I have always loved children. While attending university I remember thinking of how cute, funny, and active they were, and most importantly, that they were not my children, nor my students. I recall the first time I entered a regular school to observe some lessons as part of my training program from university. Reality struck, and I was horrified. All the yelling, the movement, the teacher’s struggle to keep the discipline, coming from children that were not mine. I didn’t see the point and therefore made the obvious choice for me back then: I started teaching adults.
When later in life, with considerable teaching experience, the idea of becoming a mother was on the menu, lo and behold, I felt unexpectedly driven and motivated to teach young learners. I figured it would somehow help me understand the way children think and act, and this could prepare me to be a better mother.
You know what they say: if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. Needless to say, my first years as a YL’s teacher were, to put it mildly, a nightmare. I didn’t know how to deal with them and to my despair, I hadn’t received any proper training to teach English to young learners either. Looking back, I honestly believe that nobody wanted to teach kids in the school where I worked and the ones who were trying to do so had absolutely no support and were considered less important or linguistically capable than the ones teaching adults, business English or exam preparation classes. Thankfully, the way we teach children in Brazil, the qualifications offered to professionals who choose to teach YLs, have changed for the better in the last 15 years, and that’s something we should all be celebrating.
Back then, things were different. So, after a long and painful period, I was finally pregnant, expecting my sweet Malu to be born. My career had been transformed by the fact that I had for the past four years worked independently teaching adults as well as older young learners in the comfort of my house, using the materials I had chosen and delivering results that were making me proud and my students pleased.
But then, how fun is it if nothing changes after you bring a whole new person to the world? Well, not much I guess. My daughter was born, and suddenly, all the patience, the love and caring I had always dedicated to my students didn’t seem to work with my only child. Despite being a dedicated and loving mother, my little one and I were not a match made in heaven. The first years were hard. She wouldn’t listen to me and I failed miserably to understand that the children I used to teach were, to start with, much older than my daughter, and surprise: they were not my children. It was frustrating to realize that all the learning, the hours I had dedicated to studying children’s mental and physical development during four years at university didn’t help at all. It seems that when you become a mother your whole brain falls asleep, even though your body never does. Nothing seemed to work and I felt like a failure.
When Malu was two and a half years old we had the opportunity to move to Europe due to my husband’s job relocation. While living in Austria for three years, I was offered a job to work with very young learners in different kindergartens in and around the city. I was constantly in awe of the children’s manners. They were so quiet and well-mannered, while my daughter… well she was “Brazilian”, like her teachers used to say, as if her passport came with a warning sign. Unfortunately, in her Austrian school, her childlike enthusiasm and behavior were considered wrong and impolite. She was called naughty multiple times and we were forced to make her fit, make her obedient and turn her into someone she was not. It took me a few years, coupled with hours and hours of therapy to make peace with my motherhood and with her way of being, but something was still bothering me.
Eventually our time abroad was over, and we came back to Brazil for a fresh start. At last, she was attending a school with kids and teachers she shared a nationality with. She could be herself. But, what about me? Was I convinced that she was a “normal child”? Over the past years I had been told so many times that she was too agitated, too talkative, and that all that cheerfulness was a problem, that she was not normal, that I was still struggling to believe she was just like most children are supposed to be.
One of the reasons I love life is because it is the best teacher a person can have. I was again teaching adults and older teens and didn’t have any plans to start teaching kids. I wanted to save all my energy and my patience to raise Malu. But life happened again, and I got an invitation to start teaching my students’ children. Why not? It’s just a couple of kids, I thought.
A couple of kids and my daughter. She was now in class with me, as my student, interacting with other kids right in front of my motherly eyes.
And there they were: three lovely, full-of-life, enthusiastic children. Ordinary kids just like my daughter. Then it struck me: I had failed to see her, her true and beautiful colors. I have a vivid memory of coming home after teaching her for the first time and telling my husband and my mother that she was just like her classmates: a typical child.
Right after this first experience, the number of kids looking for a school with a different approach to teaching young learners grew and I decided to start a school to cater for this demand. My guidance came through Malu’s eyes. She told me what she thought an English school for children should have: toys, crayons, markers, play dough, music, dancing and fun, lots of fun. English For Life was born!
After five years, having taught a great number of kids I can say with all my heart that each child is unique. They see the world in their own way. My true calling as an educator came through the struggle of being a mother. Every day is a chance to improve as a mother as well as an educator. As parents, we should be able to respect, love, and support them through the good and bad moments. As educators, we should be able to hold their hands while they walk the beautiful path of learning and becoming whoever they wish.
Evelin Soldera has been an English teacher for 26 years now, having worked in a range of contexts in language schools, in companies, as well as abroad. She holds a TKT YL, a TRINITY COLLEGE LONDON Certif cate in spoken English, has a degree in Languages from UNICAMP and she is currently taking the CELT-P course as well as preparing to sit for the C2 Prof ciency Exam by the end of the year.