I’ve been teaching English in Spain for eight months now and my journey will soon be over. It’s been an exciting period of my life and I wanted to take the time to reflect on what I’ve learnt through this experience. So here you have it, 10 of the most important things I’ve learnt as an English teacher:
1. Children are wonderful.
They bring life to every room they step in. They bring life in the purest form – careless and chaotic, with a 5 minutes attention span, all of them sponges ready to be filled with knowledge, only if you can show them something is interesting and helps them grow.
2. Explaining our world is complicated
It’s difficult enough to communicate successfully in general, but when the actual core of communication – language – is missing, you discover how we get through to people: your gestures, hands, intonation, your whole body becomes the tool you use every day to push forward and give meaning to sounds and letters. The reward of getting through is priceless.
3. Trial and error is how we all learn
I came into this with a limited experience and played my cards as best as I could. When I didn’t take risks, my lessons were boring. When I saw that, I had to change and adapt – sometimes it paid off, other times it didn’t go perfectly, but I knew that I tried.
4. When you are there 100%, learning comes naturally
Passion shines through – you have to be the beacon of light, the butterfly that’s never tired, the one full of ideas, eager to listen, question, share and most importantly, have fun. Even if you make a mistake, students will forgive you if you show them how dedicated you are to them and the subject. However:
5. Having passion is not enough
I love the English language and I believe I understand it quite well, but to inspire the same in others I can’t just tell them how beautiful it is, I have to show them. When the students’ motivation is just passing an exam, you have to find what interests them and drag that into the classroom. I think this applies to any field. You might have the passion for what you’re doing, but you need to find common ground with others and strive to empathise.
6. If you’re not prepared, you’ll crash and burn
You develop instincts pretty quickly when it comes to subjects, but good research will make for great lessons and poor performance can always be avoided by taking that time to think through what you want to put out.
7. Never show weakness
The worst you can do is not being confident in your ability. Children especially sense it and they will take advantage of it, change the conversation and turn on you, questioning your credentials and undermining your presence. The more confident you are in what you know, the more relaxed you will be. However, this should never be taken to the extreme. If you make a mistake, admit it. We’re all human and it’s impossible to have the answer to every question.
8. Explaining concept and abstract feelings is your hardest job
You have to learn how to think on your feet, brainstorm examples of situations you’ve never imagined before, give details of every connotation of a word I could think of, make a picture appear out of words already available in a limited bank of vocabulary. This really stimulated my creativity, made me more able to adapt to any context.
9. Adapt, adapt, adapt!
I had the great opportunity of teaching children, teenagers and adults. My youngest student is 2 and the oldest is 47. When you go from one group to another, the level isn’t the only one that’s changing. You’re not only teaching different things, but everything from your behaviour to the range of vocabulary you’re using is different. I go from jumping around and singing about the weather to discussing political issues – one hour to the next. I learnt to adapt my style to each group in particular the hard way – trial and error, struggling to get 5 year olds to sit down for an entire hour and playing mime with teenagers who rolled their eyes again and again. But once you get to know who you’re teaching, you learn how to teach them best.
10. Having fun makes you a better teacher
At the beginning, I was so stressed about what I was about to do that even if I had everything prepared, my delivery lacked character. With a bit of experience, I relaxed and started having more and more fun. Now that my students got to know me, they are more interested in what I’m trying to do. Even if we don’t have a lot in common, we laugh together, we make jokes and understand each other.