What Kind of Teacher Are You?
Back in England, I had the same dilemma as I do now. What kind of teacher would I be? In England, I would have chosen between being a primary school (ages 4 to 10) teacher or a secondary school (ages 11 to 16) teacher. The idea I had back then was that being a primary school teacher would allow me to mould the minds of the young before they became rebellious, or have a more mature relationship with students you can have a real conversation with. In the end, I didn’t have to choose but the debate in my mind still rages on, perhaps with a slightly different angle. At York School of Foreign Languages, we teach children of all ages. I currently have one class of four and five year-olds, three classes of ages between nine and twelve and two classes of children, thirteen to sixteen. The difference in teaching styles and schedules is paramount.
Teaching my most junior of students requires little to no discipline but they still need to be told sternly what or what not to do. It is with the older students from ten and sixteen that you need to be careful. If you go into a classroom too relaxed or nonchalant, then the children can walk all over you. If you want to be a disciplinarian and have an efficient, yet dull classroom, then that is fine too. I have been working for four months as an English teacher and as of yet, I am still unaware of what kind of teacher I might be. I am definitely on the side of having fun and challenging the students, but I am also well aware of the necessity of being strict when the need arises.
Walking the Line
The experience of teaching must not be overlooked when knowing what kind of teacher works with which kind of student. Some students need soft encouragement, whilst others need a leader cracking the whip of grammar on their backs. The importance is to learn as you go, as quickly as possible. You need to be able to be flexible and make sure that although you do like the students to express themselves and be themselves, you also need to set some ground rules and let them know the consequences if these are crossed.
As far as my experiences have gone in the first preliminary months of my work, I have definitely misread certain situations incorrectly. Concerning class cheating and competition, problems can be rife. Most children love competing against one another and to being at the top of the class. The best thing to do is to embrace it and try and focus their minds towards being individually culpable for mistakes whilst making sure that they learn to work as a team for the good of themselves.
I certainly enjoy the cohesion of children working together and having fun. Having children present themselves as best as they can and staying true to themselves is really important for me as a way of developing not only who they are, but allowing them to be comfortable in the classroom. If they are comfortable being able to speak their minds – as long as they are using English – then it is all absolutely fine by me. My most senior students have come along leaps and bounds since I started this approach and now they are starting to really enjoy the creativity I have entrusted with them. In a matter of weeks, they have gone from toilet humour to more sophisticated ways of insulting each other – generally with hilarious results. Once again, it is important to make sure that this is done in a friendly, mutual manner, instead of a confrontational one.
The Results Speak for Themselves
This approach has also had great results with some of the students in my other more senior classes. By allowing them to really look outside of the curriculum means that learning doesn’t need to stop once the lesson has finished. Also, by allowing them to think more bi-laterally about situations and what are good or bad, they begin to delve further in to English books. This has resulted in six of my higher Hip Hip Hooray students moving on to the senior classes where the learning environment is more mature and by proxy, the work is more intelligent.
Hopefully during the time I am teaching here, I can develop my sixth sense of what students react best to. It is a very difficult process but you need to stay positive and keep going. One thing is definite however, and that is I won’t subscribe to being a strict teacher and sucking all the life out of a classroom. Dictation and drilling vocabulary can be good but very limited in terms of teaching children English. Knowing a lot of words is great but if you cannot string them together in the correct way, then you might as well have just read a dictionary. It’s hard but it is another satisfying part of teaching and one I hope to fine tune for the future.