I began teaching as a native English speaker in June 2014. English is a new subject for me to teach, having taught music technology related subjects since 1990. Despite the obvious differences, there remain connections about communication and its importance in the teaching and learning process.
Engagement, communication and passion are the three elements I keep coming back to when I summarise my teaching approach. The information changes by subject, but these three things remain the same. My passion for music technology is different for my passion for the English language.
I particularly enjoy etymology and inter-linguistic connections between words. I love English phrases and how the colloquial becomes the common and how phrases originated in the first place. I am no expert and no student of language. I am a native speaker. I studied Teaching English as a Foreign Language in March 2014, which I continue to do. However, I continue to play to my strengths in the classroom, and find that by expanding on the meaning of phrases and words deepens the students understanding and thereby equips them better for their use of English in a variety of ways. I am repeatedly told by students that for them, conversation with an English teacher is the most valued part of their study time.
I am really enjoying teaching English, bringing to it the excitement I feel about language. The passion is delivered in the act of sharing, discussing, analysing and putting it all into practice. I have used a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins and lyrics by Ian Dury and by Robert Wyatt in my lessons, and engaged with students in conversations about their lives, experiences and opinions, and indeed mine, but always at a level relevant to the course, periodically reviewing and correcting the language used. My intent is that it should increase their understanding and therefore the quality of their English and see them through the exams with an exponentially accelerating learning curve.
Language students love rules because rules rationalise a voluminous lexiconical complexity and because they are attainable and learnable by rote rather than having to learn thousands of individual pieces of information and then conjugate them.
The brain can gather and reproduce information when rules have been learned, and they can learn without knowing the rule itself, as native speakers do. The the part of the brain that remembers songs, poems and images, amongst other things, can be engaged in the classroom as well as the internalised rule library. When we hear a song we recognise, we can sing along, we can hum the melody and we know when someone is singing it wrong. We get a feel for the lines of a poem, a lyric, a couplet, and the melody. I quickly found that students respond well to encouragement in this approach, though I hasten to add that I do not encourage is as a replacement for rules. It is simply a different approach for recall. It relies on what sounds and feels right, and this only comes through use of language, either in conversation or in passive listening.
Too many students tell me that when the classroom door closes behind them, that is the last English they use until the next class. This reduces the potential of poetic memory. In the absence of use of English between lessons, I recommend BBC Radio 4 to students because of its clearly articulated and well spoken presenters and programmes. Its a great way to get the elements and the use of the language into your memory banks. Any listening will do really, but readily available English in media can be fast and accompanied by various confusing noises. CNN can be tough going for non native speakers, for example.
When a student uses a more intuitive and less technical method of recall, I find that their spoken fluidity improves and they increase their correct answers to the exercises. Even if they do not understand it at the time, students will have heard plenty of English in passing, and like a melody, even if they are not a musician, it can be picked up by the brains recognition systems. With the course books and engaging exercises poetic memory makes a third string to the learning bow. Once authorised to use it, the student realises that this is what they have been doing so far anyway, but can now use it as a technique toward smoother use of English.
I am fortunate to teach at The Cambridge Institute in Vienna. Apart from the great staff and their organisational abilities, handling thousands of students so efficiently, the system works, both administratively and educationally. Teacher lessons 1-54 have lesson plans to follow, which can be augmented by the teacher. FCE, BEC, CAE and CPE courses follow exercise books and past exam papers, and again can be augmented by the teacher.
The key which helps me draw so much teacher-student experience in such a short space of time is the constant rotation of teachers for students at the The Cambridge Institute, and many classes are one to one, offering plenty of student talk time, and as many exercises are written for two students at a time, I often take the role of second student as we elicit grammar from each other using our own experiences in context of the grammar and tense of the day.
My favourite lessons have been private lessons, either in general conversation or in specified areas of the students choice, which tend to be things like business English, corrections at a high level for a second language speaker, or extra work towards an exam. These lessons tend to evolve quickly into a dialogue based on a theme or topic in principal, but in use rather than in theory. Students tend to tell me the rules as they apply them, and I list corrections which we discuss periodically throughout the class, without interrupting the flow of the conversation as it is happening. Again, the key is engagement, communication and passion.
This is all very different from the TEFL processes I am still learning as I teach, which ground me in teaching process history, theory and application, which absolutely includes elicitation, but I find that the application of teaching practice in The Cambridge Institute is very different from my expectations from studying TEFL, and happily so. With much of the lesson planning taken care of within the system, I can stand on that platform and focus on my delivery, ensuring the students succeed in applying their language skills. My teaching of music technology related subjects over the last twenty and more years has followed the same engaging philosophy.
I continue to learn about the subject as I teach it, and about teaching it, as I teach it, just as I ever did. My experience in the classroom continues on the same trajectory, but now with an expanded remit.