As I recently celebrated my first year as an English teacher, I thought that our students may have a crazy different version of what we are doing as teachers. Some are seeing us like superheroes, others are seeing us like lazy people… Here’s three facts that every student should know about their teacher (especially if it’s a newbie teacher, and a NNS one):
1- We are not human dictionaries
Most students automatically think that if you are a teacher, you are a living pit of knowledge. Spoiler alert: you are not. Nobody is, actually. The fact that I am non native doesn’t change a thing, there is some words that I don’t know in French too, specialized terms that I am not aware of. It’s perfectly normal to think “what on earth does that mean?” and check on a real dictionary the meaning.
“Fun” personal fact: When I came back to France after my CELTA, I started to teach a bunch of retired people. One of them was really aggressive because I was, according to him, not a “real teacher” (too young, too blonde, without a French teaching degree..) and he spent a few sessions checking via Google Translation if the words that I was writing on the whiteboard were correct. I caught him, and told him loudly to use at least a better website if he wanted to check if I wasn’t making any mistakes. Another student told him to stop, really loudly too, and he never came back to class.
2- We are afraid to make mistakes too.
Being a teacher is not being invincible and being a genius, especially when it comes to language. Who never said the wrong word at the wrong moment? Who never made a spelling mistake in their entire life? Checking is okay, it’s even recommended. It’s stressful to teach about a domain, such as engineering for ex., that you don’t know at all. Students need to relate to us, and they need to feel that it’s okay to make mistakes. Last time I checked, the winner of a national spelling bee was a middle schooler, not an English teacher.
“Risky move” personal fact: When I was in England, I had two Japanese students, who refused to speak in class, because they didn’t want to make a mistakes. I explained to them that it was a part of the process, but they still didn’t open their mouth. The next day, at the beginning of the lesson, I said that I was stuck on my German lesson (which was 100% true) and that I needed help. Another student from the class helped me, and the Japanese girls looked at me differently afterwards (enough to mutter a few words!).
3- We are stressing out over exams and certifications
When our students are taking the leap, it’s a big deal for us. We cannot know every single element on the test, we are hoping that the listening part will be okay, basically, we are more stressed than most students. It’s silly to say, but we are training our students to succeed, and they are paying us to train them, so if they are not succeeding.. It’s easy to say to a student “you are going to be okay”, but it’s hard to actually mean it.
“Overwhelmed” personal fact: In September 2016, I met Clemence, a 16 years old high school girl who wanted to apply in an international business school, but whose English level was too low (weak A2). She became my first student, I had just begun my TKT back then. We worked our ass off, I spend hours creating a program, she committed to the whole training and finally, in March 2018, she took the First Certificate. I couldn’t sleep the entire week before, I was always overthinking about details and we did a mock exam two days before. She was definitely in a better shape than me when she entered in the exam room! She scored 172, and I was so proud I couldn’t stop telling people, like a madwoman.