Beginning Teaching in an EFL Class: a Novice Teacher’s Experience
-By Ed Saul
The United kingdom
So, what’s the big secret behind Teaching English? The short answer: there is none. English, like any other subject, is completely open to the learner with an open mind and a strong will. Granted, it’s not the easiest subject to grasp though no one knows which the easiest actually is – but it is, on the bright side, one of the most rewarding.
Why exactly was it that you decided to become a TEFL teacher in the first place? It’s likely that your interest stems in a general interest in teaching, in a need to help others, in a need to broaden your horizons and see other places, and/or a need to have a steady, accessible job. You’ve made the right decision! However, all of these things come about through a steady and admittedly rough schedule of hard work. Most of it is enjoyable, luckily, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble!
What is English if not one of the most convoluted and constantly changing languages in the history of the Globe? English is rooted in Ancient Greek and Latin, and over the years it has spread through thousands of Nations across the world, from Ireland to the USA to Australia, and absorbed words from many other languages and dialects, such as French, Hebrew and Greek. Why is it that this Frankenstein’s-Monster language has survived all this time? No reason, other than simply because it’s so childishly easy to learn, and therefore just as easy to teach.
Granted, the Grammar and Pronunciation of English are no picnic for anyone to learn – take it from a bewildered native speaker – but they grow easier through constant practice and through learning to associate them with the innate knowledge already lodged within your own mind. Learning, for instance, the Phonetic Alphabet can be achieved in a matter of two or three steady afternoons of copying, reading out and writing practice sentences if the learner is able to properly assign the symbols to the sounds and letters which they have remembered since childhood. This is made especially simple by the fact that many of the consonant symbols of this alphabet (F, T, C, etc.) are basically the same as their regular English equivalents.
Grammar is similar though it may seem odd to think of words in terms of ‘Prepositions’, ‘Conjunctions’, ‘Complements’ and ‘Adverbials’, these are simply terms that the quick-minded learner can grow used to over time and become comfortable with in terms of their definitions; for instance, a Conjunction seems far less daunting when you are reminded that it simply means a word which connects two sentences, such as ‘And’, ‘Or’, ‘So’, ‘Then’. Eventually these difficulties become second nature, just as the more basic elements such as Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives are to a speaker of English.
But Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or alternatively, Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages, is not merely about the terminology or the work on paper. Over the course of your learning and teaching career, you’ll find that simple practice does a world of good towards improving upon even the most advanced skills as a language instructor. Your skills are only as good as the amount of times you’ve been able to use them, to test them out and improve upon them for lessons in future. So, don’t be afraid to go into a lesson and make mistakes! The worst that can happen is that you’ll learn something, and the best is that the students will learn something else.
What about the students themselves? This is your chance to make a genuine difference in their lives. Teaching English in a foreign country – or even in your own country of origin – can open up its learners to a world of possibilities that might otherwise be denied to them. By enabling them to converse in this simplistic tongue, one which, to reiterate, is spoken all over the world and used as a bridge between individuals from all the different cultures, races, and walks of life that you can think of, you are at the same time enabling them to seize a promising future for themselves and reach out towards a stable career.
For this reason, you’ll find that many of your students can and will be responsive and enthusiastic during your first few sessions of teaching. You can’t expect 100% performance from every class, and if you make allowance for the standards of teaching and school resources in some areas of your chosen field, you’ll find that at times either you or your students may be poorly equipped or badly prepared to carry out a lesson to your satisfaction. This is bound to happen for a number of reasons, not least the fact that certain schools are better funded than others.
But you cannot allow this to discourage you. Even during the most disastrous lesson (which isn’t usually all that disastrous – more like slightly different than as planned), students usually are attempting to try their best and to participate. A small amount of gentle encouragement, accompanied by fun games and warmers such as ‘Hangman’ or ‘Chinese Whispers’ to break the ice, will help them to come out of their shell and help you to gain their trust as a teacher.
Depending on the locale, your overall experience in becoming a qualified teacher may place you up against a cultural barrier, so that you find that many words, concepts and/or practices that are part of your everyday life are alien to your students – and vice-versa, particularly in stringent, tightly-run schools or institutions set up and managed by a church, such as Islam or Catholicism. This, too, need not be a great difficulty as long as you keep an open mind.
Alienation and a lack of communication between teachers and students are easily solved when the teacher focuses their methods on approaching from an equal footing – introducing English through universal, simplistic concepts (such as ‘Rain’, ‘Lion’, ‘House’) and building on that foundation towards more complex sentence structures (“The frightened Lion ran into the Three-Storey House to get out of the sudden rainstorm”).
Ultimately, becoming a teacher, especially a teacher of English is a task which enriches one’s own mind while additionally bringing about the opportunity to constantly enrich the minds of others. As long as you keep your determination, feel ready to face the challenges given to you, and remember to have fun with the subject, you’ll be guaranteed success in this, your chosen career. Smile, put your best foot forward, and be prepared to be professional.