Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: December 2017

Some thoughts about 2017

So, according to my calendar, 2017 is almost done, and I had some thoughts about it, which I decided to share today. 2017 has been a blast, professionally speaking, I cannot say otherwise considering my first article (in a real paper! http://digital.elgazette.com/december-january-2017/we-can-easily-forget-about-the-students-2.html)just came out, but this year was also a lot more:

-Some years can be longer than the others: it feels like this year was the longest I ever lived. I left my job, went back to school, graduated, began to teach, and launched my website (and sold my apartment, and I am currently moving out… I am a busy lady, as my friend Eily would say)

-It’s okay to take some time to breathe: when you learn that your mother has leukemia, the time is stopping, and you don’t have another choice but to breathe.

-It’s okay to be passionate about your job, if you don’t forget that you have a private life as well. My husband is incredibly patient, and I cannot thank him enough, but he is the first to stop me when I am turning “crazy”.

-Everyone is unique, especially when it comes to students. Putting same levels students together is a necessity. Some students will not be okay if they are alone, or in the contrary, in group but what matters here is what they want.

-Teaching kids was amazing. I love teaching adults, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding.. but I loved teaching kids. I would love to do it again, at some point, later… This experience was incredible.

-It’s good to set some goals but let’s keep our feet down the Earth. I am a newbie, and I still have a lot to learn!

-Do not stand alone. I had some rough times when I started to teach adults (a group was always canceling, a guy was never listening but checked his phone every damn minute, a guy accused me of fraud – my degrees are not French but English so I was a fraud…) but fortunately, I had some Twitter friends to cheer me up and to help me to see the situation differently 🙂 Thanks to all of you !(you know who you are!) Continue reading

Lost in the jungle of TESOL

I was kind of naive when I decided to become an English trainer, mostly because I didn’t know where to look. At first, because I didn’t follow the traditional academic path in France (English bachelor, then a master in a French college to get a CAPES for ex.), I had to expand my horizon, and I looked all over the Internet to get information about foreign degrees.

Two names came forward: Cambridge English (for CELTA) and Trinity College (for CertTESOL). All the others TESOL/TEFL certifications seemed a little bit rubbish, and didn’t seem to get the same recognition. My mother in law was also an English teacher, and was able to help me a little bit: she passed a Cambridge Proficiency Exam  (CPE) a long time ago and advised me to do so. I thought she was wrong, that my DCL (DiplĂ´me de CompĂ©tence en Langue in French, Language Skill Degree basically) in which I scored C1+ was enough.

Spoiler alert: she was 100% right. My first attempt on CELTA was a huge failure and I flunked the written test. I enrolled to the next CPE session in Lyon (in November 2016) and started to study in August. I found, on the internet, a French training session, something totally new and unique: a DU (University’s diploma) in English training. I applied, without thinking about it. The DU, back then, consisted of three intense weeks in Grenoble and some online workshop. (It now consists of four weeks, starting January 2018) Continue reading

To challenge some received wisdom

This week, someone told me, with a grave face, that being an English teacher was, for me, “easy”.

I took a few seconds to analyze that sentence and then, asked why she would think such a non sense. That person replied “well, you traveled a lot and you are always reading in English, so it’s not that difficult for you to teach it.”

There is a huge difference between knowing a language and teaching a language. It may sound foolish to say, but there is a gap: don’t ask me to teach French, for example, I would be the worst teacher ever. The fact that you know something (knitting, skiing, Finnish, whatever) doesn’t make you a teacher, it’s not without thinking. Basically, if I follow that logic, any person on the streets should be able to teach me how to make a division without a calculator. I highly doubt that is the case.

Of course, we must know the language to teach it. I can also tell you that some teachers are asked to teach a language (like English) when they initially teach another language or another discipline (true story: my first year in middle school in France, my teacher was a History teacher and not an English one, she had no idea what she was talking about for a whole year).

So, yes, loving the language helps. But being good at explaining helps too. I, once, had an amazing science teacher in high school. By the end of the year, she confessed that she wasn’t a science teacher at all, but a nurse trainer in a hospital! She reconciled me with science and never knew it. Being patient, being passionate, being good at explaining, these qualities are necessaries to be a good teacher. Being able to recite, by heart, the page 32 of Little Women is not.

Nothing makes teaching “easy”. There is no secret recipe, or we would all sharing it (or pay for it, depends on who found that recipe!).


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