Carta aberta para mim mesmo no meu primeiro dia como professor

mo-first-teacher-edited (2)
Alguns dos meus primeiros alunos no Instituto Roosevelt em São Paulo em 1986

Ah se eu soubesse naquela época o que eu sei hoje…

Carta aberta para o Moacir em 1985

Olá Moacir,

Sei que você é um tanto tímido e às vezes se sente um peixe fora d’água em certos lugares e ocasiões. Isso também acontecerá com você depois dos 50 anos. Portanto, vai se acostumando aí.

Mas preste atenção numa coisa: a sua escolha profissional para fazer Letras e ser professor não foi um acidente não. O seu professor no primeiro ano colegial (o curso vai mudar de nome depois mas não melhorar na qualidade ), o Valdir, Sabe quem é, né? Ele viu em você um grande potencial para idiomas, no caso dele, inglês. Também tem o irmão Santiago, da igreja – aquele motorista de táxi (um fuscão verde), ele te convidou para ensinar a lição da escola sabatina para jovens e adultos quando você tinha 15 anos, e Deus abriu as portas.

Claro, você vai ter medo. Às vezes, alguns alunos vão saber mais do que você, uns de fato, outros se achando (risos). Mas você vai inspirá-los a continuar aprendendo e desenvolvendo suas habilidades linguísticas.

Logo mais você vai ser convidado para dar aulas na escola adventista da Alvorada na Lapa, estando ainda no seu segundo ano da faculdade e sem ter a menor  ideia de como lidar com alunos entre 5 e 17 anos. Principalmente os alunos da 7a. e 8a. séries vão lhe dar muita dor de cabeça, provocar, ridicularizar, chacotear, até mesmo jogar apagador em você quando der as costas pra eles. Por falta de apoio, orientação e experiência você vai fracassar e desistir do ensino. Mas alguns anos depois vai cruzar com alguns dos alunos e eles vão te agradecer pelas aulas e pelo gosto pela língua inglesa.

Você vai buscar trabalho como funcionário público da Caixa Econômica Federal, ganhando o dobro do que ganharia dando aulas, sem falar na estabilidade e carreira vitalícia, mas vai continuar insatisfeito. Vai voltar a dar algumas aulas à noite – como bico – mas logo descobrirá que ensinar é o que vc gosta mesmo de fazer.

Ao pedir demissão do emprego estável e sólido vai se aventurar pelo mundo dando aula de inglês em escolas de idiomas e empresas. Terá que acordar bem cedo (5 da matina) a fim de atravessar São Paulo de ônibus e metrô desde a Freguesia do Ó até Santo Amaro e São Bernardo para dar uma ou duas aulas em empresas. Vai passar os intervalos procurando uma sombra para sentar e esperar a próxima aula, já que a distância impede voltar para casa. A sua última aula vai terminar às 10:45 da noite e mais uma hora e meia de viagem para voltar para casa. Mas ânimo, trabalhar com o que você ama não vai te deixar doente. Continue aprendendo e crescendo. Vai chegar o dia que vc poderá escolher os horários que quer trabalhar e até mesmo trabalhar via video – como se fosse televisão… chique hein?

Busque sempre o profissionalismo ao lidar com seus alunos e clientes. Sim, você poderá se socializar com eles, mas lembre-se de que o seu trabalho é de ser o professor e não o coleguinha deles.

Não se deixe abater se alguém lhe desprezar por ser “apenas” um professor, ou porque você não é nativo de país de língua inglesa, ou porque você nunca viajou para fora do estado de São Paulo.

Mais alguns anos e você terá o privilégio de visitar e lecionar em diferentes países. Você será convidado para pregar em inglês num igreja da Cidade do Cabo, na África do Sul. Você será chamado de Program Director numa escola nos EUA, dará aulas na York College em Ontário no Canadá e aulas na Irlanda (depois você olha no mapa para ver onde fica, tá?). Você vai viajar até a China falando inglês e espanhol. Dá pra acreditar?

Sim, Deus fará coisas maravilhosas por você que cresceu usando chinelos de dedo e shorts feitos em casa (sem nem mesmo ter cuecas). Vai demorar ainda uns 20 anos mas você vai alcançar o topo da sua carreira, até mesmo ser convidado para palestrar em conferências sobre o ensino da língua inglesa, em países como a Costa Rica, Canada e EUA.

Não me pergunte como, você vai descobrir aos poucos. Continue aprendendo, crescendo, fazendo o seu melhor e a recompensa virá em diferentes formas.

Gosto muito de você. Se cuide, viu?

Abraços,

Moacir

Mo and Shakespeare
Ensinando inglês através da Bíblia no Unasp SP em companhia de Shakespeare

Native teachers – busting a myth

Last weekend we were celebrating my birthday at the home of a dear couple, Mari and David, who even surprised me with a deliciously personalized Black Forest Cake. They were so excited to have that cake made especially for me and quickly apologized saying that the cake maker had mislabeled it with “Congratulations” instead of “Happy Birthday”.

Black Forest Cake
Happy Birthday Teacher

We had a wonderful time together and talked about nothing and 1001 things. At one point, my wife ask Mari about her English classes.

Mari works in marketing and customer service for an international company and needs to improve her language skills so that she can participate in global conference calls and presentations.

The last time we had talked about it, Mari had told us she was having online classes with a “native” teacher and that she found it hard to study and focus but she was feeling she was making some progress.

This time, she said, “now I am having face-to-face classes at a language school near my office, after work. But… my teacher is ‘NATIVE’ “.

My astute wife shot back right away: “why are you saying he’s ‘native’? What difference would it make if  he wasn’t native?

Mari stood there (or sat there as I remember) with her mouth hanging open searching for good reasons. She realized I’m an English teacher and I am not “native”. So she said, “Yes, Mo, but you are native-like”.

Agreed, my English is amazing (may modesty take a hike for awhile), but what makes me a great language teacher (there I go again) is not simply the fact that I can speak English and can lead some people to believe I am an American, or Australian, or Canadian, or Irish etc… depending on the nationality of the students trying to guess where I am from.

I am a great teacher because:

  1. I am knowledgeable /an expert in the subject I’m teaching.
  2. I know how to convey information in a simple, brief and clear way.
  3. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be trying to speak another language: Empathy.
  4. I am patient.
  5. I motivate, correct, exhort, encourage learners to aim to a higher level with my own passion for the language learning process.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a post written by Justin Murray (a ‘native’ teacher of English) on the English Experts website:

“[…] Another advantage about native speakers is that their students generally feel more motivated to speak in English in class. The fact that the teacher is from an English speaking country and not the country of the students generally works as an unconscious trigger for the student to speak the language. This may have nothing to do with the teacher’s proficiency or teaching ability.”

“The final advantage, which is the most popular, is that a native born teacher will teach or transmit much better pronunciation. This is for sure an advantage, but what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s difficult for beginners and lower intermediate students take advantage of this. In my opinion, upper intermediate and advanced students will benefit a lot more.” https://www.englishexperts.com.br/are-native-english-speakers-really-better-teachers/Image result for native teacher

Having read the quote above, I risk repeating myself:

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what planet your teacher is from, what will matter is the learner’s commitment, focus and effort (time, money, skills) to learn and improve their language skills. If having a native teacher makes you feel better, knock yourself out. But that doesn’t mean you’ll learn any faster or better.

The teacher, either Native, Native-like, or Martian will be just a facilitator and provider of resources.

Happy teaching and happy learning,

Mo

(The cake was amazing, by the way)

Nativism revisited

Last Saturday we invited a new friend for lunch at home. Ivonne arrived from Bolivia back in February where she had been an English teacher and aesthetics consultant (sic) and had a dream to move to Brazil, where she would have more opportunities.

When she arrived she soon started voluntarily teaching English to a group of senior citizens at an NGO. “The experience was interesting”, she said.”But people don’t value things offered for free”. The students’ attendance was terrible and when they did come they wanted to chitchat and not really “study English”.

I warned Ivonne that getting paying English students in Brazil would be difficult in her case because despite her 5 years of English studies with US missionaries in Bolivia, she still had a very thick Spanish accent, including the infamous “Jew” when she means to say “you“.

She said, “Ay, Moacir, I need a job fast”. I told her she could apply at language institutes and private schools to be a teacher of Spanish as soon as she had her transcripts registered in Brazil. But any teaching at a language academy would take time for training. In the meantime she is selling honey sachets door to door.

But what Ivonne said about language teachers startled me:

“Ay, Moacir, Jew speak like an American and jew’re tall and white” – (anyone is tall to her since her height is less than 150cm /4ft) – I won’t get a teaching job here.” “In Bolivia I always wanted to have only native teachers for me. That’s how jew learn. Jew ask them a question they know the answer. A Brazilian or Bolivian teacher won’t know how to respond”.

“The same thing goes to teaching Spanish,” she went on. “Los brasileños think that Spanish is easy but when they start to see the grammar and the verb tenses they go crazy.”

I tried to reason with her “Come on, Ivonne. I’m not a native speaker of English, but I’m an excellent teacher, as you know (to hell with self deprecation)”. She nodded in deep admiration. “And for over 25 years I’ve been teaching English to high executives and people who’ve travelled around the world and it has never been a disqualifying point. I’ve also taught in Canada, the US and Ireland and it’s never been a problem. Yes, it’s true a native speaker may know more phrasal verbs but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to explain to you how to use them. He’ll pronounce a word his way which can be very different between US and British English, for example. More than once have I seen a native speaker not know how to pronounce a word or what it meant. And in addition to that, if the gringo doesn’t know the local language, he won’t understand why you find it so difficult to say girl, or world, whirlwind”. “Actually, many (not all) native teachers abroad have their own agenda and baggage: either they want to convert somebody, or see the world, or escape from their own world.” Believe you me, I’ve seen some native teachers (mostly from Oceania) that didn’t have a loose screw, they had lost that screw a long time ago. What makes a good teacher will be based on 3 very solid foundations:

1. Language knowledge (yes, you can’t teach English or French or Arabic if you don’t speak that language either), learning one’s own or adoptive language is an ongoing process; but that knowledge must be supported by

2. skills (natural and learned) – how many times have you attended a lecture or lesson by a renowned Professor who knows everything about, let’s say, quantum physics but he can’t teach it?

3. Finally, a good to great teacher will be empathetic. He will try to understand and seek for ways to best transmit his subject.”

Ivonne carefully considered all I’d told her, clapped her hands and cheerfully exclaimed:

Jew don’t need to be a native to teach English. Now I got it. I’ll start applying to be a teacher of Portuguese!”

Sigh.

Good luck, Ivonne,

Cheers,

Mo

Immersion Course – the Return

Today, one of my students, Isabella, returned after a 2-month-long trip to the US – one month she spent studying English at Kaplan International English School in Chicago and one month traveling across the US – a few days in Seattle, then on to San Francisco and ending her tour in Miami, Fl. “The best city by far was Chicago. It’s vibrant, culturally diverse with amazing restaurants, museums and great music”, she said. Image result for chicago skyline

Well, she had been very anxious about her arrival at the airport and customs and immigration. We practiced what she should say if questioned by the immigration officer, what might happen and she said it all went smoothly. The only drawback was that she arrived at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 and she had to go to Terminal 1 to catch the metro rail to downtown Chicago. The access information was a little difficult and it was a little bit of a hassle for her to get to the other terminal. From downtown she used an Uber driver to take her to her niece’s apartment at the University of Chicago on the South Side. Image result for chicago terminal 1 subway

She told me it was a bus commute of around 25 minutes from where she was staying with her niece to the language school downtown. She could observe the wide diversity of people and nationalities and after one week the regular passengers were already greeting her. And sometimes she would call an Uber Pool so she could meet other passengers and try to practice her English. Image result for bus downtown university of chicago

At the school she was assessed as an A2 student and placed in a classroom with some 15 students from the Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, and Colombia. Her first teacher was a nice man but who spoke way too fast and when she asked for some explanation about a point in the lesson he would not give her an answer. After one week she asked for another teacher – this time it was an Englishman (yes, I know, an Englishman in Chicago – great version for Sting’s song – An Englishman in New York) and he spoke more clearly and pausedly.  Her teacher referred her to listen to Ted Talks and watch episodes of “Friends”. Image result for kaplan school  chicago male teacher

The biggest issue”,  Isabella went on, “that I had with the school was the lack of a good language laboratory”.

Since she was familiar with the language lab concept from her years studying English in Brazil she had been expecting state-of-the-art facilities. She commented: “After 3 hours of classes I thought I would  spend at least 1 hour in a lab listening and recording my speech but it was very small and restricted.” Image result for kaplan school  chicago language lab

“Of course, nothing compares to the experience of being in another country surrounded by the language you’re learning, however, I found out that people were not very patient with me. Many people spoke too fast and when I tried to ask for something, for example, they’d say ‘do you speak Spanish?’ ”  

I asked Isabella if before leaving they’d reassessed her English level at school and she said it was raised to a B1, which she thought was much too soon.

Academically she didn’t have anything more than what she could have had in Brazil. This outcome strengthens my advice: use your time and money to study English in your own home country and then go to an English speaking country for practice, attend a course in photography, art, whatever, in your target language. The return will be much more satisfying.

Cheers,

Mo

Study Abroad – a way of escape?

We always hear at the beginning of school vacations, either in the beginning or the middle of the year, news stories about Student Exchange Agencies /Agências de Intercambio.

How much of it is news worthy or “sponsored” by the agencies themselves is hard to tell, but there’s no doubt that the interest for STUDY ABROAD programs keeps growing in Brazil, despite or because of the prolonged economic recession and now stagnation since 2015.

By their numbers

In a market worth US$ 1.2 billion, The Brazilian Educational & Language Travel Association  (Belta) http://www.belta.org.br/ reports that the interest of people to study abroad for periods between 1 month and 2-3 months was up by 20% in 2018 compared with 2017. It calculates that 365,000 people will be traveling abroad on “intercambio” programs (a 30% increase is forecast for 2019 over 2018).

The vast majority of exchange students traditionally were between 16 and 25 years old, but in recent years there has been a growing interest with people up to 40 years, not excluding those older than that. And 80% of the exchange students are female, according to the study “EXCHANGE TOURISM: PROFILES OF THE PARTICIPANTS, MOTIVES AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE”  (https://siaiap32.univali.br/seer/index.php/rtva/article/viewFile/5116/2681)

These short term exchange programs (15 days up to a month) appeal to people who are currently working and will use their vacation days to improve their language skills. They’re using their own vacation time from work (using their own savings or supported by family)

Intercambio photo 8
A quick search for “study English abroad” you’ll get lots of suggestions including “study English in Portugal”. Huh? 

Costs

Of course how much the program will cost will depend whether the student will stay with a local family, rent a studio, share a room in the dorm, which country and city/town they’ll be going to, etc) … but it can start at US$ 1,800 a month (including accommodation and the course). Airfare is usually out of the equation. Intercambio photo 1

Reasons to go 

The main reasons to go on exchange programs are:

  • use vacation time (using their own savings or supported by family) boosted by the feeling “I’m sacrificing my vacations for a good cause”.
  • Have contact with people on the street (sic)
  • Be exposed to the language on TV and other media (as if it wasn’t possible in this day and age in their own home country)
  • work opportunities: many people say know someone who was skipped for a promotion, or missed an opportunity to work abroad, or even lost their job because they lacked English.
  • have fun (not found in the report but most people when asked they’ll say it not as the primary reason – *which I  think is the main reason in many cases, though, wink wink).

Case study
Intercambio photo 6 Rosimar

Rosimar, who is Brazilian,  already speaks Italian and Spanish but wants to study English in Canada in September. She says:

“I still find it hard to speak English, I want to improve my language skills so I can catch a taxi or order a meal in a restaurant. I believe the investment is worth it all. I’m going to Canada to improve my English and have fun.”

Where to go

The Brazilian Student Exchange Agencies highlight that over the past 14 years Canada has been the favorite destination for Brazilian students, because of favorable foreign exchange currency rate, standard of living and a country where English is spoken. The next is the US at 23.1%, and far behind come Australia with 9.3%, Ireland 7.6%, the UK and New Zealand at 3.8% ( The British pound foreign exchange rate is a big discouraging factor for Brazilians).

Should you go?

Definitely, go and have fun. Expose yourself to another culture, another language, other worlds. But don’t expect that in 1, 2 or 3 months you’ll be back fluent. It will depend a lot on you but my advice is: study English as much as you can in your home country and then go abroad to practice studying something else or attending conferences in your professional area in English, for example. The results will surprise you.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

 

Teaching multilevel classes

I usually teach students on a one-to-one basis but every Saturday morning I find myself volunteering  in a classroom with 60 to 80 people ranging in ages from 15 to 74 and coming from all walks of life. One common ground is that it’s an English language class to study the Bible and sing worship songs both traditional hymns and more contemporary ones. Talk about diversity. Some students know no English at all whilst others are quite fluent. Most are in between. So … how can I make this class work?

1. Usually I try to get higher level students to help lower levels, be it by providing translation, or modeling pronunciation, etc. Also we try  to divide the class in smaller groups and to have at least a high level student working in a group of 4 or 5.

2. I’ve mentioned above the common denominator and they really try to use their bible knowledge and weekly study to build on new learning steps.

3. Using visual resources  – pictures, realia, a short video, etc,which provide another common ground while higher level students will be able to help others to expand their vocabulary, for example.

4. Every week the students know they’re walking into a “free zone” where they will not be judged or criticized for their language skills or beliefs, thus creating a welcoming environment where they will gradually be willing to take risks and even “play the fool”.

Let me share with you the story of Diego. That tall and lanky young man one day walked into our class, settled in a corner and refused to say a word. The following week we managed to get him to mumble his name. But nothing else. He was shyness personified. We allowed him to come to class and quietly and shyly stick around. We started a little weekly challenge that whoever memorized that week’s key bible verse would get a little reward. Sometimes a cookie, other times a magazine, other times a CD, other times just a handshake,  etc. Then one day, after a few months of unresponsiveness,  to our astonishment, Diego stood up and said the memory text for the week. From then on he never stopped, and now he even prays in public or shares a little missionary story.

Yes, we’re all different but we can help one another grow at their own pace.

Cheers,

Mo

How to spend a lifetime in teaching? 🤗🤔

This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:

1. How do you keep yourself motivated? 

Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseamIMG_9078, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.

2. How has teacher training changed? 

Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.

3. What advice do you have to new teachers?

Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.

Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.

Cheers,

Mo