Learning to be a Better Educator

Part of the series: Teacher Development Reflections

I should be putting the finishing touches on my lesson that I’m teaching tomorrow but I wanted to pause and reflect on my new August teaching post in Athens, Greece. I believe teachers are better educators when they reflect on their learning and for this month I’m learning so much as I work towards receiving my CELTA. A CELTA is the most sought after qualification for teaching English abroad. I quickly learned this when I moved to Germany 3 years ago and searched for teaching jobs worldwide having my Masters in ESL. The teaching positions I wanted required a CELTA.
I decided to study with my friend, Marisa Constantinides, who is an incredible teacher trainer and runs a teacher training center in Athens, Greece. I believe teachers should continually reflect on their experiences so I will be blogging about what I am learning from having such an experienced and creative tutor but in this post I want to tell you about my students.

What I’m Learning From My Students

Completing the CELTA requires observed teaching practice with students. For the past 4 years, Marisa has offered free English lessons to refugees. The refugees come from several countries, such as Sudan, Somalia, Algeria, Russia, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, and so forth. They come with very little reading and writing skills. Teaching them English is a challenge, because we also teach them literacy skills. My students have never really been taught to search for context clues, use a dictionary, listen for key words, and so forth. They struggle with basic skills, yet they come everyday for 3 hours a day. They listen, write what they can, challenge themselves, follow instructions, participate in every game, and applaud each teacher after every lesson.

Empathizing with my Students

Teaching them is a gift! Everyday I get to teach them I feel I am the fortunate one. I have never worked with refugees before and they have taken my teaching to a new level. Part of teaching is trying to find materials my students identify with and comprehend. This means understanding my students and getting to know them. I do this with every student I have taught because I believe this increases motivation. I quickly realized that I know very little about their struggles. I will never know what it is like to have grown up surrounded by war and atrocities. I will never know what it is like to survive, have to leave my home for a better life, then learn basic skills as an adult.

Questioning Coursebook Content

When searching for materials and designing my lessons I continually have them and their experiences in mind. Leafing through several coursebooks I often find that most of the materials aren’t easy for my students to identify with and I have to adapt them. This doesn’t always result in success. For example, there was a paragraph describing the life of Catherine Zeta Jones that I decided to change to David Beckham. The reading focused on a British person living in Hollywood and I knew my students loved playing football (soccer). My writing was a bit above their level but I can say they enjoyed hearing about David Beckham. I’m still learning. I have to note, however, that the coursebooks are helping me identify the grammar progression and I’m thankful for the framework they are giving me.

Giant Leaps

I have never cared so much about my students achieving every objective. I guess it is because I realize if they don’t achieve the objective this may impact their lives. They may not be able to do better in their jobs, get something they need, or communicate effectively. My students continuously awe me. Many of my lessons are far from picture perfect, but I did have one incredible lesson recently. My students were doing a listening exercise and I asked them what key words they would listen for, since Marisa had told our class earlier how much we needed to integrate literacy skills into our lessons. It worked. The students after a bit were able to come up with the keywords on their own, because I didn’t tell them. I waited till they told me. Each of them, even the one who struggles the most with writing words, was able to complete their listening questionnaire. In fact, he got every answer correct! In the past, this student hadn’t really completed any handouts because he couldn’t. This time he understood! For me, this was a golden moment in my teaching I will always carry. We need these moments to spur us to be this passionate with all our students.

What My Day Looks Like!

Here’s a video created by Marisa that shows some of the students, previous teachers, and the center. Enjoy!

Challenge:

Try adapting course content to motivate student interest. It’ll force you to think about their situations and build rapport.

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