As EFL teachers, our biggest responsibility is to our students and their progress as learners of the English language. This includes not only the correction of grammar and grading of papers, but it also requires that we give more of ourselves to really connect with our students on a base level and give them the drive and interest needed to master our language. As anyone who has ever attempted to learn a foreign language can tell you, there are times where you hit serious bumps in the road and a fully encouraging, positive, and uplifting instructor can go a long way towards smoothing those bumps out.
My teaching goals would be personalized for my students, but the number 1 priority would always be to give them a strong base in the language, as that is the minimum required to operate in any capacity in the English speaking world. I find that your teaching goals and objectives should be centered around your student’s learning goals. For example, if you have a 65 year old woman whose learning objective is to learn our language to better communicate with her grandchildren, you would tailor your approach to be more conversational in nature and thus fulfill your needs and objectives by fulfilling hers. Your teaching goals would be different if you were tutoring the CEO of a large multinational corporation, as it would behoove you to alter your approach to fit a more “business English” style.
Affective factors play a large role in how well the student learns. If you have a student who is not motivated, they will never have the English speaking ability of one who is. If their personality is quite conflicting, it is your job to sort of grease the gears and allow things to run smoothly. This can be done by doing something as simple as providing a very encouraging environment, where success is palatable and opportunity flows from every corner. This again goes back to catering to the student’s needs. As their instructor, it is your responsibility at times to give them the motivation they lack and that may require you to invest more time and energy than you previously thought. This is perfectly okay. If you are impatient and non-genuine then you are in the wrong profession.
I personally believe that language learning should be focused on dialogue based learning. At lower levels, some drilling may be required to really give the students a good base in the language, but after that they really need to let the creative forces in their brain work to put together the language. My approach would favor the macro skills of speaking, listening, and reading, and writing would be learned as a derivative of the other three. If you can correctly speak and read a language, the logic is that you can accurately write it as well. This would mean that the macro skills, or language areas, of pronunciation and vocabulary would be emphasized over grammar and spelling. I think focusing on grammar and spelling has a negative effect on motivation and desire and can really bog students down, especially at a low level.
In the modern world, I find it necessary to incorporate technology into the classroom. This can create a greater flow of the class, as you don’t lose time using paper handouts. Everything is interconnected and simultaneous, which allows for the ability to go from activity to activity with relative ease. It would fit quite well with the use of a functional syllabus, whereby the students learn to use the language functionally through multimedia and structured concepts. An example of this would be “day 7: buying fruit at the supermarket”, and the student’s devices would be abuzz with nifty pictures of bananas and kiwi, videos from popular movies or teacher created content featuring the target language, and so forth. I think that this would also work well with my intended class structure, moving from concept checking questions and review in the early part to new material for the majority of the time and a wrap up at the end. With technology, everything would flow smoothly as it is readily accessible at the push of a button. Example activities include guiding reading, reproduction of ideas in L2, interactive games both of a physical nature and on student’s devices, streaming of popular shows and movies in the target language, etc. Obviously I am speaking in an optimistic manner where I have access to funding and resources to make this happen.
Practice of L2 should be conducted in a fully English speaking environment to really wrap the student’s heads around both the sound and use of our language. This will motivate them to not only listen to L2 and speak in L2, but also to think in L2 after some time. Target language will be continually practiced in conversation with both the teacher and fellow students through the use of interactive activities and given scenarios. I find that role play can be very useful in that regard, for example simulating a phone call when teaching a receptionist at a business. For “business English”, parts of a functional syllabus could include things like simulated contract negotiations, as that is a primary function of international agents working for multinational corporations.
I find that the most optimal role of a teacher in the classroom is that of a playmaker, which allows the students to guide their own learning sometimes without them even knowing. This allows them to reach their learning objectives and offers more opportunity for them to practice the language than if the teacher never shut up and was constantly drilling the students. The teacher is also a guide, helping the students along their learning paths and showing them the way. In this sense, the students take the role of communicators, continually sending information back and forth between each other and also in dialogue with the instructor, who should encourage them to become self-managers and take responsibility for their own learning. This would include the use of L2 in appropriate situations outside of the classroom and self-study.
When teaching English as a foreign language, the correction of errors should be handled in a way that corresponds to the goals of the exercise. Vocabulary and structure errors should be corrected in a timely manner so as not to reinforce those errors in the learner’s mind, however when practicing conversation and dialogue if the objective of the exercise is to effectively communicate and practice speaking, then continually jumping in and telling the student they are wrong is going to demotivate them and not allow fluent use of the target language to take root. It is important to bear in mind that we are not drill sergeants and that we should not be cold in our approach, therefore we should always positively reward the students when they successfully reach both our objectives and theirs so as to build up positive mental association with the use of L2.
I believe that the best approach to assessment would be to have very small continual assessments, such as concept check quizzes on Fridays, and to have more summative assessments, such as cumulative exams, at fixed points along the course. This allows the instructor to have a consistent inside view of where his or her students are at and tailor his approach accordingly, while keeping in mind the student’s ability levels. For example, if the instructor finds that many of his students are getting stuck in interlanguage, he could insert a day into the syllabus to review grammar constructs or practice using correct structure in dialogue to try and force the learner’s minds into away from L1 and into L2. This will discourage the use of vocabulary like “more better” and “I have 21 years”.
As mentioned previously, I find that it is conducive to employ the use of classically proven drilling techniques with lower level students to give them a solid base in the language. However, at higher levels this will need to be phased out and replaced with more creative and freeform exercises, giving way to lots of dialogue and allowing students to really wrap their heads around the way the language works. The same concept of separate teaching styles should be applied to different age groups, albeit in a different way. Children and adults have different needs in the classroom since they are at different stages of cognition and do not learn in the same fashion. Children need mental stimuli to create positive associations in their minds and should be given this through the use of entertainment as a teaching tool. This may include the use of children’s books, games, tv shows, and movies. Bringing the language to life is always a great idea, for example having two teachers dress up as popular characters and act out scenes while keeping in mind the importance of grading their language to fit the student’s level. Adults should be handled in a different fashion, as they will quickly lose interest in something as bizarre as Big Bird and Elmo in front of them. Things will need to be straightforward while stimulating adult learner’s curiosity and providing them with relevant examples. Grading of language is important to keep in mind here as well so as not to frustrate and demotivate the students by making them think that they are way below the level they should be at.
All things considered, I believe that a teacher should always strive to make a positive impact in the lives of his or her students and leave them better off than when they began. There is no greater deed than imparting wisdom and guiding a student to improve his or her life, which can have a domino effect and in turn impact the lives of their families as well. We have a unique ability to give our students the tools that they need to be successful and change the world. Something as small as a smile can have a knock on effect that can lead to changing the way we view each other and the world around us, and if we are not here to improve the lives of our students and impact them in a profound way, then we are not here for the right reasons and should not be teachers. A teacher is more than some man or woman at the head of a classroom, we are significant figures in the lives of our students and we have the power to help direct their lives. The reason I became an EFL teacher was not for money, it was to have the opportunity to help people and know that I am doing my part to leave the world better than the way that I found it, and that is true power. A life without compassion is a life wasted, and a life in service to others is a life well lived. Thank you for reading.