A lifelong friend of mine has been a teacher her entire adult life. Before coming to Puerto Vallarta she shared her secret to being a good teacher. “Act like you know what you’re doing,” she told me. My experience these last for weeks in the classroom has proved her words to be true.
What surprised me most about the teaching practicum is how the students expect this to be true as well. They walk into the classroom more or less ready to accept that their teacher knows exactly what she is doing. A student’s quickness to look to me for answers, confirmation, and explanations struck me immediately. It’s an awesome responsibility and one that is basically the teacher’s to squander if they are not careful.
This attitude has made me realize the importance of preparation, of familiarizing myself with the curriculum, making sure that I, too, understand the directions, so it’s clear what exactly is expected of the students as I guide them through their workbook exercises.
During the training I learned, much to my delight, how to parse a sentence using the correct grammatical terms, that the key to recognizing the perfect tense is knowing there is some form of the verb “have” in the clause, and the subtle differences between the five conditionals. All these are important to explain in class, but I also learned that fiddling with the CD player for minutes on end can derail a class faster than you can say, “This would have been a great class, if only the teacher knew how to work the equipment.”
Before teaching practices, I thought my years of studying French and Spanish off and on would be an asset to me as an educator. This has proved to be true. As a language learner myself, I understand the challenge these students face in acquiring a language to the level where you can actually have an easy conversation with a native speaker (as opposed to filling in the blanks in a workbook in which all the answers are there if you have been paying attention.) In fact, with its emphasis on L1 only, EFL curricula is more challenging than the various French and Spanish text books I’ve studied over the years, since those texts always gave the directions in English! At least at the earliest levels….