Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: December 2018

Are you a “real” teacher, or are you an ELT teacher?

A few days ago, I attended a charity event in France. I talked with the people around me while waiting for it to begin, and some guy overheard that I had worked for years in real estate (you may remember that I studied management before switching to teaching). He came to talk to me later on, and asked me if I needed a job. I said, quite surprised, “no, thank you, I already have one. I am an English teacher.”

His answer baffled me: “I mean, don’t you want a real job?”

I have realized that we we live in a world in which selling  fit tea and watches on Instagram is a real job, but teaching a language is not.

The day right after, I saw on Instagram a poll which was asking why people were teaching ELT. The suggestions were: to travel, to save money, to improve the CV and others.  I guess I don’t know how to get rich out of teaching, because last time I checked, teaching was not the best way to become a millionaire.

The truth is: we are suffering from a bad reputation. Backpack teachers are the worst publicity we could ever dream of. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to become an English teacher, you just have to do an online certification and BAM! Becoming a real, good English teacher is another deal. It takes a long time, and it costs a lot as well (even if you do it online). Schools, sometimes, don’t even care, and just hire someone because the passport is appropriate.

Being a teacher used to mean something, but now that money is more important than everything (included our own planet), education doesn’t matter.  Someone asked me if I am also teaching Italian, since I am petitioning to obtain the dual citizenship. Why would I teach Italian? My level is B1! The fact that my family comes from Italy doesn’t make me an expert.

There is something I want to say to the man who told me that teaching wasn’t a real job. Don’t feel sorry for me, mister. You may think your situation is better than mine, because you make more money than I do. But at the end of the day, I am richer than you.


Motivated teachers, motivated students

Are our students motivated because we are motivated, as teachers, or is it the other way around?

Picture this: you planned an entire session, like a debate, and 50% of the students don’t even show up. What are you doing? You switch activities, but this one turns into a fiasco due to their lack of enthusiasm. Will you be over the moon to go back the next day?

Another day, another classroom. You are giving back evaluations, and the GPA is low. Their written level is shameful, and you don’t know who is to blame. You start your class by saying “English is not an option anymore in this world, I know you don’t like it, but…” The reaction is unanimous: “We like English! But we had unmotivated teachers, we didn’t make any effort!”

Do you want to show them what’s a motivated teacher after that speech?

When it comes to motivation, each person is different and as a NNES, there is where my own personal experience kicks in. I learned English not only because I loved the sound of it. I taught myself 3 hours a day because I wanted to watch Buffy the vampire slayer the day after it aired (yes, you can mock me, I am fine with it). It took months, back then, to have the episodes dubbed in French, and I wasn’t patient enough. My students love that story: it shows motivation.

The whole “your GPA is low, you must move your ass” ain’t gonna work, I am afraid. Some students understand the importance of English now (but they don’t understand why they have only 90 minutes class a week, and so do I) but others might think otherwise. Including, and motivating, everybody during an activity can be tough, let’s admit it. Is motivating everybody (not even remotely equally) possible? I have read enough Zoltan Dornyei to know that it would be an utopian dream.

I am far from being an expert on the field. I didn’t write fancy articles; I organized trips to England alongside students. I didn’t present my theories to my colleagues; I spent an entire afternoon helping my students with their cover letters.  All I know is that I love what I do and that I hope that will make a difference.

Last Thursday, one of my weakest student asked me for extra classes. That’s enough for me to keep going.


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