Imagine that you are used to swimming in a pool with warm water and you
know if you sink you, somehow, reach the bottom of it, but out of the blue you are thrown into the sea where there are sharks, jellyfishes, the tide and the ground is too far away. That was the sensation I had when I started teaching English in High School and similar to the iconic verse from Guns’n’roses I spent months asking myself “Where do I go? Where do I go now?”
Firstly, it is important to say that there are a huge stigma surrounding regular schools in general, for so many times I was biased by the idea that the “English” from the regular school was bad, the teachers were unprepared, it’s impossible to work with forty students and it’s inevitable to leave the “verb to be”. The reality I encountered wasn’t far different from that, an enormous language discrepancy among learners like a student who got 900 at TOEIC and someone who has never seen the difference between was and were. Students who were, really, English-illiterate, tired of the way
classes were presented in school and of just being there. Let’s be honest, for them school is boring as hell. Not only having all these students’ issues, there was the external pressure of parents, the principal and the material which is not helpful at all.
And there was me facing this reality and bending over backwards to not panic every time I stepped into the classroom. It was a real struggle to me since I, with all the background I have, was unable to help my students, to make them learn and enjoy the class and by the end of the day I was feeling a complete failure. To add, the school’s principal was too strict in relation to the material, claiming that it was the only way to teach. That’s true if we were in 1912.
The turning point was when a student asked me if I could bring a song to the class and I humbly talked to my coordinator to do so. To my surprise I was allowed. Coming from the language institute world the way things went on regular school was a bit of a shock to me. The materials did not cover all the four skills, the lesson plans and goals were somehow strange to me, there were tons of translation exercises and many of the exercises were too difficult, however I saw the light in the end of the tunnel when I was able to use a song.
That day something has clicked on me, my main objective was driven by this question: “How can I promote real learning in this environment?” My learners deserve quality in their lives and I can do that. This is my mantra since then and here some things that I found out:
1) Real people, real learning
I just started to talk to them getting to know their real learning needs and
difficulties. I created a form and ask the to answer. The answers were the most varied ones from “I don’t know anything in English”, “I want to watch Friends” to “Can we read Shakespeare?” They want to learn and be there, it just needs to change the point of view.
2) Getting closer
Another thing that I noticed is that teen need desperately contact, specially physically. Most of the classrooms have a little stage near the board in order teachers can be seen, actually this position only keep the distance even further. When I stepped out from the stage and started to walk around, telling that I was there form them, to help whenever they needed to. This attitude reduced drastically the behavior issues and in my second grade every time I enter there’s a big line waiting for me to hug them.
3) Focus on them
As I said before, there’s a real mindset in schools that students have to listen
and teachers say, no questions, no thinking. Seeing my colleagues complain that they could not deliver their lessons due to behavior issues, made me really pissed! Of course, you are giving a lesson for you not for them! With another question in mind “How can I focus my lessons on my students?” I started to focus all my teaching energy to discover ways to make my lessons as more student centered as possible. Because of them I could learn more about “active learning”, “flipped classroom”, “blended learning”, “design thinking” and much more.
Finding myself in a classroom of a regular school was, surely, one of the scariest first experiences I’ve ever had professionally, even though these past few years were the ones I exponentially grew up because when life throws you in an ocean, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.
Mainly R. V. dos Santos Fumene, Teacher Mai, has over 12 years of experience in the field. Currently, she is working as a high school teacher. She holds BA and MA in Languages from Mackenzie University and is finishing another post-grad course in English literature, she also got CAE, CELTA and Train the Trainer from Cambridge. She is passionate about active learning, dogs, coffee and Gilmore Girls.