The essence of teaching is sharing! I believe I had an epiphany thanks to this topic. Indeed, first we learn, then we come to work, and what do we do throughout the whole academic year but share our knowledge with students and colleagues? Gathering new information, developing professionally, accumulating more and more experience are all part and parcel of our daily life as human beings, teachers and (with luck) parents. One of the first problems we encounter when we just begin is the following: how not to over-burden our audience?
I vividly remember my very first lesson with the university freshmen while I was in my third year. I noticed how nervous they were, and how oblivious to my own jittery state. Then I realized that I already knew lots more than they did, and worried about my own ability to fit everything into one ninety-minute period. Later on when I started lecturing full-time, I was horrified. The curriculum allotted six lectures to William Shakespeare, and six lectures to Charles Dickens, in the second and third years of study respectively. How could I cram all those volumes and all the critical reviews into such a short space of time?! Then I realized that while I had read all the classics my students were in the very beginning, in the initial stages of getting acquainted so to speak. I could help them by making careful choices and steering them in the right directions. I could also answer most of their questions and assist them in their own choices. We can link our research as a teacher to what we do in the classroom in many ways.
• Share what you are doing, what you found in various reference books, in literature, at a conference, on the web. When I took part in the annual Teacher of the Year contest, my students showed the liveliest interest in the whole long process: school, district, city, region all held separate events. I brought my new materials into the classroom, tried out the new lessons which I wrote, showed my presentations and folders with printouts. All my classes supported me and were my staunch fans throughout which stimulated and supported me in turn. When I won in the final regional “The Professional” nomination they all cheered. The same thing happened when I took part in the national Online Teacher of the Year contest, in the Internet Educator of the Planet, in the Intel and many other contests. I noticed that even those students who used to lag behind a bit perked up and took notice; their grades improved too.
• Besides taking part in various projects, conferences and seminars, I deliver lectures and conduct workshops at various professional development courses. When I finished my very first year of ELT at school, the administration asked me to do a series of seminars for my colleagues, because, they said, my English level was much higher than anybody else’s. The headmaster’s support was a big factor; surprisingly my colleagues also told me that they benefited from my sharing the knowledge with them. For instance I systematized the most obvious mistakes and carefully worked out the ways and means of overcoming the obstacles. From phonetics to grammar to vocabulary to all the four traditional skills, I would listen to the listeners’ requests and incorporate the new exercises into my prepared course. This kind of work was extremely beneficial for myself and my colleagues since we learned from each other. Let me give a few simple illustrations.
• Phonetics, the science of speech. I would write down on the board, or later click and show on the eboard, the problem sounds for Russian learners: , , . Then we would work at pronunciation gradually compiling warm-up exercises with pairs, couplets and even more words. It is perhaps hard for a native speaker of English to understand why a phrase like “Wyvern Wing Village” always evokes Homeric laughter in the adult audience, but it does. Imagine that there is neither nor sound in my native language and you will see why it happens.
• Lexical groups and clusters. Many students and teachers found the following exercise fascinating; they would write yearly papers and make reports about etymology and statistics. Look at these groups carefully: flare, flash; shine, shimmer. Then compare with another one: glamour, glance, glass, glimmer, glance, glare, glaze, glacier, glean, glee, glide, glimpse, glint, glisten, glitter, gloaming, glory, gloss, glow… Research into the origins, the meanings, the usage and the mere statistics (how frequently or how rarely is this or that word used) proved to be fascinating for various ages and levels. Naturally once we begin this kind of work, we can find more and more lexical groups to study.
• The article as a grammar category does not exist in my native language and thus it creates a lot of problems both in teaching and learning. The idioms do not coincide. Polysemy is not as widespread in my language as it is in English. And so on. I continue my own research and share it with my students and colleagues on a regular basis.
Understanding our learners’ needs is what motivates us teachers. Sharing is our way of life, the norm.
Nina MK, Ph.D.