Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: November 2017

Why did you become a teacher?

Last week, I went to my very first TESOL colloquium in Paris. I have never been to a convention like this before and I was deeply excited, especially to go to workshop and to meet new people.

I met new people, I went to workshop, I enjoyed the convention but I had mixed feelings at the end of the first day (it went better the next day, actually)and it makes me wonder about the reasons I became a teacher.

According to my mother, I started to lecture my dolls when I wasn’t even two. We were living in a high school, so I guess I was just miming, but anyway, I started to tutor people in English when I was seventeen, mostly because I needed money (what a bummer: a teenager who needs money to buy useless Hello Kitty stuff!) but also because I already loved the language. I am now a full time English trainer for about five months.

I didn’t become a teacher to prove something, to gloat or to feel superior to anybody else. I decided to teach English because I genuinely love the language, love to teach, and it means something for me. Being non native is a strength, considering that I had to learn the grammar, and all the fine details of the language. And haters gonna hate, I have a SAE accent, so don’t play the “you don’t know how to pronounce” card with me. Refusing to hire someone because they don’t have a proper name, a proper passport, is something I cannot tolerate. That’s not education, that’s discrimination.

I became a language teacher because I am a language learner. You cannot be one if you are not the other. I didn’t become a teacher because I wanted an editor rep to explain why we should all use his books. I am adult enough to have a critical mind, or I wouldn’t be a teacher. I became a language teacher because of students, who needs a guide to discover another field. Like Marie Hélène Fasquel, I became a teacher because I am a passionate.

I was lucky enough to meet great people last week end, but I had to take a step back after the first day. We cannot be perfect teachers, and we cannot please everybody. What we can do, though, is to admit how we function and how we feel towards our own jobs.


Being a (new) teacher: a quick review

After months devoted to the theory, the practical part came along: I am a full time English teacher since last August, roughly three months.

Being a teacher in France is not remotely the same as being a teacher in England. Being in an international language school in England was “easy”: I had a lot of colleagues, motivated students, you could create and follow a whole course, have some fun with your students (using games, music…). I knew I was incredibly lucky to have my first experience at BEET.

Here in France, I am a general and business English.

First of all, I am not native, despite having a British last name, and it’s clearly a problem here. Sometimes for the students, but mostly for the schools. I am not working for schools because they actually do think that being native changes something. That’s another debate, but I am still pretty pissed off.

Second of all, the students fell into two categories:

-the (highly) motivated ones, who are asking for homework, want to practice, speak about anything. They are lovable, they are mostly low levels actually, but they really try, and I could teach them all day long.

-the (absolutely) non motivated ones, who are barely listening to me when I try to explain something.

This week only, I had to stop three lessons because one of my students was too busy checking his/her phone to listen. Please keep in mind that they all are over thirty-five years old. And I have a huge problem with slackers (Always have, always will. In high school, my nickname was “the officer”). I really do think that when we are learning something, especially a language, we must be into it. We must be ready to study, to read in another language, to listen to another language. I don’t see the point to come once in a while in class to look at a phone and to complain that it’s not understandable. Bummer.

Learning a language is a commitment. For the teacher, for the student and in my case, in the company which is paying for the training. And I must admit that I thought that the students would be more motivated that they actually are. It’s kinda demotivating to create lessons, to try to find activities, when you know that half of the class won’t even show up.

This is not all my students, fortunately. I mostly work with lovely groups, really motivated, but having one bad element can disturb the whole atmosphere. Unfortunately, I had no warning during the DU or the CELTA, so it was quite disturbing, annoying actually, at first. But after three months, it’s getting better, even if it’s clearly still an annoyance.

If I ever do a DELTA once, and if I have to train wannabe teachers, I think I would them not to expect patient, lovable and motivated students. We can’t always have dreamy students, sometimes, we actually have to face reality.


Being a language learner : 200 days and counting

Welcome back!

Sorry, I have been a little off lately (personal stuff, mostly, nothing exciting, except if you think moving out is exciting…) but here we are.

So, you may remember that, as a language teacher, despite being non native, I decided to learn two languages to place myself as a language learner. That was 200 days ago, already!

The experiment already have results, and I must say I am surprised. I thought being already bilingual would help a little, but the truth is, it’s not why the experiment is a success so far. I am learning Italian and German, two languages that I already encountered before as a kid (between 5 and 12). I learned a lot about myself, about how I learn, what motivates me, what’s my forte and of course, what I don’t like.

It’s hard to learn if you don’t like the language

These past few fifty days proved me something: if you don’t like the language, the sound of it, the way it’s made, you won’t learn it, and you won’t be motivated to learn it. I mean, I won’t be motivated to learn it. In my case, I am stuck at the A2 level despite trying to speak German, to write in German… After less than two minutes, my conversation partner would say “you know what, let’s speak English!” and that would stop. In the other hand, I truly love Italian. I love the sound, I love the history of the language. I went four days in Italy two weeks ago and spent the entire time talking in Italian, just practicing. It’s extremely motivating to learn a language that you really like, and that you will really use.  Continue reading

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