If I knew then: A letter to me on my first day of teaching

Hi Moacir,

I know you’re shy and sometimes feel out of place and time. But listen to me: your choice of a teaching career was not by chance. Your Secondary School English teacher saw in you a great potential for languages, in his case – English – and dear old Mr. Santiago – the green cab driver at church, saw your potential as a teacher; and God led the way.

Yes, you will be scared sometimes. At times some students will seem to know more than you. And more mature as well (Chuckles). But you will inspire them to keep on learning and you will learn to get them to contribute to your lessons with what they already know.

Yes, teaching 8th graders will not be easy and due to your lack of experience and support you will feel as if you’ve failed and want to quit.  But years later you will come across some of your former students who will thank you for the lessons and for the inspiration.

You will have to wake up really early in the morning (5:30am) in order to get to your in-company classes in time and your last class will finish at 10:30pm. Hard work will not make you sick, though, just keep focused and do your best. Those crazy hours will also pass.

Mo in his first year as a teacher - July 1988
Mo in his first year as a teacher – July 1988

Remember to stay professional at all times with your students. Yes, you may socialize with them – but remember your job is to teach them not to simply be their friends.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are “simply” a teacher, or because you are a language teacher who has never been able to travel abroad and who lacks international exposure.

In a few more years you will have had the privilege to visit and even teach in different countries. You will preach in English at a church in Cape Town, South Africa. You will be a teacher of English in the US, Canada and Ireland. You will speak English and Spanish in China. Hard to believe? Yes, but God has amazing things in store for us all. Just wait and see.

In 27 years you will have reached the top of your career as a self-employed teacher but there will not be time to rest in your laurels, you will have to be continuously reinventing yourself and selling your services, training new teachers, presenting conferences on ELT – yes, I know it’s hard to believe me since you don’t even own a landline phone  at home or a car but some day you will be teaching via FaceTime video (better than via satellite) across the globe. Don’t ask me for details, not even I know how it works today.

Keep on learning, growing, doing your best and you will reap the rewards. I know.

Cheers and great teaching,

Mo

How to be honest without self-sabotaging

I’ve always been told “Honesty is the best policy” and I’ve always shared this advice. I agree with it and subscribe to it. Need I say more?confused

But here comes the “BUT”. Many times blunt honesty may cause as much damage as lies. Let me explain.

As a self-employed teacher I depend on my students’ regular payments to keep a steady source of income. “No work-O, no pay-O”, as I like to say.

At times, a student will be having classes for many months and years, but “HAVING CLASSES” would be a mild exaggeration.

Let’s go through a check list:

Is the student punctual? ✘
Does the student do her/his homework? ✘
Does the student want to do any sort of exercise in class? ✘
Does the student learn from speech corrections? ✘
Does the student allow the teacher to follow any class plan? ✘

Well, just based on this brief shortlist what would be the right thing to do?

My first instinct is to calmly say:

“STOP WASTING MY TIME. PAY UP AND SHUT UP!”

uh… I guess that wouldn’t be the best approach.

I could give them a self evaluation test saying: “It’ll be good for you to see your language progress along these years. You started with me at an intermediate level. Why don’t find out your level now?

The student’s response: “Ok”. Does it mean he or she will do the test right away? NO. In a week? Nope. And questioned about that they’ll simply reply – “I’m afraid to find out I haven’t made much progress”.

So the students know they haven’t done their part, their progress has been stunted (at best) and they’re spending money to keep a feeling of “I’m studying, at least”.

There have been cases that I’ve implied to the student (both implicitly and explicitly) that they should stop having classes “until they are able to focus a little more on their course”.

Does it work? ‘Fraid not. Some ignore the advice, others may get mad at me and stop the course and there my stipend goes out of the window. And me back to square one looking for a new student.

It makes me wonder that my “honesty” can be an act of self-sabotage where the only loss is actually mine.

That drives me to the conclusion that “as long as they’re paying, there’s hope”.

Good classes and don’t give up.
Cheers,

Mo

How can I say…?

I constantly insist with my students that learning a language shouldn’t be their goal – their raison d’être. They study English or French or Spanish because they hope to use it when traveling, or for professional and personal development, for instance.

Today I’ve been reminded of Alice – a great, hardworking student in her professional life but who refuses to review or practice anything taught in class.

Alice loves to talk and her professional vocabulary is quite good since she is involved in billing international clients and can write quite well, having a good grammar domain. But she’s got a limited vocabulary when outside her professional jargon.

Her favorite question is: “How can I say ___X____ in English?”

One day, in a 20 minute interval, she asked the following list in Portuguese:

Teacher…, How can I say…

1. ócio

2. sovina

3. contestação

4. juventude

5. garra

6 pegadinha

7. sangue frio

8. costurar

9. não pisque!

10. sensível

11. sensato

12. retina

13. estar acordado

14. fábrica de dinheiro

15. medo

16. acompanhante

17. tenho o costume

18. sou banana

19. catarata

20. cicatrizar

21. médico

22. particular

23. meta

24. avental

Knowing that so many words would be gone with the wind as soon as she had walked out of the room, I decided to play a game with her. Instead of being her

Words carried by the wind
Words carried by the wind

human super dictionary faster than google translator, I wrote down the list on a sheet of paper and gave it to her. I told her: “Remember that words must be used in context, so look up the translations of the words but check the meaning in English to see if they fit the context you want to place them in. By looking them up and writing them down you’ll be able to remember them in the future.”

She agreed and left – this was in March – now June 2015 (at least we’re in the same year) she hasn’t done the so-called “homework”. I’ve challenged her a few times but she says she doesn’t like to be pressured. She is hard pressed enough doing her job.

So, for our next class we are going to sit down (or stand up – if based on the latest studies on how standing up is better to your health) and go over the list and see how much she remembers and can use in context.

Keep on trying,

Cheers,

Mo

Growing through trials

Going over my lesson plans in 2014 I came across some notes on the book of James. The author emphasized how God has been patient with us for thousands of years. And sometimes we can go through hardships that are like those the people of Israel  had when they journeyed in the wilderness.

In Deuteronomy 8:15 we read:  He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.”

Why does God put us in the wilderness? So that we can see what’s in our hearts.

The author of the book of James starts saying that “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Does he really mean that? Is he making a mistake? Has he been drinking? What drug is he on?

It takes supernatural revelation in the midst of trials  to reveal our needs.

In the book of James we are admonished (I like this word), to consider trials pure joy. Why? Is it because we must suffer in order to pay for our sins or for our ancestors sins? Is it to appease angry gods?

Hardships will help us develop spiritual stamina. In Luke 2:52 we read:  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” – growing up Jesus most certainly didn’t have it easy but he grew physically, mentally and spiritually.

God wants us to stop going round the same mountain.

We were never promised to always have smooth, sunny days. Storms will come. Let us learn to grow with and despite our trials.

Cheers,

Mo

Sometimes the rain comes
Sometimes the rain comes

The olden days – effort vs technology

I’ve been a Language teacher from the time of the record and cassette players (1985 to be precise). I remember when teaching an adult class at night (my first EFL group ever) I wanted to share with them this gospel ballad – Reach out – you can listen to the original recording on Yoututoca discosbe http://youtu.be/BSqAbVtHf2Y – I only had the record and the school had no record player, so I carried a “portable record player” by bus to school and played the song  with students busy  filling in the blanks. My students really loved the song and it gave the lesson a more vibrant pace and rhythm. Generating entertainment, in a way.

Since then I’ve tried to embrace technology in the classroom – the cassette player was replaced by the CD player, the VCR by the DVD player, the CD player by the iPod and the iPod succeeded by the iPhone and iPad.

Today I can “entertain” my students with videos and songs, I can record them (which they abhor), they can say their teacher is using the latest technology to assist them in learning.

It’s true that students can now independently listen to podcasts and watch videos in their target language but at times I feel that we cannot ignore the centuries-old tradition of translation, grammar explanation, repetition, etc.

I can show my students the picture of a sweetener sachet but they still will call it “sweety or false sugar”. I can play them a children’s song but they will still be saying “many childrens” or “many childs”.

I can show them a picture or video of a supermarket checkout counter with a 20 or leitemsorlessss items sign and they will still be saying “I have fewer work today”. “I drove less kilometers last week”.

My point is that technology is a tool to assist us in opening the students’ minds to whatever we’re trying to teach but people are NOT technology – they still have the same basic needs as 6000 years ago and some teaching methods used ages ago should be revisited and adapted to today’s world. Learning DOES take effort and time.

One point that must be emphasized is that no pill has been developed for an effortless silhouette_of_climber_original_900English learning process. No escalators or elevators to help you reach the top of the hill. You may have state-of-the-art mountain climbing gear but it won’t replace your arms, legs, lungs and brain in the slow climbing process towards Language Fluency.

Enjoy the journey.

Cheers

Mo