The Crux of the Process

Marisa Pavanby Marisa Pavan

If you ask me what the crux of the teaching-learning process is, I’d reply it is listening to your students. What can you learn from doing so? Well, you can get to know about your students’ favourite books, films, sports, music and profit from the information you gather. The advantage would be that if the data appear in the tasks used to help students develop the necessary strategies to learn the language, it can be highly motivating and students feel encouraged to participate. In addition, if students feel at ease and respected—and provided they believe they can trust you as a reliable adult—they will express their views in different ways. They will clearly voice their opinion when analyzing a story, an article, or a song, among other discussion stimuli.

On this occasion, to learn about my students’ opinions and expectations about teachers, I shared a survey with the different groups I teach. A total of 34 students, whose ages range from 13 to 17 years old, belonging to three intermediate to upper intermediate classes, were invited to participate in the survey.

This survey was divided into three parts:

  1. In the first part, I asked students what they expect from a teacher and I offered a list of options such as ‘motivation to study the subject,’ ‘challenging content and assignments’, ‘attention to students’ needs’, ‘belief that students can succeed’, ‘letting students ask the questions’, and ‘asking questions about students’ ’
  2. In the second part, I asked students to express what advice they have for people currently teaching.
  3. In the third part, I asked students to choose qualities that they felt were essential for being a good teacher.

On analyzing the results obtained in the first part of the survey, I found that 75% of the students expect teachers to help provide ‘motivation to study the subject.’ Keeping this in mind as I plan for lessons encourages me to look for material and tasks that I know will suit my students’ interests and tastes. I am convinced that in this way, students feel like they are an integral part of the learning process. And I find proof of this is their willingness to participate in certain tasks. For example, most of the students in one of the groups I teach are fond of films. I recently came across a video in which celebrities shared the first film that made them cry. I uploaded that video into the Google+ Community I share with my students, and wrote a post about the first film that I remembered having made me cry. I also encouraged the students to share as well. Before they had even stepped into a classroom, my students had been motivated to work on their: listening skills through watching a video; reading skills by reading my post; and writing skills by sharing with the rest of the class. One student also felt comfortable enough to share the sad part of a cartoon that had made him cry. And because these interactions all took place in the world of SNS, outside of the confines of the classroom, my students were encouraged to become independent learners. It is probably no surprise that in addition to wanting help getting motivated to learn, many of my students also expect teachers to ‘offer challenging content and assignments.” Without enough of a challenge, motivation can often disappear in a pool of boredom. I try, and will continue to try, to provide my students with interesting content and challenging assignments.

When it came time for my students to offer advice for teachers, they asked us to be, ‘understanding if a student couldn’t do the homework.’ It is a reminded that our students lead busy lives. Up until now, I have tried to keep this in mind by being willing to negotiate deadlines to hand in homework as well as scheduling test dates with my students. I don’t want them to fail just because they feel overly pressured due to lack of time to prepare.

When it came to my students opinions about what ‘makes a good teacher,’ they most often sited the characteristic of ‘coming to class each day in a good mood, and feeling excited and enthusiastic about doing their job.’ I think that teaching is often times like acting. Teachers sometimes need to play a role in the classroom in the same way as actors/actresses do on stage. We have to forget about our private lives, find a way to ignore our personal problems and issues while doing our jobs. Perhaps this ties in with the fact that my students also believe that ‘being inspirational’ is another key trait of good teachers. And this is not only of benefit to our students, but to our own satisfaction as well. Inspiring our students to learn, to dream, to follow their passions is one of the highest rewards of teaching.

As a final option, students were given space to add any other ideas or thoughts they had on what makes a good teacher. One student wrote, ‘EVOLVING.’ I take this to mean that teachers need to be flexible, to change and update their teaching, to always strive to continue to develop. I feel that is exactly right. When I take the time to listen to my students, I am reminded of why I became a teacher in the first place. I chose teaching because it is a profession in which, while looking for tools to help my students to grow, I can also find room to grow as well as I take part in the process.

One Student’s Voice

Theodora Papapanagiotouby Theodora Papapanagiotou

A few months ago, when and I saw that there was going to be a “Student Voices Issue” for the iTDi blog, I knew just whom I wanted to help me contribute to the issue.

theodora260415-1I have known Helen since kindergarten. Now she is almost 15. We have grown together, year by year, influencing each other. Helen is a huge Harry Potter fan and she has read every Potter book there is, some in Greek and some in English. The impressive thing was that although her level back when she started them in English was not so high, she insisted on reading the book with a dictionary next to her. It took her a lot of time to finish, but she showed real determination to succeed and even gave me motivation to go on as a teacher. She is a very bright young lady, hard working, strict with herself, but also very sensitive. I imagine her in the future as a doctor or perhaps a very knowledgeable scientist like her favourite character from Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper, who is both a genius, and a funny person in his own way. I find myself wondering sometimes if she is actually the teacher and I am the student. I hope you enjoy what she has to say.

An Ideal Teacher

theodora260415-2Throughout my years as a student I have come across many types of teachers but only a few have fulfilled my expectations. Some were very meticulous while others did perfunctory work. There was also a special category that possessed ”magic powers” like a spell that made everyone sleepy and a special potion, which made a subject indescribably strenuous. So all these thoughts made me wonder, what makes an adequate teacher?

 To start with, the fundamental role of teachers is to zealously hammer interest for the subject and not vigorously prepare students for exams and certain types of exercises. And even if they are obliged to do so, they should avoid the obsolete and conventional teaching methods to curb intellectual stagnation and blandness. The use of digital means in class can trigger the interest of pupils citing from burnout in a vast spectrum. Because of students intimate relation with computers, they memorize information more easily even when you bombard them with an abundance of details.

As for the student-teacher relation and the teacher’s behaviour in class, things here become a bit more complicated. Teachers should be adept, noble and in general role models for their class. Being demanding, frigid and strict isn’t going to help create an assertive and respectable teaching figure. Instead, teachers should shape more profound relations with every student and should not be afraid to deviate from the regular subject. It is also intrinsic to be armed with gruelling endurance and patience because judging the weaknesses of pupils isn’t a characteristic of a seasoned and considerate teacher.

Overall, I believe that the teachers’ goal shouldn’t only be transmitting knowledge but motivating students to search for it on their own. I realize it sounds a bit cliché but only in this way will teaching be a gratifying process for both teachers and students. My advice for all the teachers out there is: be witty and creative, don’t be afraid of exposure and your class will undoubtedly love you!

 Helen Gkoura

 

Now that you have read her article, I hope you realise why I feel she is so special. Her incredible use of expressions and vocabulary in general amazes me every single time I read her work.

Deep inside she is a “normal” teenage girl with all the worries and curiosity of her age. As I mentioned before, she is really strict with herself and even if she knows that she is one of the best students at her school, she always strives to exceed herself. This makes me admire her even more for her wits, her courage to express herself, and her willingness to share her opinions.

Being able to teach and learn from a student like Helen, is like being part of the future in the here and now. Reading Helen’s message to teachers I see that students don’t only care about their own learning. Our students care about us, their teachers, as well. Listening to what our students say creates a chance to keep walking into that future with them together.

Theodora

Coffee, a student’s voice, and inspiration

Kevin Steinby Kevin Stein

It’s a cold early spring day. I’m having coffee with Sachi, one of my former students. She has chosen a traditional Japanese house which was recently converted into a cafe. The floors are Japanese style straw mats. The coffee is served in bone-china so thin the light actually shines through the sides of the cup. From the large front window, we can see deer grazing in the park across the road. Sachi is wearing a sweat suit. She is, as always, smiling and relaxed. I taught her for 6 years in my advanced learner class. When she first came to my class, she was a medical student. Now she is an attending physician at one of the largest hospitals in Osaka. She is an accomplished member of the Japanese calligraphy community, a pianist, and is currently studying the art of coffee roasting. The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kevin: So what do you think of the coffee?

Sachi: It’s good. It’s a light roast, but it still manages to have a nice deep note of chocolate and a nutty quality. That’s quite difficult to get.

Kevin: You’ve had a lot of teachers over the years, can you think of three teachers who are memorable?

Sachi: Actually, I can think of many teachers who are memorable. But it’s not just the teachers. It’s the whole class. When I remember a teacher, I remember a student or two and a specific lesson as well. The teachers who I have a hard time remembering is more like a big blank in my English learning. I can’t remember the classes at all.

Kevin: That’s interesting. Do you think there is some kind of connection between good teaching and this kind of bigger picture you have of the whole class experience?

Sachi: I think so. I think a good teacher is able to make all kinds of things stand out. The best teachers I have had really give the students a chance to express themselves. So that is probably why I remember my classmates in those classes. Of course it just might be my tastes. Maybe I like a teacher who doesn’t have to have all the attention all the time.

Kevin: When you were one of my students, you always took time to ask other students what they thought in class. You were an excellent listener. What do you think about a teacher’s responsibility to teach and a teacher’s responsibility to listen.

Sachi: You know, I’m a medical doctor, and when I first started working, I thought a big part of my job was to tell patients what to do to get healthy. Which is a very typical novice doctor’s mistake. Now I know that the most important part of my job is to listen to my patients. They often know what is wrong with them. But I have to help them find the words to tell me about it. In the same way, I want my English teachers to let me speak and to let me find the words to say what I want to say. When I am a student in class, I also want to see and hear how other students express themselves. It is an important part of my learning. So I think it is a great thing when a teacher can be comfortable not talking. Of course, I love to talk, too. So sometimes I think a teacher needs to find a way to tell me to be quiet as well.

Kevin: I’m just wondering, do you think there are any other similarities between being a good doctor and being a good teacher?

Sachi: In Japanese, we use the same word for both teachers and doctors. The Chinese kanji means, “one who has lived in advance.” I take this to mean that a teacher is someone who has traveled a little further down the road that the student is on. If the student is willing, a teacher can help them take the next step a little more quickly or smoothly or enjoyably. But it is still the student who has to take that step. When you are treating a patient, it is often the same. I am an orthopaedic doctor and a lot of what I do involves patients taking special physical therapies. I might offer the treatment, but it is the patient who has to do the work.

Kevin: What happens when they just don’t do the work?

Sachi: (laughs) Are you talking about how our class never did their homework? Seriously, there is nothing I can do. But there are things I shouldn’t do. I can’t make the patient feel like a failure. If I do that, they will never go to therapy. And maybe they will just avoid the hospital. I can listen and make a different suggestion.

Kevin: Do you have any advice for teachers?

Sachi: In medicine, even in my field, which is orthopaedics, we are starting to realise that there is no such thing as illness or injury outside of a specific context. There are no living organisms which develop independently from their environment. We are focusing more and more on the environmental factors that impact our patient’s health. What is the patient’s diet at home? What is the noise condition of the neighbourhood? Is it keeping a child awake late at night, interfering with their development? Is there anything we can do to help the family mitigate these circumstances? I think learning and health are probably similar in this way.

Kevin: So you are saying that the teacher has to be aware of a student’s wider situation? That we have to understand all the factors that impact their learning?

Sachi: Not ALL the factors. But some of the factors. And more importantly, I have to help my patients learn to see the factors that impact their health even when I am not around. This is something I am just learning to do. My very best teachers helped me do this with my English learning.

Our coffee cups are empty. The sky is getting dark and the deer have all left the park across the way. Sachi looks out the window. 

Sachi: Maybe I should start taking English classes again. You know any good teachers?

Who we work with (the Coworker Issue)

When we step into a classroom, we are often entirely alone with our students. This feeling of responsibility and even isolation can be one of the hardest parts of being a teacher. But before we enter the classroom, we have the chance to connect up with teachers inside and even outside of our work place. Our coworkers help us to carry and examine our teaching experiences outside of the four walls of the classroom. In this issue, Michael Griffin and first time iTDi bloggers Laura Adele Soracco and Angelos Bollas, share stories and thoughts on coworkers, the people we work with, the people who sometimes help us become the teachers we are meant to be.

laura_profileHELPING TEACHING TO FIND ME
mike_griffin_profileON LEARNING WITH AND FROM COWORKERS
angelos_profileWHAT IS YOUR COLLEAGUE TYPE?
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Helping Teaching to Find me

laura_profileBy Laura Soracco

I did not go to college thinking I would become a teacher – teaching found me, and it kept showing up at my doorstep until I fell in love with it. As a student, I began tutoring Spanish and Italian as a way to have a bit of additional income. I remember how uncomfortable I felt when I got grammar questions, since I couldn’t really answer much beyond a “because that’s how it is said”. Learning how to teach languages was not really on my agenda. I saw myself as a political science and international relations person. But a month before getting my bachelors degree, I was offered a job training teachers in public schools all over the United States in a remedial reading program for students with reading problems. After witnessing the impact of illiteracy on so many students from different backgrounds, I started to feel differently about teaching.

The turning point in my career came after I moved to Colombia to take what I thought was a temporary job teaching English at a university while I figured out where I would go to graduate school. I joined the Foreign Languages Department a few weeks into the semester, so I was asked to work at the computer lab at first. Teachers came in with their students for an hour or two, and this gave me the chance to interact with everyone during the week. At lunch time, we often sat together and chatted. Having time outside of class to socialize made it easier to feel comfortable around my coworkers. And the way my coworkers accepted me made me want to learn more about English language teaching in general. I remember during the first few months, I was always holding on dearly to my textbook and studying the teacher’s resource book for all the advice I could get before class; fortunately my coworkers were always willing to exchange teaching ideas, tips, materials, or just listen to some of my concerns. One time I was embarrassed to admit I did not know what a clause was. I could not understand it by looking it up online either. Knowing that my coworkers could help, I asked the teacher who was known for being really good in grammar to explain what a clause was. Her non-judgmental approach was key to making me feel like I could reach out to others when I needed help. What is more important, nobody ever behaved as if my age or experience made a difference in my ability to teach well. These coworkers were a fundamental part of my training as an English teacher, even though I’m not sure they realize it.

I also made friends in other departments and faculties. We would often sit around the university’s main square after lunch, have a cup of coffee, and chat for a few minutes before going to class. Once, I even admitted to a psychology teacher that I did not feel like I could teach. I had only been teaching my own class for a few weeks and I was worried I was not doing a good job. He helped me feel like these insecurities were the rite of passage of teaching, that “nothing was wrong” with me.

Fortunately, professional development for teachers was a big part of that university. All new faculty were invited to attend sessions arranged by the school’s resource centre. The sessions helped faculty evaluate their curriculum, teaching strategies, and even how we spoke in class. I found myself enjoying the thought-provoking discussions with my colleagues at these sessions, and I knew then that I had fallen in love with teaching. These professional development opportunities were open to all faculty members, and I got to connect and form ties not only with English teachers, but also with teachers of other languages and teachers in other areas. Learning about the teaching context of faculty in other departments, like math or economics, gave me a better understanding of the challenges my students faced in their other classes.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my coworkers had not been so open to exchanging thoughts about learning and teaching English. What would have happened if I had been surrounded by coworkers who disliked their jobs, and did not feel proud of teaching English? What if my coworkers had not been willing to collaborate? I may have turned away from teaching. Instead, I can say that teaching found a way to my heart thanks to the enthusiasm and trust of all those teachers around me. Their camaraderie, their mentorship, and the love for what they do were the final push I needed to finally realize that teaching English language learners is what I truly want to do in life, and I will be forever grateful to them. What seemed like a temporary job turned into a life-long passion which has led me to an MA in TESOL and unforgettable teacher friends.