Calm after the storm

Last week proved much calmer than the previous two and, maybe because of the calm, I had a few Eureka moments.

First, I don’t ‘don’t have time’, I simply ‘don’t make time’ for the things I want to do. I realised I’d said ‘no time right now’ too often over the past month and so I signed up to a Futurelearn course and committed to completing it within the time they give, really engage with other learners and make the best out of it.

The other Eureka moment was a shared one. A friend of mine – a lady born in England, raised in Germany, 10 years volunteering in Africa, teaching English in London and on Skype for nearly 15 years – spoke to me about her teaching and we both realised that our experience in the lessons is very different. It might be obvious to many and I’m sure I saw some articles on this topic but it still struck me how varied the ELT world is. It’s not so much about the good old native vs non-native teachers, it’s more about where you teach and who your students are. She wanted to send me an article on why the English use the word ‘sorry’ so often and on the different meanings of it but as she was saying this, suddenly, she stopped mid-sentence. ‘You wouldn’t really use that with your monolingual class, would you? That would be an alien concept if you’re not living here.’ I answered that it would add to the cultural awareness and would make a good vocabulary exercise but otherwise no, it wouldn’t really fit what I’m teaching here. And she continued: ‘That’s probably why it worked well with my Italian student, who lives on Oxford Street but didn’t interest my Turkish student in Istanbul. The concept is too far removed and he never experienced it.’

Since I returned to the Czech Republic after 13 years abroad, I’m reconnecting with my country and with students in general. Having French students taking English classes in the Czech Republic was an eye-opener. Cultural studies were a huge part of all the lessons and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But only when speaking to my friend, I realised that teachers need a finely tuned radar to be able to adapt to their situation. Not everyone comes to the lesson to read about the English, however quirky they may be. Not everyone wants to have Northern American accent, no matter how much we hear it on the TV and in the cinema. Some people simply come for the pleasure of conversation or to pass an exam or to learn about the country they’re studying in through a different language.

This week, I’m planning to really focus on what materials I choose for each and every student of mine and try to surprise them with a bespoke lesson and, most importantly, I’m going to ask for their feedback to see if my Eureka moment morphed into improvement of my own teaching.

I’ll keep you posted.

With a little help

Much later than I hoped but here is the next blog. I’ve just finished a lesson with my advanced group, reading about how we use gadgets so efficiently these days, we squeeze 31 hours worth of work into the 24 we have. That’s how last week felt for me and I loved every minute of it!

I was covering two YL lessons – one of them a 90-minute 1:1 with a 3.5-year-old. We searched for colours all around the school, counted everything and anything, sang a few songs and made a gallon of tea with adequate amount of honey. I was completely exhausted after the lesson but the child left with a huge smile. I take my hat off to all of you with regular YL lessons in your schedule.

On Thursday, I had 6 lessons in a row, with one break, levels ranging from A1 to B2. One of the students is eager to learn more social English as he travels to meetings and conferences abroad and is worried about the ‘after-conference’ times when he’s expected to make small talk. What really works for me (and for him, from his feedback) is combining two textbooks and carefully selecting what we do and when. in the double-lesson we had, we did reading from a general English textbook, followed directly by a listening task from a Business English textbook. The listening exercise gave examples of conversations among people who know each other but haven’t seen each other for some time but also conversations among strangers. We then role-played the situations and it worked really well. I already have another combination – this time speaking from GE and reading from BE.

And then came Friday. We were invited to talk to the regional authorities about our proposal for teacher training local and national. Yet again, the meeting went well and I was so glad I put in extra hours putting all the documentation together.

The last two weeks were super-busy and I must say, what kept me motivated was equally my students, who are very generous with their feedback (positive and not-so-positive) and my friends who support me, be it good advice on websites to check (have you seen the amazing BBC Radio 4 in 4? Four-minute clips/videos/texts from BBC radio shows, offering great conversation starters for lessons) or simply handing me a glass of nice wine when fancy takes us. With a little help from my friends, I’ll keep teaching, learning, DoS-ing, blogging, reading, squeezing 31 hours worth of work into the 24 we have.

This week is panning out much calmer than the previous two but no less interesting. I’ll keep you posted.

Energy overload

I’m a very energetic person. I have even been called ‘annoyingly enthusiastic’. Last week, I made a great use of all the energy and enthusiasm. There were many things that worked for me:

  • I covered a class for a colleague of mine – five teenagers (I mostly teach adults), their level is very good, they have all the confidence of their youth. I prepared a listening/speaking activity and for the first 25 mins everything worked well, we were having a lively session (one of the students actually jumped to the board and drew a comic strip based on what we were listening to) but then one of the other students got bored very suddenly and decided not to talk any more. The others looked at me to see how I’d cope. The student wasn’t challenging me in any way but looked rather tired. I sat down (I do all my lessons running around rather than sitting) and said: ‘ok, time to switch, I’ve been making you do things until now and it’s not fair to monopolise the session. What would you like to talk about or do?’ (this directed to all, not just the one who went quiet). A shrug of the shoulders. I gave them a bit of time to decide if any of them wants to speak but after some silence, I said: ‘How was your day?’ A shrug of the shoulders. ‘Yes, mine hasn’t been anything special, either. What spoilt yours?’ A bit of quiet again and then they started talking slowly: ‘it’s the test season, mid-year’s coming up’, ‘I couldn’t be bothered with the rain’, ‘I actually had an ok day’… The discussion restarted and they even started challenging each other with stories from their day. All’s well that ends well.
  • I spoke with representatives of the Ministry of Education and found out they have similar views about what teachers of languages especially at primary and secondary schools in the Czech Republic need (support was the main theme of the talk) and that they are willing to listen to people from the field of international language education to get ideas for creating a programme of support.
  • I met Thom Kiddle from the NILE group and we spoke about teacher training and development the way that NILE provides it around the world. It was fascinating and we had a great brainstorming session on what we would like to do to provide support to those who are interested.

What didn’t work for me last week is simply not having enough time to do what I’d like to do – I had so much fun planning new courses and development plans that I missed the first episode of the latest series of the Big Bang Theory. I hope to do better this week.

Happy 2018

Good afternoon, world. I’m an English language teacher and a Director of Studies. With the new year, I decided to do something scary and start a blog, sharing each week at least one thing that worked for me and one that didn’t. Hope someone out there will find it useful in their ELT experience.

Starting with the first teaching week of 2018, the one thing that really worked for me was covering a mixed-level young learner class. The age range was 5-9 and the difference in English knowledge was almost two levels. As this was a one-off, I went for TPR-based approach and prepared a number of activities, from drawing to singing and dancing, from making paper airplanes to memory chain game (‘I go shopping and I buy …’). The children left with a smile on their face but it was one of the most demanding classes ever.

The thing that didn’t work for me was the extra hours on admin to prepare for 2018. We are preparing many new things and so we stayed at school much later than usual and made use of our massive whiteboards and coloured markers to map out the plans. Hopefully, in the long run, this will become the thing that works for me. I’ll keep you posted.