On my first month as an English language teacher

About three weeks ago I started my new job as an English teacher at a lovely language school in central London. It’s part time, and although I need more more hours because life in London is expensive, it’s been a lovely way to start off. A bit like gradually paddling into the water instead of simply jumping in the deep end.

When I finished the CELTA teachers course I had 6 hours of teaching experience, but I’ve got more than five times as much as that already.

I’ve discovered that really teaching is in fact much more enjoyable, easier, and less stressful than teaching practice lessons. The practice lessons were 40-60 minutes long, and during that time you had to create a lead-in or warming up exercise, then do a series of exercises of gradually increasing difficulty leading up to ‘freer’ practice at the end. For example, if the purpose of the lesson was grammar, you had to set a context for the grammar, so that the ‘target language’ would appear in a memorable sentence. Then you had to do the actual teaching bit, or ‘MFP’ – meaning, form and pronunciation. This is where you go through the sentence and draw out from what the grammar actually is, what it means, how to use it, what the rules are, and how to say it. Students then had to complete at least two related exercises, which you had to give feedback on, which might require going back to the teaching again if they hadn’t understood it. Then you might set up a speaking activity using the target language. Some lessons might have even more steps than this – maybe up to 12 different things to be gone through, in 60 minutes. In other words, it was a frantic rush. Plus, of course, the other trainee teachers were dutifully watching you to find out what not to do, and an experienced teacher was watching you and noting down all the things you’d done wrong.

My current lessons are either 2 hours (communication, speaking and vocabulary work) or four hours (traditional lessons featuring reading, listening and speaking, and always with a main grammar point). This doesn’t seem to mean that you need to prepare lots more – just that you can take your time over it. For example, my communication class is really chatty. You can give them a few questions to discuss and they’ll happily talk and talk, sometimes for half an hour. It’s incredible. While they do this, I listen in, help them out, and make notes of all the things they’ve said wrong and all the vocabulary they don’t know but that would really help them to answer the question. The we go over that together. All that can easily take an hour. It’s very relaxing compared to the teacher training. The morning classes are much more like the CELTA training classes, but again it’s just so nice to have enough time to explain things properly without rushing.

Not feeling quite so much like this anymore…

My students are a very diverse bunch, which makes things really interesting. I’ve learnt about drug busts in Saudi Arabia from a customs official, shopping in China, and the mysterious blunders of Korean politicians. I actually feel like I’m really teaching them something, and it’s nice to see people improve, even if only really slowly. I felt enormous pride after I taught my class that ‘the worsetest’ is not a word. The day after every single one of them had remembered that it’s bad, worse than, the worst. It’s a small victory, but very satisfying to feel that you’re helping to facilitate people to reach their goals.

The things I need to work on are taking my time even more – I still feel the need to rush through some things in a slightly frenzied way sometimes, even though there’s usually no need. I also need to work on my grammar and my grammar teaching. I observed a more experienced teacher this week, and although I was happy that I’m on the right lines, her grammar teaching was just so much better than mine. I’m hoping that once I’ve been teaching for a year or so I will have covered all the main parts of grammar in at least one lesson, and that it’s just going to get easier, but in the mean time I’ll be reading up on the grammar points before each class. As long as I’m always one step ahead of the class it’ll be fine!

I never expected to be a teacher, but it’s definitely the most fun (not the funnest!) I’ve ever had while working. I imagine that the more hours I teach the more it’ll tip over from fun to tiring, but right now it’s brilliant, and I’m really glad I decided to do it.

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