Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: September 2018

Is Celta enough?

The answer is fairly simple: no.

Think about it: becoming able to teach a language, even your native one, in 4 weeks? Just thinking “yes” would be a total aberration. Don’t take me wrong: I loved doing my CELTA. I did it in a wonderful training center in Bournemouth, and I appreciated every moment of it. But I have realized a few days ago that we were only two, out of fifteen, who were actually teaching English for a living.

I started to tutor high schoolers when I was myself in high school, and I continued for years. That could seem worthless, but that is still an experience, nonetheless. When I started my TKT, I already knew how to behave in front of a student, it was no fresh news for me. We were originally two following that course, and the other dropped after two weeks, mostly because she was afraid to be in front of actual students.

I volunteered in a primary school, did internships, got hired the minute I obtained my CELTA in a British language school for the summer. I am not saying that it’s what everybody should do that, but for me, I needed to gain experience. I needed to feel comfortable in front of my students, to feel legit, to be honest.

I have been teaching adults for the past two years now: I would have loved to have a Business English component during my CELTA. I am sure others would have loved a YL one.

Everybody takes CELTA for a specific reason: it should matter. Talk about freelancers. Talk about the Native/Non Native discrimination, because that’s a fact. Talk about certifications like TOEFL or IELTS, and how to prepare them. Talk about what will really happen to these new teachers.

Don’t skim over the reality of ELT.

Is ELT sick?

This week, I started to teach in a French business school. Being French (and Italian) myself, and fully aware of the whole Native Speaker vs Non native speaker debate, I decided to speak only English to them. I didn’t mentioned my citizenship to them, but my qualifications. As I probably mentioned before here, I don’t have a French accent, but mostly an American one.  I had 45 students that day, only one asked me, at the very end of the day, what was my first language.

I asked the entire class if they cared about my first language, or about my skills, or qualifications. Then, I told them that my first language was undeniably French. What was the point of lying anyway?

Can you imagine being a student in a classroom and randomly ask your teacher what is his/her first language? That shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. But because schools and the whole ELT industry advertised for years that Native Speakers were “better”, it is now totally acceptable. I take it as a personal attack, and I reacted that way with my too curious student.

Truth is, she was shocked by my reaction. She had no idea how rude her question was, and how downsizing it was. For her, it was totally normal. I am trying to imagine a world where you are asking your P.E teacher or your science teacher what his/her nationality is without being rude, and unfortunately, I can’t. Why is ELT different, then?

Praising native speakers is not helping the development of the language itself: it raises a bar our students cannot achieve. I always believed teachers were here to set an example (sorry if I am being old fashioned right now) and having a non native speaker as a teacher can set it.

How can you motivate teachers if the citizenship matters more than the qualifications?

How can you teach effectively if you don’t know what tomorrow is going to be?

What about co-teaching?

If you follow my little blog, or my Twitter account, you might know that I spent my summer at Yale University. Not only I prepared a certificate in American English, but I had the incredible chance to teach there.

I was lucky enough to meet on my second day Prof. Betsy Rosenblum. Betsy is not a typical ELT teacher: beforehand, she managed several healthcare centers in Connecticut and taught management for years. She decided to specialize into Business English a few years ago, and at Yale Summer Session, she was teaching the Writing Skills class.  I was supposed to observe her class once a week or so; I ended up teaching with her.

Teaching Writing can be fastidious: imagine teaching seven students from all over the world, from level A2 to C1, for 90 minutes. The first two sessions were difficult: they clearly struggled with the form more than anything else.  On the third session, we decided to split the job in half: I could teach the form (grammar, mostly) and she could teach the meaning (writing a report, for ex.)

We found rapidly our cruising speed, and we created lessons in which we could focus on our own skills as teachers. We had to work hand in hand for this, because it was crucial to be on the same page. We divided the time only once, when we talked about writing emails of complaint (I taught the first 45 minutes, Betsy handed the rest). But most of the time, we were both in front of the students!

We both had our strengths and weaknesses: she taught for years management, I only started teaching in 2016. We both helped each other, and we discovered, along the way, what we needed to move forward. I realized that I was able to create adequate activities and hand outs: she realized that she was great at lesson planning. Truth is, I highly doubted my own capacity to whip up activities before I met Betsy.

The most important question is not if the teachers loved it or not, to be honest. What about the students? Did they like it, did they feel like they learnt more by having two teachers? At the end of our last class, they actually told us that they wished we had start sooner to co-teach, so I guess it’s safe to say they liked it.  Continue reading

Welcome back!

After three weeks walking around the East Coast of the US, and a very exhausting program at Yale University, welcome back to France!

This academic year will be my second as an ESL teacher, and I’ll have new challenges to face. This year, I’ll teach in business school as an English Communication teacher, which looks like a lot to what I have done at Yale over the summer. I’ll continue to teach in companies, to teach my lovely bunch of retired people, and I’ll get back to some familiar faces as well.

In addition, I start my MA in Applied Linguistics in a few days now, distance learning! The timetable is going to be hectic for a few months, then it will get better(I hope, actually!)

For the second time in my life, I had to create a syllabus for business students, and I loved it. What goals do they have? Do they have a short-term objective, a long term one? The aim of the course is Communication skills: until now, they were studying English for TOEIC, and that was all. They are mostly 22 years old, they have a six to nine months internships starting next January and they are already specializing (marketing, PR, events’ planning…). What they want is to use the proper vocabulary, the proper English right away.

I am really looking forward to start, because I would like to continue this way, creating syllabus, working with business students in a school environment. Don’t take me wrong, I love teaching in companies, but at some point, driving every two hours to a new location is tiring. And a tired teacher isn’t a good one!

Speaking of which, I recently wrote an article for  EL Gazette than you can find here on the theme of my first year teaching ESL. I am actually going to talk about it during a poster presentation at the TESOL France colloquium next November, but I’ll talk a little bit more about that later.

For now, I have my upcoming lessons to plan, life gets back to normal tomorrow already 🙂

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