How to spend a lifetime in teaching? ūü§óūü§Ē

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

Freelancing as a Teacher

One of these days my wife and I were talking about two young men close to us in their 20s and how lost they’re feeling regarding their career path. To protect their identity let us call them E. and A.IMG_9316

¬†E. has already worked in IT for big multinationals like Danone and has decided he doesn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore, the pressure, the competitiveness, etc have not been appealing to him, ¬†but he doesn’t know what direction to take. Should he become a freelance teacher, a translator, a missionary? Meanwhile, A. has never worked – only studied and doesn’t know if he would like to follow the path of engineering he chose earlier since he’s never tasted it. So now he’s working as a delivery boy for a small restaurant during the week.

My wife said to me “Now I know how your brother must have felt when you said you were quitting your steady and well-paying job at a national bank to pursue your dream as a teacher” .

But differently from the two young men mentioned above I knew what I wanted AND didn’t want. I didn’t want to spend my days behind a desk. I wanted to be a teacher. And I needed to have an income right away… no daddy to send me monthly allowances.

In my na√Įvet√© I not even knew I could be a freelancing teacher. So, initially I looked for jobs at language schools. But over 20 years ago I saw the possibility of flying solo and earning my living as a freelance teacher. The benefits are:

IMG_9317Positive:

  • you develop your own career path and make more money, not having to give at least 50% of what your students pay to the language school.
  • You choose where and when to work.
  • You can fire those horrible students (it takes courage but your mental sanity is worth it)
  • You can choose when you’re going away on vacation
  • You get immediate feedback and know what works and doesn’t work.

Negative:

  • you must always be prospecting for new students
  • No basic or fringe benefits – no health insurance, paid holidays, sick day leave, paternity leave (you know what I mean), or even no access to the company’s restroom – (yes, it’s true, damned the designers and architects of some corporate buildings which hide away the toilets and the enforcers of condo rules such as “no access to the toilet unless accompanied by your respective student)

But I chose this path and despite its highs and lows I wouldn’t have done it ¬†differently. I’ve been in charge of my professional destiny and I’m sure many other mortals have never been able to breathe outside their gilded cage.

I’m quite often reminded of this Bible verse which has been proven true to me over and over again. Psalm 37:25:

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (King James Version)¬†

My advice to you if you’re considering freelancing – jump into the water and go free, or tread slowly just freelancing a couple of hours a week and no matter where you land it will have been worth the risk.

Cheers and Happy Teaching, IMG_9318

Mo

How do I get rid of my foreign accent?

Get rid of your foreign accent? Quite often students approach me with that question.

First, you’ve got to be aware of your limitations and set “realistic” goals.

We can talk here about accent elimination – when you will be talking exactly like a native speaker as long you stick to that corner of the world forever – or we can be talking about accent reduction – ranging from communicating clearly with the people around you knowing you’re not from their village but not being able to figure out which village you come from.

Some people (a few I’d dare say) have a special gift for impersonating another language as if they were acting before an audience (channeling another accent). But most mortals can be content with being clearly understood and focusing on something else.

I honestly think that the second path is more realistic. A language learner’s goal must be to be able to communicate clearly and accurately (within certain parameters).

How can you achieve that? First, start exposing yourself – no, not to children on a playground – don’t be a pervert! Expose yourself to different accents – listen, repeat, shadow others. Record yourself and play it back. Compare. Evaluate.

See that not only isolated words sound ok but practice linking words. Make clear sentences. Follow the rhythm and intonation of the language. There is a musicality to the language that will make life much easier for you if you start “singing” to the right tune.

I know, I know, some people can’t even hum “Happy Birthday to you.” I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but remember that sometimes we’re making progress but we don’t feel like it. But other people can tell.

I remember when I started dabbing my feet in Teaching English as a Foreign Language here in Brazil – the owners of a little language¬† school near Paulista Avenue told me during a hiring interview: “Your accent is hard to pinpoint. Some words sound more British other times more American”.

And that was who I was at that time. My only international experience had been to America, the music was American but the radio was BBC shortwave. And after I started working with them, I started using the textbook American Streamline series and every week they’d say – ” oh, your English has improved a lot.” Even though I couldn’t think of anything I’d done to improve except teaching a few classes the past week.

And even today, after spending a few months in Ireland, people in America will say – “oh some words sound Irish”, but the moment I arrive at the immigration point at Shannon Airport the officer tells me – “you’ve got an American accent”. There! Don’t try to please everybody. Just be happy with what you’ve accomplished. You’ve come a long way and enjoy being a citizen of the world.

So, get those lazy ears of yours working and make that tongue positively productive.

Cheers

Mo on-language

 

Do you speak Teacherese?

Who is the language teacher who’s never heard their students say:

“I don’t know why, but I can understand everything my teacher says but when somebody else speaks I can’t understand a word.”

The reason is that teachers develop their own “Teaching English” language – let us call it Teacherese – we simplify our explanation, translate, mime, draw, look up a better explanation/ word definition in a learners’ dictionary – so that students will be able to grasp whatever we’re trying to teach. We tend to speak way more slowly with a clear intonation while also projecting our voice. No wonder students can understand “everything” we say.

The Bible in the Book of James chapter 3 verse 10 implies that our tongue has the power to bless and also the power to curse”. Could it be that in our desire to help our students we end up hampering their language¬†learning skills?

Yes and no. We do help them better understand the language and help students to get a positive and clear example on pronunciation. Teachers could avoid too much of a grammar load – we love saying “that’s an adverbial clause” ¬†and expect students to know what we’re talking about, on the other hand so grammatical terms distinguishing an adverb from an adjective will be quite useful when students need to produce language.

Considering the importance of the teacher, it would be advisable he introduced a segment in his class for “mumble time” when he would speak at a more natural way Or introduce to students other English speakers ( if not in person, at least via audio) where they’d be able to identify and assimilate different sounds and accents.¬†img_7726

So fellow teacher warriors, use your skills to bless and not curse your students.

Shine on.

cheers

Mo

 

Constructive Feedback

I have just asked this 21st Century Oracle also known as Google about a definition of feedback and here’s what I got:

“information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

synonyms: response, reaction, comments, criticism; More

reception, reviews
“we welcome feedback from the viewers”
 
I’m reading now the feedback from the latest TEFL conference in Costa Rica and¬† – phew – all of them were very positive. Not that there is anything wrong with negative feedback as long as it can be used to fix or change mistakes in my presentation.¬† But it does help boost one’s ego to hear good things about your work.
I tried to keep the feedback format very simple and objective. I handed the attendees a Post-it note and asked them to write at the beginning of the session what they expected to learn¬† from that workshop.¬† All questions were related to the theme of the workshop “Dogme and Technology – and how to use technology in class – only one attendee expected to learn how to use Linux and http whatever (which I’m clueless about since I’m just a language teacher ūüėČ
After they’d finished the task I asked them to pass the note to the person sitting on their left (of course, the first time I tried it I forgot to give them clear instructions and there was some confusion = cause- effect). At the end of the presentation I asked them to write on the back of the note at least one thing they had learned during the workshop. If they hadn’t learned anything they could just write zilch, zero, nada.Feedback
All answers were very positive – and the best part is not that they all loved the presentation (which doesn’t hurt) but that they felt that they could use technology in their classrooms and not be afraid of using it (exactly the idea of the workshop).
Talk about constructive feedback!
Cheers,
Mo