Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: January 2018

Being an English learner in France: a journey

As you probably know if you read my blog, I started English when I was really young, as an experiment: I was around four the first time I actually “used ” the language (I was about to say “studied” but I was four: it was mostly games, songs, culture awareness…). You might also know that I taught myself later, using TV shows such as Buffy the vampire slayer and Ally McBeal  and reading books such as Harry Potter. I think it is safe to say, without bragging, that I succeeded since I am now an English trainer.

Like a lot of children in France in my first year of middle school (what we call sixième), English became mandatory and that, till the end of high school (Baccalauréat). I was really happy about it, so excited that I couldn’t stop talking about it to my mom: I wanted to be fluent already! Saying that I was disappointed was beyond words:

-Our material was outdated: the expressions inside were useless and prude. We were in 2000s back then, and yet my book was talking about an “expecting lady”, not a pregnant woman and that same lady was saying old fashioned expressions such as “it’s raining cats and dogs”. My middle school teacher went in England once in her life, and it was during the eighties: she had no idea what she was talking about. The worst part is: I had her for three years.

-I never, ever, worked on pronunciation. Actually, I don’t even remember if I said a whole sentence during my first two years in middle school. We had to learn by heart everything and we were filling gaps, when we weren’t reading some useless texts about umbrellas and five o’clock tea. The first presentation I had to prepare and to perform was during my last year of high school. When it comes to irregular verbs, I had to learn it every year, for five years. I hated it, and I always flunked my test, because I couldn’t see the point. When I told my teacher that I didn’t care about filling gaps in a column full of irregular verbs, because at least I knew when to use them, she told me it was not important and gave me zero.

-We never, ever, used authentic materials. I went to England for the first time at 13, and when I asked if we could talk about my experience here, using some prompts that I took there, my teacher coldly told me that we had to stick to the program (which was, of course, completely irrelevant, I think we were talking about how to describe roughly a house). The only cultural element we talked about was Henry VIII and his six wives: we did so during four years.  Continue reading

A new adventure begins!

Before starting to write about my new adventure in London, I just wanted to say that I have been quite out lately because 1) I was moving out 2)I had a sinus infection and 3)I don’t have Internet in my new apartment. But I don’t have excuses anymore, so let me tell you about what’s happening now.

I enrolled to do a CertIBET in London (International House), in case you don’t know what that is, it is fairly simple: it stands for Certification in International Business English Training, basically, I will learn how to teach Business, Financial and maybe even Legal English.

After finishing my CELTA this summer, I decided that I couldn’t stop there; I wanted to know more! I checked around for some specialized certifications, in England of course, because France doesn’t offer a wide range of specialized certifications (if my memory is correct, there is only one school actually, a very good one – I took my TKT with them). I was kinda lost at first, between the acronyms (CLIL, TYLEC, CertIBET for ex) and the official and unofficial certifications, thus I didn’t know which was one was best for me and my situation. Because it’s not actually free (not at all, actually, it’s damn expensive), I really wanted an official certification, something else than just a piece of paper that some random person could have as well. Then, I had two choices: Cambridge’ s certifications  or Trinity College ‘s certifications.

Since I worked six years in real estate, and I went to business school, it was logical for me to apply for a CertIBET, at least, I know what I am talking about (most of the time). Even if I really enjoyed working with kids, doing a TYLEC (a Trinity College certification for teaching Young Learners) doesn’t seem quite right, as I am currently teaching adults: I wanted to do something I could use now. I wondered about CLIL as well (Content and Language Integrated Learning) but I wasn’t sure I could use it right away.

So, here I am now, about to start my CertIBET, which was also a nice excuse to spend a couple of weeks in London, and I hope I will have enough time to write about the experience here. I also hope that I will be able to keep up and to produce a decent paper at the end, but that’s another story!

I care too much

There is something I realized last week, and I am not (really) proud of it: I care too much.

It’s good, as a teacher, to care for your students: you want them to succeed, you want them to understand, you praise them… Caring is undeniable for a teacher. You can’t be a teacher if you don’t care. Be a zookeeper or a supermarket security guard if all you care about is listening to yourself and ignoring your students.

But I do care too much. See, I was thinking about taking another job, and that would mean leaving my current students behind. I always found excuses not to leave them, for example:

-She will lose her motivation

-They are used to our habits and won’t behave well

-He will stop his efforts

-They won’t continue to learn

I am lucky enough not to have really difficult groups, nor students, they are, most of them, motivated, nice, friendly. Even my busiest student always tries to make an effort, because she knows I care. When I left BEET last August, I cried during my flight back home because my students had sent me a nice email and some lovely comments on Instagram. Maybe I am too sensitive, maybe I am just a newbie and I need experience, but either way, I couldn’t leave my current students and I decided not to get the other job.

For now, I don’t care about something else than my students’ improvement. I want them to feel good during our classes, and to enjoy them, as much as I do. I don’t know if I am right to care this much, but I am afraid that, for now, I am not able to be otherwise.

Back to work!

After ten days without classes, but with tons of Christmas food, Disney movies and Harry Potter books to read (Yes, I am 8 when I am on vacations), the cold and dark reality hit me: it was already the time to go back to work.

Aaaand my students didn’t study during Christmas break. I should have known, but still, I had this little spark of optimism inside of me.. They were happy to come back though, they had a lot of New Year’s resolutions and they were glad to share them with me like “I am going to go more often at the gym” or “I am going to stop smoking”. My favorite’s being “I am going to become flexitarian” because I had to google this one out.

Despite their “laxity”, I was glad to get back with them and to start teaching again.

But teaching isn’t only being in front of students: I (finally) registered to take the IELTS in order to apply for a MA in TESOL for fall 2018! I wanna learn more about teaching and get different experiences: staying in one place is not healthy for me (or for anybody, actually). I think that I couldn’t be a proper teacher if I wasn’t always looking for new tools, new ideas, new materials or just to share (experiences, ideas) with other teachers. If I wanted to repeat every week the same speech, I would have registered to become a parrot, blimey, not an English teacher!

I felt a little behind this fall, despite what I have done, because I had some personal matters to take care of (like, selling our place, for ex.) but I don’t know if it’s the New Year or what, but I feel back on track, which is good, because if you remember correctly, I am doing a CertIBET in London in two weeks!

Let’s do this, 2018!!

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