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Teaching English in Global Contexts - A Wikibook published by the students of L530 class
Pages and Files
4. ELT Curricula
5. ELT Standards
6. Critical Incidents
Table of Contents
Charles Jeffrey Danoff’s Educational Autobiography
I did not take a single education class before I began teaching English. Luckily, I had a lifetime of incredible teachers, whose methods I could imitate. I have since stared formally studying my profession, but the biggest influences for me will always be my teaching hall of fame: Tom, Professor Pinchin and Ms. D, three lifelong students who loved what they taught.
I had multiple ice hockey coaches who viewed punishment and derision as the most effective means of communication. If I or one of my teammates were not working hard the coach might insult us for not caring enough. Should an oversight allow the other team to score, he would punish us by not allowing us to play again that game.
Both of these techniques were designed to motivate players and get them to play to the best of their ability. Regardless of what I thought at the time, I know the coaches were not trying to be cruel. I honestly believe they felt those two tools: punishment and derision were the best ways to show us they cared and for us to win games.
For some players these methods were effective, across all levels of sport and time. Championships have been won, with these coaching ideas. Especially if they came from a coach with a high game IQ. Perhaps I was not ready to listen, but for me, almost always, they worked against me.
During a game instead of focusing on playing, I would worry about not making a mistake. When I inevitably did, as mistakes are an unavoidable part of sport and life, I destroyed myself mentally, before the coach even got a chance to ask me “What are you doing, Danoff?”. This internal attack frequently resulted in another error.
On the other hand, coaches who positively reinforce their players “You’re doing great Charlie! Don’t worry about that!”, but who have no knowledge of their subject were equally as ineffective. Telling someone they are great, but not having the teaching skills to help them improve slows a student’s growth.
I met Tom my sophomore year in high school. For the first time I had a coach who trusted his players and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. He did not tell everyone they were special, but he played every player on his team every game.
Regardless of the players talent, Tom trusted them to make the right decisions more often than not, and, more importantly, he was coaching kids in an amateur game. It was not life or death. One game after I was on the ice for the goal that lost us the game, I apologized to Tom fighting back tears after the game. He smiled and informed me, “Charlie the sun’s going to rise tomorrow. Don’t worry.”
Tom was also an incredible teacher of the game, probably because he was a better student, often talking about, watching, and thinking on ice hockey. Tom taught me how to play defence, and did not punish me immediately for making a mistake, which gave me the confidence to have my two best year’s of ice hockey under his tutelage. The first year we won the junior varsity championship, and the second we had the best record in the history of our school’s second varsity team. Comparing Tom to some others is, if I go fishing with the coach and I don’t catch a fish, he criticizes me and doesn’t allow me to eat.
The next time I go I worry about catching one and eating that evening. If I don’t catch a fish with Tom he says OK, and then he teaches me how to catch one.
Growing up playing ten years of ice hockey, it is likely I was raised by parents who were well-off, and mine were. Their hard work and sacrifices allowed me a world-class education from the cradle until twenty-two. At every juncture I was taught by experienced, trained and well-paid instructors who had all the latest technological tools at their disposal. Another privilege of my education was travel.
For six of my first eight years I was raised in Tokyo, Japan. By the time I was finished with my high school education my memories were long forgotten, but pleasant ghosts Japan had followed us home. My mother had taken up ikebana, and was a certified teacher. Her arrangements doting around our home did something wonderful to my subconscious. My father had picked up an interest in zen buddhist thought, which he passed on to me. Reading zen approaches to sport was almost as influential in my evolution as was, Tom.
Perhaps because of these shades of past travel or hearing my mother talk fondly of her college time studying in Italy, I needed to spend one semester in college abroad. I applied for three of my school’s programs. The first two flat rejected me on account of my average grades and reputation for sleeping during classes.
The third was headed by the head of the English department, Professor Pinchin. She brought me invited me into her office for the interview. Immediately, she said she liked my prose, but my grades and behavior were problems. If they changed, she said I could go to London, on the condition that I never sleep in her class.
Once again a teacher trusting me had a profound effect, and brought the best out of me. I changed my habits, studied more, and had the most intellectually awakening semester of my academic career. We studied: British history and then saw how it had evolved into modern life on the streets of London; British theatre and then watched modern plays; and British literature, then visited a writer’s home, saw paintings by her friends, visited where they lived. Professor Pinchin showed us the lives behind the words we read on the page, and about art for art’s sake.
We lived our education rather than studying it abstractly, and London opened my eyes to the many different ways of life available. After that term, I knew for certain, I needed again to travel.
So I did, moving to Japan the summer year after I graduated to work as an Assistant Language Teacher. I chose Japan first, hoping to give back something for all I had learned from the culture. I was assigned a rural, Northern town of 4,000 closer to Russia than Tokyo, which was clearly far less well-off than my American home. I did not have pretty technological toys to play with, and that was decidedly for the best.
When called upon by the head teacher to lead class, I had to command my student’s attention with myself and the chalkboard. Obviously there were many hiccups as a result at first, especially because I had no formal training, but eventually I found a groove. The biggest pedagogical evolution over the year was moving away from Teaching English Through English (TETE
At the beginning I used TETE exclusively out of necessity (I didn’t know any Japanese
. This worked alright at the junior high schools with a Japanese Teacher of English by my side, but at the elementary schools and kindergartens where some teachers struggled with English, it was a problem.
As my Japanese improved and I could saying the Japanese equivalents of what I was teaching I still used TETE, because I believed if my students knew I could speak Japanese, they would not try to speak with me in English. This reached a point of absurdity when I would be sitting at a table eating lunch with second grade elementary schoolers who had studied English for less than a month total in their lives and refused to expand the conversation beyond “Do you like _?”, when I could have said a bit more things in Japanese.
Eventually I evolved my approach, and like the students in Kang’s study who responded more to a mix of TETE and the native language, than exclusively TETE, my rapport with my pupils improved immensely. If there was something difficult I needed to explain to them or their teacher I did it using a mix of the languages, and it was exponentially more effective.
The next year I moved West to China to work in a middle school. I was shocked with my student’s level on the first day. I was able to deliver lessons completely in English and the majority of them understood, or were able to figure out what to do. Seeing this, I moved back immediately to TETE. Japanese elementary schoolers were one thing, but these kids could really speak English. Surely it was better to avoid the native language.
I continued on that trend for most of the first semester, even as I started to notice some students being completely lost in class. Drawing from my experience with hockey coaches, I refused to punish my students for not getting involved in class or nut understanding me. I told them they were great and could do anything.
Unfortunately, just like my experience as a player, a teacher who tells you you are wonderful but does not actually teach you is not very helpful. As time passed I came to understand many students acting out were not doing so out of malice, but because they absolutely could not understand what I was saying.
Once I started using some Chinese in the classroom, things changed. Students who were lost started joining the class, and some – knowing mistakes would not be penalized – even began taking chances and volunteering to speak. Those were my proudest moments as an instructor.
Before I conclude, there is one more teacher I need to mention, Ms. D. She was my English teacher in my junior and senior year of high school. At the beginning, she had us read a lecture by Vladimir Nabokov titled “Good Readers and Good Writers.”
Seems simple enough, being native English speakers, reading and writing were skills that we had long since perfected. Yet a strange thing happened, when she asked us questions about the short lecture we read, we did not know the answers. As we were to discover, reading entailed far more than just feeding the words from the page into your brain, it entailed critically examining what the writer was giving you.
Like Professor Pinchin she was student continued to read modern fiction, of which, she said “If you can understand this, no one will ever be able to pull the wool over your eyes.” That quote has stuck with me seven years later and her classes have inspired me to be a critical reader and thinker hopefully forever forward.
And that, is why I want to continue to teach. Tom, Professor Pinchin and Ms. D made my life better. They gave me tools to live that I use every day. I can not think of a better way to honor them, than to follow in their footsteps. In my current role that means sharing what I study and love: my language, my culture and thinking critically about both.
Kang, Dae-Min “The classroom language use of a Korean elementary school EFL teacher: Another look at TETE”System, Volume 36, Issue 2, June 2008, Pages 214-226.
Nabokov, Vladimir. “Good Readers and Good Writers.” Lecture. Cornell University.
University of Texas. Web. 4 Feb. 2010. <
It is almost a miracle that I find myself pursuing a career in teaching. When I became an EFL teacher in Korea in 2003, the last thing on my mind was actually teaching. I wanted to travel. I wanted to make money. I wanted to get away from a dead-end job in a country being led blindly into infamy by an incompetent. I did not really care where I went. My first intuition was to join a TESOL program in Barcelona and teach in Europe for a while. Unfortunately, this cost money, so when I heard that there were jobs in Korea that required no experience, paid for your flight, housing, and offered a handsome sum on top of all that, I was sold. I was a poor candidate for a teaching position. I hated public speaking, although a few years in customer service had lessened my anxiety a fair bit. As far as I knew, I did not really like children very much. I had not spoken to children regularly since I was one, and my limited experiences since then had not left a very good impression. For some reason, I applied to teach anyway in a far away land of which I was fairly ignorant. For some reason, the director of an educational institution looked at my resume and thought I was a fine fit to teach its clients and represent the academy. Through a series of bad decisions by people with poor judgment, I became a teacher. It turned out pretty well.
My career did not begin auspiciously. My teacher training consisted of 1) being handed a confusing weekly schedule and a few colorful books; 2) being introduced to the class by its former teacher; and 3) that teacher drawing the gallows for a game of Hangman and turning me loose on the class. I doubt that the students had much of an educative experience that day. My first few months of teaching were built on finding “effective” ways to teach the materials in the books. At the time, “effective” consisted mostly of completing the assigned pages and the students leaving class without looks of complete befuddlement on their faces. During this period, I was not passionate about being a teacher, but I was too proud to let myself be a complete failure at it. My motivation as a teacher was mainly in not angering my superiors and not feeling like I had wasted everyone’s time.
My first real turning point in becoming a teacher was while tutoring a kid I will name as Danny. Apparently Danny had been a problem for the academy for some time. Almost everyone had agreed that his future as an English speaker was hopeless. He had problems functioning socially in a classroom in both Korean and English, and was often made fun of by his fellow students. His mother still wanted him to learn English, so she paid for the academy to tutor him privately. The academy, eager to make money, obliged, and had been forcing teachers to give him private lessons for some time. As the new teacher in the academy, I was given this task. Danny had severe problems paying attention for more than a minute at a time, often refused to respond at all (or spoke in Korean when he did), and had an English vocabulary that seemed to consist solely of scatological terms. Initially, I taught in my standard classroom procedure. He would (laboriously) read the stories, answer questions with varied success, practice phonics, write/give speeches, etc. I eventually began to parse the activities he would respond to from those that would make his attention wander. Slowly I began to realize that he was not just some hopeless, intellectually and socially deficient kid. Because the academy had given up on him, I was given a pretty free reign in how to deal with him. When the teaching load became too much for him, I would take him for an ice cream or a kickaround in the park, and speak to him in an environment not weighed down by the classroom context. He gradually began to expand his comfort level, conversational scope, and improved in his classroom exercises. By the time I left the school, he was reintegrated into regular classes, and performed fairly successfully, even taking on some leadership positions. He never shook his love of scatological humor, however.
I do not know how much of his development I was actually responsible for and how much was just natural maturation, but this was the first time I actually felt like a teacher. I started to realize that teaching was about more than just going over the assigned material, having students read out loud, and just wanting them to produce relatively acceptable homework. I started to see how children’s self-conception and motivation were integral just like their intelligence and willingness to work hard. For me, the notion of “teaching” shifted from the idea of just explaining ideas, correcting pronunciation/grammar, and checking homework to problem solving and figuring out my students’ strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. It shifted from being a chore to being a stimulating challenge.
For the next few years of teaching, I spent much of my classroom energy trying to hone in and build on the connection between my students’ motivation and attitudes toward English. I felt the most important thing I could do as a teacher was build interest in the subject, either through developing the students’ curiosity about Western culture or even by trying to be an intriguing figure to them. Sometimes I would try to introduce music to them, or challenge their common sense, or at times just be a little goofy. It seemed to me that one of the most important things I could do as a teacher in an EFL context was to make sure the students were interested in me as a person, for a variety of reasons. First of all, they would be much more willing to both listen in class and participate. A large part of learning a language is the willingness to engage it. If students are actually interested in what the teacher has to say (for whatever reason), they are less likely to drift off in class or keep to themselves. It helps them become more invested in the material. They can start to see how English language is more than just a set of rules and exercises, but a means of communicating with a real person, and possibly whole new cultures. For many students, I would be the only real authentic interaction they could have with the target culture, which makes their attitude toward me potentially a serious influence on how they viewed the subject as a whole. Building a rapport with a class of course is not always easy, and at times it making a conscious effort to do so can be counterproductive, but trying to develop this aspect of my teaching was a pretty vital part of enriching my identity as a teacher.
Particular teaching strategies and methodologies were important, but secondary before I entered graduate school. First of all, I had never had any real teacher-training and had not been exposed to a wide variety of different theories about teaching. Most of my teaching methodology was constructed on-the-fly, largely dependent on the requirements of my particular academy. I would try to use the needs and interests of my students to formulate new activities, but did not really have the background to draw on a wide field of pedagogical studies. Also, the last place I worked was particularly strict about how they wanted their classes taught. A poster on the wall detailed a minute-by-minute guideline of what the teachers should be teaching in every class. Flexibility was not really a valued concept, and so I spent a fair amount of time subverting the rules just to be able to teach to my own standards. Any kind of pedagogical experimentation beyond that would have been difficult to implement.
Eventually I started to feel like I had settled into a fairly stable, unchanging sort of teacher. My identity as a teacher was pretty firmly established. I had a pretty good grasp of the material I was teaching, how I liked to teach it, how students would usually respond to it, and what the next step from their response would usually be. The lack of flexibility in my academy allowed me to etch out my own teaching style, but made it difficult to keep growing as a teacher. Instead of feeling comfortable as a teacher, I felt stagnant. Having no formal training as an educator, I knew that there was a wealth of teaching theories, strategies, methods, activities, etc. that I had not been exposed to, and would probably greatly strengthen my effectiveness as a teacher, so I entered school. I am now in my second semester of graduate studies, and though I have been exposed to a variety of new ideas, it is difficult to say which of these will permeate my actual teaching. I feel pretty strongly that putting further emphasis on the students’ own construction of knowledge and scaffolding from their experiences, the use of group work and peer tutoring, CBL, and many other strategies will all help me add to my pedagogical toolbox. My theoretical framework is being constantly reworked as I am exposed to different ideas about literacy, linguistic theory, and wherever else my studies take me. At this point, I am content to churn the ideas around my brain for a while, but how it will affect my future classrooms is still up in the air.
Since I can remember, teaching career was a natural part of my life. My father was a high school teacher at a private school (kindergarten through college) well known for cooperative learning with handicapped students. I attended their kindergarten and junior high school and learned with classmates who were deaf, blind or had cerebral palsy. We lived close to the campus, and I grew up in a teaching community. When I was five, I already knew what I wanted to be when I grow up. When others asked me, I would say, “A language teacher just like my dad.” My father’s brother and mother’s sister were both language teachers at other schools as well. During the adolescence, I rebelled and thought about different career paths, not wanting to be bound by the “family tradition.” Yet, I ended up pursuing the teaching licensure, in language education of them all!
English had fascinated me since childhood. My uncle was assigned to the WTC in the 1970s and 80s, and I remember seeing my cousins off as they boarded a PanAm plane in Tokyo. I could not believe it was going to America, a far away country! Then a new family moved to our neighborhood. I became friends with half-Japanese, half-American girls and heard them speak English (especially when they fought!) on a daily basis. I thought, “Wow, it would be great if I could understand what they were saying.” These events made me want to see America, and I became a foreign exchange student in high school.
I was also strongly influenced by my maternal grandmother who is a feminist artist. She was born in 1921, and her father worked for British Dunlop in the port city of Kobe and was then assigned to their plant in the Japanese Manchuria. She spent her adolescent years there and witnessed how the local people were maltreated in the name of Japanese imperialism. She strongly resented this injustice and inequality, and as an artist, she has focused on human/women’s rights (especially on Korean comfort women exploited by the Japanese Imperial Army during the World War II) and received a human rights award in 1999. Though we had disagreements on what happiness for women means, a part of me identifies with her and respects her dedication to the voiceless.
These experiences also influenced what kind of teacher I want to be. Just as my father has advocated his students regardless of their physical/mental handicap, and just as my grandmother has devoted herself to improving women’s lives regardless of their background, I was determined to be an advocate of my students. I did not want to be an authority figure that rules students by fear or threatening to fail them, which I have seen throughout my life. I believe that positive reinforcement is a much better way to promote intrinsic motivation than controlling students by threat or fear.
My encounters with certain educators have also inspired me to become a teacher with broad perspectives. In middle school, the history teacher (Japanese, a Tokyo University graduate) would tell us just because it is not mentioned in the textbooks, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and he talked about atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in Asian countries (including Japan). Such efforts by individuals have led to a new phase. Several years ago, conscientious historians of the three nations (China, Korea and Japan) compiled a history textbook with a shared view of regional history, and there is much more public awareness for history education in Japan.
Another history teacher (American, a Harvard graduate) in college talked about America’s use of A-bomb. She said that she was a historian and wanted us to consider other factors: 1. American intelligence had known about the imminent attack on Pearl Harbor, yet did not intervene because the attack would give US a valid reason to declare war against Japan. 2. US knew that Japan’s surrender was imminent but needed to show its superiority over Russia (Russia had not yet perfected a nuclear weapon) and to facilitate the occupation of Japan after the surrender.
It is easy to criticize other countries’ misdeeds, but how many of us can actually face those of our own country? Instead of staying in the comfort zone and automatically defending the national pride, my teachers encouraged their students to view a historical incident from different perspectives and connect it to themselves. They also made me more aware of the political or economic forces that may influence language status and teaching, as history has shown us. When I teach a second language, I am aware of these influences and how students may perceive another culture and language.
While some teachers do not allow students to use the native language at all when learning another language, I strongly believe in additive bilingualism and encourage students to use it whenever useful and appropriate in their learning, especially at the beginning. It is also based on my personal experience of nearly losing my native language while living in the US. There was no one that spoke Japanese where I lived, and my proficiency (both productive and receptive) deteriorated much more quickly than I had imagined. While I was being enlightened by great American teachers and my English was improving, I felt as if a part of me was disappearing.
Students feel more at ease being able to use their familiar and valuable resource, and in turn, it can help them learn the new language. My belief is also based on “Educators who see their role as adding a second language and cultural affiliation to their students’ repertoire are likely to empower students more than those who see their role as replacing or subtracting students’ primary language and culture” (Baker, 2006, p. 416). Baker also talks about language as a “basic, human right” (p.386).
Being a language teacher, I view language as a vital part of knowledge, as we are constantly using it to acquire knowledge. Especially after early childhood, it would be difficult to imagine acquiring knowledge without the use of language, oral or written. The way we learn evolves together with language and cognitive development, and our knowledge is constantly changing, throughout our lives. Language is at the foundation of knowledge, and this powerful tool enables us to expand our knowledge in infinite ways.
Yet, language itself is not as powerful without the richness of culture or pragmatics behind it. While theories and techniques may be important and useful in actual teaching, I believe that language teachers also require broad knowledge of a society including cultural and historical aspects. These are the factors that make a language come alive. I have taught both English and Japanese as a second/foreign language, and during my teaching in Japan and America, I have worked hard to become a channel between the two cultures. When students’ views are strongly influenced by their own culture, I have also encouraged them to think “outside the box” and try to find anything that they can connect themselves to. My most important role as a language teacher is to help open students’ eyes to the richness of learning another language and culture.
Baker, C. (2006).
Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.
Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Born on February 20, 1981 in a town of 90,000 in central Taiwan, I was raised mainly by my grandparents up until I reached the school age. Despite Mandarin being the official language, my Taiwanese competency was far better than my Mandarin thanks to my grandparents who, as natives of Taiwan, spoke with me in Taiwanese only. Due to the fact that both of my grandparents were born and grew up during the Japanese colonial period, they were forced to attend Japanese school instead of receiving proper Chinese education. As a kid, I was constantly exposed to Japanese language as my grandparents would listen to Japanese music, write things in Japanese and even argue in Japanese when they did not want us to understand what had happened between them. I guess this is when I first picked up my interest in languages.
Like many other Asian countries, the popularity of English in Taiwan was on the rise in the 1980s. My parents foresaw the potential and importance of English and insisted on enrolling me in English class when I was in the second grade. It was a class of about fifteen kids my age at a private English school. One non-native English teacher and a native English teacher from the US each took turns to teach the class once a week. Unlike a large number of English learners who first learn English through Translation-Grammar method, I was fortunate enough to have these two teachers who taught English through a diversity of activities. It was quite scary to learn an unfamiliar language in an English-only classroom, but going to the class was something I highly expected every week. Overall, it was a memorable and fun learning experience that lasted a few years until my family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada.
Thanks to my father’s business in Southeast Asia when I was young, I remember spending numerous summers in Malacca, Malaysia and Singapore. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me as both countries embrace mixed cultures of Malays, aborigines, Chinese and Indians. For instance, it was interesting to see an Indian speaking Chinese and Singaporean speaking “Singlish”. Besides regular visits to Southeast Asia, I had opportunities to travel to several other multicultural countries such as South Africa and Australia as a summer exchange student. It was the time I was able to reconfirm why my parents insisted on having me learn English at a young age. I also started to feel it would be trouble free to travel to any country if I could speak English.
When I first arrived in Canada, I inevitably went through a period of language adjustment and culture shock. There were definitely some ups and downs, but my passion for English never disappeared. Having been placed in ESL for a couple of subjects (English and Social Studies) helped me smooth my language transition from partially English to total English. Meanwhile, I actively involved in extra curricular activities by participating in school’s varsity basketball and track team. As time went on, I started to get back on track and did considerably well academically. Thinking back, being able to make friends from different cultural background in and out of school was something I still feel grateful for my parents’ immigration decision. However, becoming an English teacher was never on my “What do you want to do in the future?” list.
In 1999, I graduated from high school and was offered early admission to Simon Fraser University’s popular Communication program. Without having any clue of what to do in the future, I just took courses that sounded interesting to me and at the same time felt so lost. It was not until I took my first Linguistic course that I rediscovered my passion for cultures and languages. I started to take more Linguistic and culture-related Communication courses. Despite of my Communication major, for my internships, I tried to look for international and multicultural job opportunities. Fortunately I landed myself internships with ESPN Asia and Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Association. Ironically, the first indication of me becoming a teacher came from a friend’s invitation to take Japanese language together. For the first time since childhood, I got reconnected with Japanese and fell in love with the language and its culture. One day, the Embassy of Japan made their annual trip to my campus to recruit new graduates to teach English in Japan. Still now knowing what to do after graduation, I decided to give it a try thinking it would be a golden opportunity to fulfill my traveling dream of visiting as many countries as possible.
In the summer of 2006, I got a teaching job offer and moved to Yamanashi, Japan. With basic Japanese ability and knowledge of Japanese culture, I adjusted my new life fairly well and enjoyed every minute of it. Nevertheless, without any formal teaching experience, every lesson was a challenge for me. Due to the fact that English is not a compulsory subject in elementary schools in Japan, I had no mentor to look up to. Moreover, there was no English curriculum in place nor supplemental teaching resources to use. I had to think of different topics to teach each week and taught them in the way that I thought an EFL lesson should be taught. Given the flexibility from my schools in terms of teaching topics, I was able to learn from trail and error and gradually grasped the general idea of teaching. Whenever possible, I would watch other teachers’ classes (not limited to English) and see how they teach. Then I would try out what I considered good in my own teaching and make modifications accordingly. In addition, I would constant put cultural elements into my lessons as I strongly believe language and culture are inseparable. In contrary to other subjects normally taught in the teacher-centered class setting in Japan, my students seemed to find my lesson special and interesting. Also, my senior colleagues saw my growth as a language teacher as well as an eager culture learner, and started to appreciate the effort I had invested in my lesson planning and teaching. As a result, I felt more comfortable and confident in my teaching and started to seriously consider becoming a teacher as my career.
In the summer of 2007, I sacrificed my vacation time to advance my teaching by enrolling in a TESOL certification program. It was great to be a student again to upgrade my pedagogic knowledge as I was able to relate my own teaching to my studies and I felt nothing can be more valuable for language teachers than to be able to teach and learn concurrently. Time flies and now I have been teaching for more than three years. Without a doubt, I feel the whole experience of living and teaching in Japan is the most precious asset in my young teaching career. As a well-traveled young educator who has experienced multiculturalism first hand, I strongly believe that a language is best taught through cultures and vice versa. A language functions at its best through cultures. This is what EFL teaching fascinates me the most and what drives me to better myself professionally by starting my master studies in Language Education at IUB in 2009. It is tough to study and teach full time, but I am very optimistic and certain that a master degree will help me become a better educator and cultural ambassador to help narrow down the gap between races and cultures.
My learning experiences are divided into two groups; one is when I was in Korea and the other is after coming to the US. I was born in Korea and I finished my elementary, middle, and high school education in there. Korean education system is nothing different from American system, but the environments, policies, goals of education are quite different. The main form of education from elementary school to high school is the cramming education which does not have discussion and volunteer participation of students in class. It is also based on a content-driven and test-oriented teaching system.
The main goal of school education in Korea is to enter a good college, so many students should study for the entrance exam of colleges compulsively, not having passion and eagerness of learning. Like other students, I was forced to study by my school teacher and my parents without feeling interests in learning. However, I did like to go to school because I loved to spend most time with my friends. Most of my stresses were taken from me due to great times with my peers. I have learned how to socialize with people at school and that was significant to me.
Moreover, in Korea, it is very common to be given private teaching as a student, so I had to go to private institutes or tutoring services after a regular school day. It was another element that causes my stress and burdens on studying. For that reason, while I was in Korea, I always thought of that learning and studying are difficult and boring things to do. Spending my childhood and adolescence in Korea has engraved preconceptions of learning.
However, after coming to the US to study in college, I was surprised and impressed by independent studying environment and different learning situation. Everything was new to me. The close relationship between students and an instructor, frequent class discussions, and teaching technologies based on computer were not what I have experienced in Korea. New environment of learning made me have a desire of studying, even though, as a non-native speaker, learning and studying in English was such a tough and difficult thing to do. I was struggled all the time to write papers, to read articles, and to say my opinions in English, but every moment was fresh challenges for me. I believe I got passions and interests in learning little by little while I was studying in the US, and that was the first turning point of my life.
The second turning point came to me five years ago. Since 2005, I have been to Mongolia to teaching English to Mongolian students in every summer. At first, it was a very accidental trip because I joined a team which goes to Mongolia every summer to provide good qualities of education to Mongolia students. Even though it was incidental, the consequence becomes very invaluable to me because teaching experiences in Mongolia have been the most rewarding experiences and an event that transform my goal of life. At first, I did not know anything about teaching and how to deal with students. I did not know any teaching theories or pedagogic skills, and since I was a very shy person, I even got extremely nervous when I stood up in front of bunch of students. I could hardly speak to them due to the lack of confidence. Moreover, as a language teacher, I did not know either how to construct lesson plans or to communicate with students. However, I had to teach my students who hardly knew about English. I was full of mistakes and not trained as a teacher at all. At that time, I realized that the importance and influence of teaching and I was afraid of my poor teaching skills because it might ruin the students’ English learning and the first impression toward learning English because I was the only one who could tell what English is to the beginners and teach how to read, speak, and write English properly. As soon as I realized the fact, I was awakened and I felt ashamed of myself.
After the horrible first experience and awareness of the importance of teaching and education, I started to learn what teaching and learning are, how education takes an important role in various areas profoundly through education courses at IU. The first year in Mongolia helped me to know the important role of a teacher. Generally, there are plenty chances that untrained teachers can ruin one’s learning with a lack of teaching skills, and the oppressed and forcible demand on studying can cause hatred and prejudice of overall learning. Moreover, I have realized that a well-trained teacher with sufficient experiences and applicable teaching theories can teach and develop students as potential persons who experience the joyfulness and interests on learning and have a passion and an ambition. I have to admit that in the second year in Mongolia, I was not a trained teacher either, but I improved my teaching in English bit by bit and I felt my confidence when standing in front of students and teaching.
After the five teaching experiences in Mongolia and while studying in US, I have had a pedagogical framework as a language teacher. As a language teacher, especially an English teacher, open and tolerant minds are necessary. Now, English is outstandingly a global language as a lingua franca. Many people from various cultures are learning English. Accepting different cultures and understanding differences among people is very important to have as a language teacher. While teaching in Mongolia and studying in the US, I have experiences many cross-cultural issues whether inside or outside school. Whenever it happened to me, I have realized how a role of an English teacher is important to handle the tricky situations. For that reason, I believe that an English teacher should be able to mediate conflicts among students from different cultures and make the differences harmonize. I have known this importance from my teaching experiences in Mongolia.
Being a teacher reminds me of second mom or dad to students because I still remember my first official teacher, Mrs. Lee, very vividly. She was my teacher when I was the first grade of an elementary school in Korea. I do not remember how her teaching skills and methods, and her pedagogies were because I was 7 at that time, but still remember her warm and wide heart to deal with students like a mom. I think what she has shown to me and my peer was love as a true educator. I believe that a teacher should be qualified as academically and ethically, and he or she should have proper pedagogy and the best teaching skills to teach students. However, without love and tolerant mind, she or he cannot be a teacher but just a knowledge deliverer. Teaching and learning is a huge incident among people, so there should be not only adequate skills and methods, but also love and respect among the relationships. Affection toward students may be a very general and broad concept, but it is be a basic element that a teacher must have in class. It seems an insignificant belief for a teacher, but ‘love’ is the most invaluable property to be a teacher. The reason I have acquired this belief is because I felt the affection of my first teacher. I am not sure she is still a teacher or not because I have not contacted to her since the sixth grade, but I feel warm when I think of her. I thank her to show me the great thing as a true educator and to develop my own belief as novice teacher.
When I was in high school under the huge pressure in studying, I never thought of being a teacher. It would more honest to say that I hate to be a teacher because I was considered that teachers are the ones who force students to study and suppress them. However, while studying in the US and teaching in Mongolia, I have had a notion that a good teacher does not give students pressure in studying, but show them the joyfulness of knowing something useful, provide good environment of study with various materials, and lead them in to a good path of studying naturally and gently. As soon as I knew that, I have a desire to be a very good teacher who not only understands and loves students with a warm heart but also has excellent teaching skills. My various learning and teaching experiences transform my prejudices in a very positive way. Now, I believe a teaching profession is a mission that I will belong to. I am a master’s student in department of Language Education at IU, but learning how to educate language is a very difficult task for me. It has been numerous difficulties to reach here and there will be more challenges in front of my path. However, I want to struggle and make my best endeavor to become a good teacher who leads students well and provides interests and learning desire toward not only just English but also overall learning.
I always said I wasn’t going to be a teacher, up until my senior year of high school. My mom, granddad, and great-grandma were teachers, but I wasn’t going to be one. My great-grandma had been a one room school house teacher; my grandpa and my mom were both high school teachers who taught various subjects such as English and history. I had seen all the politics that went on, all the problems that parents, students, and sometimes other staff members could cause. I wasn’t really interested in getting into that situation. Besides that, there were so many papers to grade and it would mean always taking paperwork home, not to mention all the planning that went on before you even taught a class. There was so much work to do that you didn’t really get paid for. I was interested in working with animals. My senior year of high school I ended up working as a tech in a home for the developmentally disabled and I changed my mind.
Despite all the drawbacks, I decided I was going to be a teacher working in the special and elementary education area. There was so much I could do to help and I had the patience and willingness to do it. I went on to college and majored in special education and elementary education and minored in psychology. As I volunteered, observed, and participated in practicums in various schools’ special education programs, I realized that a lot of the special education teachers didn’t do as much teaching as they filled paperwork, attend meetings, and did testing. It seemed to me that the paraprofessionals were doing most of the actual teaching.
Since I was going to go into teaching I figured I might as well get as much experience as possible. I was a volunteer reading tutor for six months, then I got a job working in a preschool and I volunteered as a big sister for a middle school girl with special needs. I planned on getting a job working as a special education teacher after graduation, but I ended up taking a trip to Thailand in the middle my senior year of college and kind of fell in love with the place and its people. Everyone was just so warm and friendly, there was warm weather, beaches nearby and there were many schools there that needed teachers. Back in the States I would have to fight for a job and I wasn’t even sure I could get one right away, especially with no teaching experience. Right after I got back from my trip I knew what I wanted to do after graduation. Teach in Thailand! It wasn’t in the area of special education that I planned, but I couldn’t pass this opportunity up. Who knows when, if ever, I would have this chance again to experience new cultures, new friends, and travel to different countries? I knew of several schools there looking for teachers, so I emailed resumes to a couple of schools in Bangkok, was interviewed by email and phone, and hired.
I didn’t even know what I was teaching until I arrived. I wasn’t prepared when I arrived to really deal with the situation, although I thought I was. It was a little bit of a rough start as an EFL teacher. I had just graduated college, arrived at my new teaching job a few weeks already into the start of the school year, and had culture shock to deal with.
Teaching EFL in a mainstream 5th grade classroom was a learning experience. In college they taught you all these constructivist fun activities and ideas to use to teach. Then they taught you how to decorate and arrange your classroom to promote learning in different center areas. They didn’t tell you how to teach when you didn’t have the resources you needed, didn’t have internet access for the kids, didn’t have access to interesting books on their reading level in English, and had to teach in a classroom the size of a bread box with 25 kids. I was lucky to have air conditioning! There were several resources, such as newspapers that would have been available to me if I’d known to look for them, but being new to the school, country and EFL in general, it took me a while to figure all this out. I’m sure the experience wasn’t unique to me, but at the time it was very frustrating, especially trying to modify the American curriculum down to their reading level (2nd-3rd grade for most) and make it relevant to them. I’m sure for the most part that first year I wasn’t really teaching. I was just trying to muddle by and escape without too many student behavior issues and visits to the principal.
Despite a difficult start, I had many unique and fun experiences teaching in Thailand. One of my memorable experiences in the classroom was when I was having them make “how-to” papers. We’d already gone over why we had to learn this type of writing and we had done in-class demonstrations using oral directions. They had to give me directions on how to make a peanut butter and banana sandwiches which I made right in front of them. Most of which I would not want to eat afterwards, especially since some still had the peel left on the banana! This was something new, different, easy and “American” that I thought I’d try to bring into the classroom to show them something I might eat in my culture. Most of the local dishes that I could have used for a how-to experiment required culinary utensils that I didn’t have and plus I didn’t really know how to make them!
The last part was their part; writing up their how-to one page paper. The title of the paper I remember the most was, “How to Make Flied Lice” (needless to say, there are many letters that are interchangeable in Thai and L & R are one of those combinations). I had to try very hard not to laugh with that one, while I was trying to convince him that the spelling in his title needed to be changed.
I learned how to laugh at myself when something would go wrong and how to answer what to me would be a silly question with a straight face. I learned that not knowing how to say something or understand what is really going on can be one of the most frustrating things to happen, especially if you’re supposed to be in charge. However, I also learned that kids are most willing to help. Being your translator and guide to their culture can give them much pride and it can teach you to be humble. I also learned that learning about a culture and a language can take a lot of time and when you think you finally understand something, you realize that you’ve only just broken the surface and there’s much more underneath. That may be what our ESL students are feeling if they’ve just moved to the States.
Like most everything you learn to adapt and change the material and how you teach. After my first year teaching I realized I needed to know more about how to teach EFL. I felt I wasn’t really doing them justice with any methods that I had learned in undergraduate studies. I really felt like I didn’t know how to adequately teach reading and English to that population, especially since what I was teaching them they would have to use to apply to all the other classes they were learning in English as well. I applied to the language education masters program at IUB my second year teaching and started taking classes right before my third year teaching.
The classes I took at first didn’t seem relevant to me at the time. There was a testing class along with a computer class neither of which would work at the school I was teaching at. I almost felt like they were a waste of my time. I did enroll in a reading class and different EFL class that made me realize how my students were thinking and the difficulties they had while learning the material. By that time I knew I was going to be moving back to the States and would transition from being an EFL teacher to one who would possibly work with the ESL population. I might also have more access to the resources I had learned about earlier on.
Last year was the start of my life transitioning from EFL to ESL. I did Orton Gillingham reading tutoring and worked mostly with native English speaking kids (K-8th grade), but I did have one ESL student that I worked with, and she benefited from the same phonetic instruction and phonemic awareness training as the native speakers.
The biggest difference I found between EFL and ESL is in attitude, which can make all the difference. ESL students actually want to learn English because it’s a means to communicate with their classmates, friends and everyone else. EFL students didn’t really seem to want to learn English. They didn’t live in a culture that used English on a daily basis and weren’t as motivated to really try to use English in or outside of class.
I currently teach Pre-K and Kindergarten in a regular education classroom, but I have five non-native English speaking Hispanic students in my class (out of eight kids), two of which knew no English at the start of the school year. I’ve learned how to be really patient this year and understand that they will pick up English at their own pace. I know from classes I’ve taken that even though they may not be ready to put the words together to speak English, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand (although they are doing a pretty good job of speaking English now). Since I currently have the young ones, it’s a little different then it would be with the older ones. They just seem to pick up the language from everything around them.
I’ve also learned that each child is an individual when it comes to learning language and not to try to force them to use English when they are not ready. That just brings frustration. Just because “Jonny” knows what’s going on, what to do, and is speaking in English doesn’t mean “Sammy” does or is willing to speak.
I grew up thinking that I wasn’t going to become a teacher, but despite all the drawbacks I find myself teaching. It sometimes feels like teaching EFL or ESL is an uphill battle, but it is one that we’d like to win. In teaching EFL sometimes you get students who don’t want to learn, or places that aren’t set up for ideal learning. In ESL some of those same things may apply. Sometimes teaching comes with difficult situations, un-ideal conditions, or cultures that we aren’t prepared to deal with. We need to be willing to grow, adapt, and change to best suit the learning methods of the students, which sometimes may involve taking classes ourselves. Learning about ourselves as teachers, being willing to laugh even as it seems everything is falling apart, and knowing that each student learns a language at their own rate are things we can keep in mind as we teach ESL or EFL.
One day, my piano teacher talked to my mother. “ Next month, our learning center will start teaching English, would you like to register a seat for your daughter?” she said. Explained how it was important to learning English before studying at a middle school. My mother made a decision for me. “ Start from the first week of next month, every Tuesday and Thursday you have English classes from 7pm to 9pm.” My mother said. It was in my 4th grade, and I started my journey of English- learning. Actually, I had to say that I was one of lucky children whose parents could afford to pay for extra-learning, especially I lived in the rural area. It was not a common phenomenon of education for a small village in 1990s in Taiwan. However, one year later, I quit learning English due to I wasn’t interested in it.
English is one of the major subjects of middle and high school’s curriculum in Taiwan. I couldn’t run away from English in this period of my study. Even though my homeroom teacher was my English teacher, I tried to learn English but it didn’t make much more sense to me. Because my lovely Chinese teacher taught us very well, it influenced me to have a goal of my life. Be a good teacher the same as her in the future since the first year at the middle school; meanwhile, I definitely thought that English would not be my teaching subject.
I took the Joint University Entrance Examination and was accepted by Mathematic Department at Soochow University. I was happy with the result. In my misunderstanding thought that English would not show up again in my study life. But, I had never known that I had to take “freshman English” and “sophomore listening comprehension and oral English” for two years long for general courses. Moreover, all my textbooks were English editions except one that was written in traditional Chinese by my professor. In the other words, I got many opportunities to learning and using English. Did I improve my English or have confidence in learning English? The answer was “No.” The reasons were I didn’t let English get into my daily life and we used limited vocabulary in Mathematics field.
It was the first time English started to go away from me since I started learning English at the learning center. The last year at university, I only took courses of teacher education program and they were no more English. No textbooks were written in English; I learned to be a junior high school’s math teacher. After the university graduation, I did my teaching training at the middle school for one year. In this year, I learned many valuable teaching skills and gained much knowledge of being a good teacher form my teacher who has taught over 25 years at the middle school. In addition, I still always ask myself “ Do I really suit to be a teacher? A math teacher?” The answer for myself is that“ whatever, just do it.” One year later, I achieved my goal: to be a teacher, a math teacher.
I returned back to my hometown, the agriculture county of Taiwan, to be a substitute teacher in two rural area’s middle schools for two years. The charts of statistics of middle school students’ Math and English level research in Taiwan reveal high double- peak in the highest and lowest levels. Unfortunately, the students who I taught were both in the lowest levels. I had many setbacks in teaching at that time. How to bring out students motivations of learning? Due to I had the same hard situation of learning English, I understood how the difficulty for students to learn higher level’s math, but lack of basic knowledge. I have already been in the highly competed society, and I realize how important English is. In many career, the basic or intermediate level of English ability has been required for finding better jobs or being promoted to higher position. Because of global and international perspectives, English becomes one of the important tools to communicate with the world. I wanted to give more of a help to students but my limited ability and experiences stopped me to do so. Therefore, I decide to study aboard to develop not only my specialized field but also global perspectives.
In the end of 2007, I came to the United States with very poor English and restarted my student life. Language and the cultural shock made me stay stronger. English becomes a part of my life. Learning in ESL, I get chances to speak English with others, write essays in English, listen to English comprehension, and read in English. It is the life I have never thought before I came to America. I have never forgot the aim of studying aboard. Also, I convinced that everything could be possible unless you don’t try it. After I finish my further education, I would like to teach math in English in Taiwan. I could cooperate with English teachers and give students chances to practice English. I hope my experience of learning English could encourage students to have confidences of studying. There is a word for myself “ No matter what, trust yourself and do it.”
When I was in high school and trying to plan "what I wanted to be when I grew up," I always dreamed of being a "professional student." I said that my ideal job would be one in which I was paid to go to school. Of course the laughs that accompanied the "good luck with that" comments were quite expected. Nonetheless, I have succeeded. I have found a career in which I am paid to be a lifelong learner, and I could not possibly be happier and more fulfilled.
In third grade, I "decided" that I wanted to be a teacher. This choice was largely influenced by a very compassionate reading teacher who encouraged my inner bookish nature. My high school guidance counselor somewhat ironically, felt that my talents would be “wasted” on teaching and began grooming me for a career in law. I bought into that logic all the way up to my sophomore year in college. At that point I regained the reigns to my own dreams and decided to be an English teacher. After that, fate took over. When I transferred from Ohio State University to Indiana University, I had to take two years of college-level foreign language. I completed my two years of college French and thought "what the heck....why not get a minor in French?" I completed my minor and thought "what the heck....why not have a double major in French and English?" Having gone that far, I thought “what the heck…why not be certified to teach English and French?” And so, my fascination with language education was set into full motion.
Since I graduated in December, it was not possible to get a full-time teaching job right away. This situation offered me the opportunity to have another five months of "paid observation and pre-service" teacher preparation through the incredibly humbling experience of substitute teaching. I worked in urban, suburban, and rural schools throughout NE Indiana and NW Ohio. I "taught" chemistry, home economics, phys ed, as well as some courses which I had actually been trained in. Since my teaching certification was K-12 for French and 7-12 for English, I was able to work in both elementary and secondary schools. This vast range of content areas and age spans exposed me to many perspectives and teaching methods and philosophies. This time of substitute teaching solidified in my mind the maxim "Even a bad example can provide a good learning experience."
My first "real" teaching job was in a rural high school in the Midwest. I taught Senior English and French I, II, and III. I loved the balance of aestheticism and functionality. Even in the early 1990's when resources were somewhat limited, I made attempts to construct authentic situations for my French students to actively communicate using the language. We read short stories and traveled hours on a bus to see Molière plays. We invaded the Home Ec department kitchens and prepared an annual "grand répas" with each group of students responsible for a different course. We went to area nursing homes and entertained the patrons with French Christmas carols.
After my first year of teaching, I began working on my MAT degree. Initially, I had planned to just stay in my high school teaching job, but I was offered a job teaching at the college level one month after I finished my degree. I was then bitten by the Higher Ed bug. For the next 14 years, I taught college writing and literature both in traditional courses as well as via distance learning. It wasn't until I was living in Germany (teaching college writing and literature online) that I explored EFL. I saw and ad in our local county newspaper for a school seeking native speakers of English. At the time, my German was functional but far from fluent. I gave it my "what the heck" attitude that had guided my previous academic path, and called the school. Since that day in 2003, I have been recapturing that euphoria of my first years of teaching and learning.
Even more than my formal teaching experience, my life experiences have impacted my current EFL/ESL philosophies. As a child, I loved the sport of gymnastics. Although I had only about four weeks of formal classes my entire childhood, I read every book in the library, and I watched every gymnastics event that was carried on our four television channels. I learned the names of great moves and scrutinized the physics behind these flips and turns. During my time teaching high school, the local YMCA needed a coach for pre-school gymnastics. Confident in my somersaulting repertoire, I volunteered and taught very basic tumbling skills. When I moved to Texas and only had a part-time adjunct college teaching job, I took a chance at income supplement by applying at a gymnastics academy. After my interview, I was asked to audition with a class of two year olds and then was hired. I was very upfront about my lack of formal training and practical experience with the sport. I now see how this validation has been a driving force in my own teaching philosophy of: “Just because one can do something does not mean that one can teach something.”
Both of my bosses had also started out as trained teachers who knew nothing at all about the sport of gymnastics. Soon I too learned the content and was able to teach more advanced levels of complexity. In gymnastics, we use lots of balls, cushions, mats, pulleys, and belts to help learners develop muscle strength and body awareness to progress to more difficult tricks. I would later learn a new word for what I had been doing throughout my 11 years of coaching: scaffolding.
Far more valuable than my teaching experience was the experience of living in a country whose language was completely alien to me. When we moved to Germany, we chose to live in small villages because we could have larger homes to welcome our family and friends from the US. That choice meant that none of our neighbors spoke English. Nor did they speak the same German (Hochdeutsch) that I was learning from books and mass media. The situation was further complicated by the fact that they did not speak the local dialect either. Without the benefit of traditional language learning tools—there are no dialect dictionaries—I became quite innovative in my language learning. I created my own audio-lingual “script” based upon the daily interactions while walking the dog. As long as the folks on the pathway stuck to the script, I was golden. If ever there were a new question about my dog, I had “Ich weiss noch nicht” (I don’t know YET) ready on my tongue. I’d make a mental note of what I thought I had heard and then run it by my teacher in the Volkshochschule. Often she didn’t know either since she was not from the area, but she would give me some ideas for “probing questions” that I could ask to get them to expand their question until there might be a synonym that I recognized.
Despite the frustration, I learned the value of linguistic culture and dyglossia. Growing up in the Midwest, everybody basically sounded the same with our standard Walter Cronkite evening news media dialect. The German Dörfchen taught me how intricately culture and language are intertwined. Even if they moved to a new region, perhaps only five km away, they proudly retained their primary language.
From the challenges that I encountered in attempting to convey even basic needs, I can now empathize with my students who are trying not only to get by, but also to master a rather bizarre American academic culture. From experiencing my own frustration with a vocabulary and semantic structure far below my cognitive processing level, I can fully comprehend the aggravation of trying to hold intellectual discussions in a new language. I can understand why students do not think it so important to use functional morphemes such as articles, prepositions, and verb endings as they convey little actual meaning.
The twenty plus years of life and learning have led to my educational objectives of fostering a love of lifelong learning and growth in my students. By encouraging metacognition and reflection in all of their learning endeavors (despite how culturally challenging this may be), I guide learners to take ownership of their own knowledge creation, not only for social and economic benefit, but also for a richer life as an individual.
Even from an early age I knew I was going to be a teacher. All my role models growing up were teachers: both my parents, my best friend´s mom, my babysitter´s parents, a couple of aunts, and both grandmothers all worked somewhere in the school. The majority of the people who lived on my block and the majority of people who attend my church are or were teachers or administrators. Growing up I spent many hours at school, before and after hours playing with other teachers´ kids while our parents were in meetings or working on report cards. We also helped out by changing bulletin boards or artwork on the walls. We all got to see how teachers have the ability to change the world. It was pretty much predestined that I would be a teacher, much to the chagrin of my parents. One of my favorite imaginary games growing up was “college,” where my friends and I would take turns being the teacher and “reading” out of our parents´ college text books while the others would sit in the top bunk of her bunk beds and pretend to be the students of the lecture class, even though none of us could read yet. School was more than a place to learn for me, it was a home away from home, where I spent many hours per day (average 10) learning, socializing, and in general just having fun. I realized from a young age that education has a way of opening doors: to future careers, a way out of lower economic classes, and a way into other cultures and subcultures within the global society. We didn´t know then how wide these doors would open for me.
So the big question wasn´t “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the question I dealt with was “What are you going to teach when you grow up?” My subject area has changed a lot over the years: as I´ve mentioned, as a little kid I wanted to teach college (like my mom), in middle school I wanted to teach elementary (like my dad), at the beginning of high school I wanted to teach music, at the end of high school I decided to teach Spanish (like my aunt). I spent five years at Miami University of Ohio completing a double major in Spanish and Spanish Education and a minor in Latin American Studies. I became enthralled in the Spanish cultures; I wanted to know everything I could about them, I loved the more relaxed way of life, the food, the history, the family togetherness, etc. I went on several trips to Mexico and Belize and completed a one-year study abroad program at the Universidad de Málaga in the south of Spain.
I did a split student teaching program through the Overseas Teaching Experience at Indiana University. I spent ten weeks in the US teaching Spanish to high school students in Middletown, Ohio. I then spent ten weeks teaching English to elementary students in Ávila, Spain. The two were completely different: in the US the text book was an extra resource and lesson plans were long and written a week in advance. In Spain the text book was the only
This conversation caused me to think back to my Spanish history classes and it dawned on me that Spain had a dictatorship until 1975 that banned the teaching and speaking of other languages besides Spanish. Even the cultural languages such as Catalan and Gallego were banned. This piece of information didn´t mean much to me, until I saw its aftermath first hand. After the monarchy resumed power and started a parliamentary monarchy the doors of the country opened up and suddenly people were learning languages again. Unfortunately, the teachers don´t have an English level high enough to really teach it, yet. That´s when I decided that I wanted to move to Spain to help with this transition.
As far as the pedagogy I´ve been exposed to, I´ve seen a big difference in my few years of studying and teaching. In the States and in the elementary classroom in Ávila they learned and we taught using the Traditional Methodology of translations and word lists; this was also how I learned Spanish, so I didn´t see a problem with it. The one new thing in Ávila that I observed was that they did dictations in English class – with someone reading the script (usually the Spanish teacher of English) and the students were to write down everything they said. However, when I went to do my TEFL Certification in Madrid, the instructors used the Communicative Methodology and insisted that we use the same in our own classrooms. We had two classes of Romanian to show how it works from day one and also to show us how our students would feel. Both the classes were conducted 100% in Romanian. I personally felt stupid and alienated; if I had to do more classes like that I´d become completely uninterested and begin not paying attention. Those of us in the class who knew two languages were able to understand a little bit more than our classmates, but that didn´t change how I felt at the end of the lesson. Needless to say I wasn´t convinced that the methodology works the way it´s supposed to from day one. After a certain level of understanding, definitely, but from day one, I´m not convinced.
Even though I moved to Madrid on the idea proposed to me by my teaching supervisor in Ávila, I´m not qualified to teach in the public schools in Spain. Realizing that I would have to work my way into the public sectors I went for interviews in the private sectors. The interviewers that were in line with the Communicative Methodology didn´t want to hire me based on the facts that I knew Spanish and that I had studied under and knew the Traditional Methodology. This was quite a shock for me because knowing the two has given me a unique perspective into how to use the best qualities of both of the methodologies. Fortunately, I was hired by other teaching agencies because of these attributes. Since then, I´ve been teaching business men and women in international companies and tutoring students after school. My hope is to eventually teach in the public sectors, maybe even at the collegiate level, like I originally wanted to do with my Spanish degrees.
In the future I hope to not only improve my teaching abilities and move up in the teaching arena but also learn more about the different methods of teaching Foreign Languages. I also hope to be able to do some research into how the NNEST´s at the lower levels asses their levels of English and how they can improve the English levels of their students. Given that English has only really been around in Spain for the last 20 years, the teachers are feeling the pressure to get the best out of their students without the proper amount of time it takes to learn a language. I realize that these are somewhat lofty ambitions, but I´m young and just beginning in my teaching career, so I´ve got a while to figure out how to accomplish these goals. resource and lesson plans were non-existent. While in Ávila I noticed from day one that the teachers didn´t speak much English, therefore most conversations were in Spanish, other than when the teachers didn´t want the students to know that we were talking about them. Unintentionally, I lowered my speaking level to the level of the teachers. It wasn´t until another English woman walked into the school to observe a few classes and I was asked to translate for her that I realized how low the English teachers´ level of English really was. We spent the rest of the day “performing” for classes by simply conversing in front of them. We talked about everything, none of which was important to the class because none of them could truly understand us, even the teacher. The other English teachers suddenly started treating me differently: speaking slower in Spanish (which I didn´t need them to do), and saying constantly that “I spoke like a native English speaker.” It was then that I realized I had been lowering my own level when I was talking to them. Before I left, the teachers told me that the government was implementing bilingual education at the elementary level and they were nervous about having to teach other subjects in English.
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