Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Category: ELT (page 2 of 13)

Am I good enough?

I pretty much ask myself that question every day since the beginning of the school year.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, sure you had realized that I was quite busy, that I hadn’t updated in weeks, that my plate was quite full. I started yet another challenge, yay. I have been teaching for more than two years, I’m still a baby teacher, a rookie, after all. So I guess wondering if I am a good teacher is quite normal at this stage.

Let me explain what’s happening lately: I started teaching in a local college (literally right after high school – first year college students!) and well, the experience has been enriching so far. I never really took for granted that students wanted to be in front of me; even when I worked briefly for a language school in England. But this experience is whole new level.

So I was expecting young people in front of me (they are ten to twelve years younger than me after all, I can call them young people) but not that young. I mean, that type of young. I wouldn’t be mean to call them naive, but they are definitely out of this world. Not all of them are like that, of course not. I have also amazing classes who are motivated, focused, and know that education matters. But I also have a class full of slackers.

France is not a huge fan of teachers in general and I am not a huge fan of the French system either. We teachers are basically the official government’s punchbag for quite some time now, and language teachers are considered as useless most of the time. I can’t count how many students have told me “I can’t believe you are French, you never speak French in class!’. Apparently, it’s mandatory to speak your native tongue despite teaching another one, I was not aware of that rule though.

I know I sound dorky by saying that I want to help my students, that their successes matter to me, that I am glad when I hear a struggling student saying “I got it!”. I decided to teach English fully aware that half of my students would probably hate it. But I really mean it, I feel lucky enough to do a job that I love.

But despite that, I wonder if I am enough, if my good will, my good feelings will be enough to prove my point. When marketing and advertisement became more important than education and knowledge, I guess society lost it and will pay the price later. Sorry for getting dark tonight guys, I didn’t want to. I guess wondering is healthier than just accepting facts, but nonetheless, it can give quite a headache.

Here we go again

Temperatures are dropping, days are getting shorter (at least, where I am currently, it might not be your case), it means only one thing: my third year as an English as Foreign Language is starting!

I am teaching a looooot of people this year, and they couldn’t be more different:

-First year students at a local college, who are preparing the French equivalent of an Associate’s degree in Business.

-MA (in Marketing) students at the same local college

-Employees of a petrochemistry company (which is really funny, because I know next to nothing to petrochemistry, and they teach me a lot about it)

-Seniors! Seniors everywhere!

In a previous post, I mentioned that teaching seniors was extremely interesting, but also tiring and intense. Nonetheless, it allows me to try different techniques and methods, like using literature within the class (with B1 students), Project-Based-Learning (with B2 students)… Yes, it takes a long time to prepare all the classes. Yes, it’s tiring because they are demanding a lot. But I am allowed to design my own classes, I can use what I want to use, they are determined and motivated, it’s flexible.

I am not doing a MA and a Delta just to stay an EFL teacher ad vitam aeternam, that would be a lie, as you probably already suspected. I’d like, at some point, to become a DoS, or a teacher trainer, and the Senior Language School (within a company- there are only retired people from this precise company, so I am technically an employee of that company as well) I am in charge of is the best first step I could dream of.

What is this Senior Language School anyway? Two “Elementary 1” classes of 90 minutes (Mondays and Wednesdays) which are basically A0/A1; one “Elementary 2” class of 90 minutes on Wednesdays which are A1/A2; four “Intermediate” classes (two are 45 minutes as it’s only a conversation class – one is quite traditional and the last one is called “Introduction to British culture”), which are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays , for B1 students and the last class is called “Advanced”, but should be called “Project class” (I literally call her the “PBL class” myself) on Wednesdays, for B1+/B2 students. I am designing all these classes, and I, of course, teach them.

So you know pretty much everything about my projects for this academic year. I hope everything will go as smoothly as possible, and I wish you the best for this new year 🙂

Five weeks out of six!

I used to think that I pretty good at my job. Not like a genius, but pretty good. These days are OVER.

That’s the magic of Delta: you think you know something, like yourself, or your job, or the English language, and well, you don’t. Mostly because you have to think a specific topic (like multi word verbs) completely differently, and because you have to write 2000 to 2500 words on it (which can sound either too much or not enough) and create a lesson. It can make you loose all confidence in yourself. It can make you scream that you are the shittiest teacher ever on the planet. But apparently, at the end, you are a better teacher, so I heard.

I toyed with the idea of teaching poetry for a while, and I never felt good enough to teach writing. I love writing, obviously, but I felt that teaching it would be just too much, that I wouldn’t know what to do. So for my second skills assignment (I passed my first skills assignment on reading for global understanding), I decided to go for it, and I chose writing informal emails (LSA3). The bright side: my students didn’t sleep during my poetry class, nor just wrote a couple of sentence during the informal emails’ lesson. The less bright side: I didn’t sleep a lot because of all the prep, but it was worth it. It showed me where my strengths were, but it didn’t show me how to overcome my weaknesses aka systems assignment, nor my demons.

I am not surprised I failed my systems assignment (LSA2). I was sloppy on it, I designed the lesson backwards, I wasn’t confident AT ALL during the lesson… I would have been surprised if I HAD passed. Now that LSA4 is around the corner, (and yeah, it’s a system one again!) I am feeling more and more insecure. I know I shouldn’t, because that’s also why I failed the previous one, but I can’t help myself but thinking that my explanations are too blurry, that I don’t know how to anticipate problems… I am writing down pretty much everything I can think of, hoping it would click or something like that. My lesson is better designed than the one I had for LSA2, and I feel a little more confident about the topic in general (modals of obligation and permission), but I can’t stop myself from thinking that I won’t be enough.

Remaining sane during this course is not an easy task. Honestly, it’s been the worst five weeks of my life so far, despite the happy moments and I can’t thank my cohort enough. I am pretty sure we are going to start a support group the second we are going to leave Bournemouth, because we will seriously develop PTSD. It feels like we have been here for months and that we have been through everything together. (That’s the silver lining moment).

I still have learned something along the way: it’s healthier to question yourself daily than never at all.

Still I rise

This week was all about Experimental Practice; as you may remember, I am currently doing DELTA module 2 and as part of the PDA Action and Research, I decided to focus on a specific point: poetry.

Before going further, I have to add that despite the fact that I studied French literature in high school intensively, I always despised the poetry part of it. I never understood the point of explaining, stanza per stanza, what the author was trying to say. But that was in French.

Since I became an English teacher, I studied literature differently, for my own pleasure. I have realized the power of literature, how it provides a strong context to the learners, how it can be used to introduce a complicated topic. I have always read a lot in English, but I started to read poetry in English only a year ago, thanks to Maya Angelou. I read Me & Mom & Me while at Yale, and pretty much read her entire work after that.

For most of my learners, English is a simple way to communicate; and there is nothing behind it. English is way more than that, but the magic is hidden behind grammar rules and lexical patterns. I decided to focus on poetry during my EP to show how powerful language can be, and I chose Still I rise by Maya Angelou.

Bear in mind that my multilingual class is composed of five different nationalities (Ecuadorian, Czech, French, Saudi and Venezuelan), from age 29 to 56 and are intermediate. I started the class by quickly introducing Maya Angelou (As a learner, I really do think it’s helping to know who wrote the piece before actually reading it) and today will be about poetry (I could see right away who would be interested and who would be on Snapchat during the entire lesson)

I then explained the different poetic figures: hyperbole, metaphor… (teaching how to pronounce “hyperbole” was actually funnier than I thought it would be) and put them in pairs to read the poem. While they were done reading it (and very puzzled), still in pairs, I asked them to underline each hyperbole, or metaphor or imagery they could find in a stanza (each pair had a different stanza) and to write what they thought the author wanted to say. I did the first stanza with them, to provide a model.

Some of my students were just looking around like “what the hell is she asking us to do?!” but my older ones were really into it. Everybody tried their best, even the one who literally asked me what I was trying to do with that damn poem. We discussed the several topics Maya Angelou mentioned in the poem and I ended the lesson by showing them a video of the poet reciting Still I rise at Clinton inauguration.

The whole point of that lesson was to force me out of my comfort zone, but to make my learners realize that by learning another language, they were entering a new world. Learning a language is not about putting words next to each other in order to be understandable when you order in a restaurant. Learning another language, any language, is sculpting your own door to another way of thinking.

That is why I teach English and not French. This week, I have seen that Facebook post which was literally “dear non-natives, why don’t you teach your own language?” Languages are beyond passports and nationalities, and the only reason we categorize people over these insane criterions is purely marketing. I cannot teach French because I don’t feel a connexion with it, I teach English because I love it with every fiber of my being and that detail change everything when you are a teacher.

What I have learned during my second year of teaching English as a Foreign Language

The academic year 2018-2019 seemed promising, after all. I had a new contract (teaching MA students), I had contracts with several training centers, I was starting my own MA in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. Spoiler alert: it didn’t go as planned.

As a teacher, I learned valuable lessons. I have realized that teaching one-to-one was clearly not for me, and I stopped very early on. My experience at Yale helped me design a new curriculum for my MA students, focused on speaking, and I have set reachable goals for each of them. I wanted them to feel safe, to find themselves a motivation and a reason to come. I wanted to make a difference, which sounds a little bit idealistic, but I think I succeeded with some of them. One of them wrote me a note, at the end of the semester, to say that my class was always enjoyable and that she had gained confidence to speak in English. It’s exactly the goal I tried to reach with them. With my seniors, we worked on a long-term project: a trip in London, which we planned for months, before actually go in April.

As a person, I also learned a lot. Being a teacher means that you can care too much about your learners; they are not only people you see every week, they also share a lot with you, you are involved within their progress. That’s why I don’t teach exams: I would be more stressed than my students! But this year, I experienced some health issues, and a training center basically told me that I shouldn’t stop to take care of myself. I had Lasik surgery (to get rid of my myopia), and my cornea was scratched in the process. I had to rest for three weeks, and obviously, I couldn’t drive. But that particular training center decided that it wasn’t a decent reason, and they literally accused me of being lazy. Needless to say, I left that training center 🙂

As a student, I started my MA in TESOL and Applied Linguistics in September. I quite enjoyed it, but I underestimated the amount of work I would have to do, which is 100% my fault, and also the fact that I would be completely alone. I cannot compare my MA with the previous long distance certificate I did before, such as the TKT, but I really thought that I would have some support. I failed my last paper, as I had too much work, so that was not a huge surprise, but anyway, I didn’t do the job. I applied for a MA with all these wonderful ideas, with that utopian vision, and now, I have realized that maybe I am not MA material after all.

One of the most important things I have learned this year is that I deeply care about my students, and why they are learning. I am involved in my classes, I spend a great deal preparing them, and I am always trying to learn new things. It’s interesting to read about Universal Grammar, but honestly, I know I’ll never use it in real life. Writing a Critical Literary Review on the difference between adults and children learners of English was not something I regret, but I would have preferred to write about adapting authentic material.

I am not done with my MA yet; first of all, I failed a paper, second of all, it is a long distance course, so it’s taking even more time than usual. I set an unreachable goal for myself, and I am considering focusing on my DELTA instead of doing both. Doing a DELTA was something I decided a long time ago; right after my CELTA, my teachers said that I should consider a DELTA. It is way more practical, it involved having a teaching practice, to write about a specific situation, to provide answers. Doing a DELTA was always my plan, and the idea to do a MA came second. I needed experience to apply for a DELTA, I didn’t need that much for my MA. Turns out, that experience was much needed, and I should have waited before starting my MA. Maybe also, a MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL is not what I need.

I am also TESOL France Lyon region coordinator, a job I took last September, but that I am not doing correctly. I organized some workshops, but I could do more, I could get involved more, but let’s be honest, I don’t have the time. And teaching is my priority, always. My students will always come first and foremost.

I am moving back to Bournemouth by the end of the week, to start the second module of the DELTA. I was supposed to take the first module this June, but I didn’t train enough and clearly, one failure was enough. I studied for the first module though, and I’ll take it in December.

Did I try too much this year? Yes.

Did I make a lot of mistakes this year? Yes.

Do I have to slow down? Yep.

I feel quite embarrassed to write that I had failed. I really thought I could have it all: to teach, to be a student again, to create workshops, to meet people, to go to conferences… I can’t. My priorities also changed, and I already know that I’ll work differently next academic year. If I had known how difficult that year would be, I would have stopped a lot of things beforehand.

However, I am now completely sure of the kind of teacher I want to be, and that one is valuable enough to make me feel (almost) okay.

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