qualifications are needed, one can always take an online course, pass an international exam, and consult one’s colleagues. If we need some money, we can go in for any opportunity that presents itself, be it private tutoring or an additional job. If however we are comfortable in our position at school, we may prefer to stick to it. We learn something new every day because teaching is learning.

Nina MK, Ph.D.

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