Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Page 2 of 22

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.

Delta, week 2!

Wow, what a week that was! I am currently sitting in Coffee #1 on Winton, Bournemouth, preparing the lesson plan for my LSA2, which will be about multi-word verbs. But I thought that it would be nice to update you guys!

I had a nice surprise this week, which was not (entirely) Delta related: it appears that I passed my first year of my MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL. I honestly thought that I had failed (I did fail a paper though) but turns out, I am still good to go! I still have two modules to take, and a dissertation to write, but I needed that good news to keep going! I really thought I was done, I was pretty sad about it, but I can apparently use my braincells from time to time. And that’s quite nice.

Week 2 of Delta means LSA1: the background essay was due on Wednesday, the lesson was scheduled on Thursday… And I passed both of them! I can’t believe it myself, especially since I had to resubmit every damn CELTA assignment, but hell, it’s done! I feel so relieved, it’s hard to transcribe how I feel right now. Honestly, I quite liked the subject for LSA1, which was Reading for global understanding and I feel less confident about LSA2, but I am way more relaxed now than before.

I’ll keep you posted about LSA2 next week, I guess 🙂 Enjoy your weekend!

Delta Module 2: first thoughts!

If you have been following my Twitter feed lately, you might have realized that I started my DELTA (Module 2) this week at ITTC, in Bournemouth. I did my CELTA there in 2017, and had an amazing experience (I didn’t think this way every day while doing it, but two years later, I can confidently say that it went great) thanks to the amazing team of tutors. I have written a bunch of articles about it, if you feel like browsing this little blog 🙂

So, it only made sense to come back there for my DELTA. I started my MA last September, distance-learning, which is not exactly what I was expecting (see my previous article), and doing a DELTA was always in my plan anyway. I did not take the Module 1 yet, not because I didn’t prepare it, but because I didn’t feel ready in June to try it. I am working on it by myself (let’s be honest, adding the cost of a DELTA course – module one- online was also impossible for me this semester), but I was not confident enough to take it in June. Nonetheless, I applied to do Module 2 anyway, got in, and arrived in Bournemouth last Sunday.

I found exactly what I was looking for: a great cohort, amazing tutors always ready to help us and answer our numerous questions, and motivated students to practice on! I don’t know if I have been brainwashed the first time I came to ITTC, but there is a particular feeling there, which can make you feel at home. It’s extremely comforting, especially when you are doing a course as demanding as DELTA.

Key word of the upcoming six weeks: organization. We have a million things to do during DELTA, between the assignments (language, skills, professional development) and the teaching practice. Hopefully, I’ll manage to focus on a precise point (or two) to work on every day, so I won’t get lost. If I look at the larger picture, I might be sick at some point, so I’ll try to avoid that!

What else to know about starting DELTA module 2: read! Reading is a huge component of DELTA and I am glad that I had read pretty much the entire collection of How to… (I just ordered the last one, How to teach listening by JJ Wilson), How languages are learned, A-Z of ELT, Learning teaching… Honestly, half of the list provided by my tutors was already on my MA list, so don’t think that I am a weirdo who spent her entire winter reading ELT books (half winter only, I read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis the other half)

To finish, a few words about my diagnostic lesson… I have the tremendous chance to have responding students (6 of them, multilingual) and a great tutor: I challenged my inner Kirk (my former writing teacher back at Yale, aka the best teacher I ever had but also the loudest person alive) during the lesson (I was stressed as well, that didn’t help the volume), which means that I am pretty sure some of my students heard bells after the class (like, literally, tinnitus). But on the other hand, all of them felt comfortable enough to talk and to ask questions, which is quite positive, especially after only one lesson.

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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