How did TESL@TFLI prepare you for teaching?
I had taught a language before, but TESL really taught me how to approach teaching, with specific, practical goals in mind for each semester, for each class, for each in-class activity and assignment. It taught me to focus on the specific needs and abilities of the students and not on the textbook. (Now, I don’t even use a textbook for the classes I teach.) It also showed me how important it is to be flexible and to always have a “contingency.” It showed me that the best thing for my students was to actually give them the starring role in each class. That took the pressure off me.
What advice do you have for students who want to teach in the USA?
Get connected with the ESL community where you live. Find out where classes are taught, who runs them and then make known your interest in teaching. Find out what areas need volunteer teachers and begin there, as a way of getting started. Become a tutor. Any experience you can get that will prove you’re interested and hone your skills will be of value.
What is your best experience so far teaching?
Seeing students incorporate what they’ve learned into their everyday world and seeming to feel comfortable and natural doing so. The feeling that you’ve answered important questions for them. Teaching in the US has its advantages in that they are surrounded by the language and culture daily and learn quickly. On the other hand, it also means that students feel frustrated when they discover they aren’t further ahead, especially if they’ve already been learning English back in their country for many years. They are frustrated; they need encouragement and the most practical, essential lessons that they can take with them and use immediately.
Tell us an interesting classroom story.
I’m currently teaching a class for graduate students called “Academic Speaking, Listening and Culture.” As part of demonstrating persuasive language and also to teach them more about US culture, I may show a segment from a network news show — Fox News, for example. Hearing the students’ reactions to some of the topics up for debate in the US currently is endlessly fascinating – gays in the military or the legalization of marijuana, for example. Also, showing them how to “win” or persuade other people in the US (not that I’d know) is also a lot fun. The fact that I am willing and able to be flexible and adapt the class to their specific needs amazes them and makes them feel valued.