24 October 2014 / by Radmila Gurkova
7 Questions for ESL Teachers to Change Education
My name is Bridget Berry. I’m American – I grew up right outside of Washington, D.C. in the state of Virginia. I graduated from West Virginia University with a Bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in secondary education. I was a student teacher in English literature classes for grades 6, 9, 11, and 12. I also was a TA at the Universidad of Valladolid in English writing courses.
I don’t necessarily have an interesting fact about myself, however I can juggle, skateboard, beatbox, play ukulele, and cook quite well J My cousin Sean is one of my biggest inspirations. He moved to Tokyo after college to teach, model, and follow his dreams of becoming a writer and photographer. He is happily married and has made a great life for himself. He’s proven that you don’t have to follow in the footsteps of everyone around you, but that life is about discovery and doing what you love. Finally, if I had any credo it would be to never forget to say thank you for what you have and always stay positive. It’s amazing what a simple “thank you” and change of mind can do for you.
OxbridgeTEFL: What is English language teaching about according to Bridget?
Bridget Berry: To me, English language teaching is about confidence and conversation. I think one of the challenges that comes with learning any language is a lack of confidence to put that language in use. As teachers, we must make our students feel at ease – at ease to converse with us and to make mistakes. A student could have excellent grammar and reading skills, but if they are afraid to audibly practice English they will never truly perfect it. Conversation is a key element teachers must constantly employ. If one hour a week is the only English practice a student gets then it is our job to use that hour as efficiently as we can for them to hear us and speak.
OxTEFL: Is ESL education in Spain sick or in good health?
BB.: From my experience thus far, I think ESL education in Spain is doing just fine. There is a wide variety of TEFL courses for English speakers and a never-ending amount of Spanish speakers who want to study ESL. As long as the teacher is prepared, I think they can effectively help someone learn.
OxTEFL: What is the English teacher's biggest challenge in the classroom? How would you overcome it?
BB.: From my experience, I think one of the biggest challenges in the classroom is a lack of participation. This can occur with one student or multiple and for various reasons. Perhaps they are not interested in an activity or simply are too tired to put forth effort. To overcome an obstacle such as this I believe the teacher should really try to make it about the student – what would they like to discuss that day? If they’re tired, perhaps ask them why they are so tired? If that particular class is a bit boring that day, then so be it. The point is that they learn.
OxTEFL: What would your solution be to improving English language education in Spain? How should we teach English?
BB.: I think the only improvement needed is reassurance in the teacher’s knowledge/ability and experience. I have seen many situations where a native English speaker obtains a job teaching ESL without any prior training or experience. Of course, this doesn’t mean they lack passion or desire, however they may not possess the proper skills to be truly effective.
I think we should teach English through as much audible learning as possible. Reading and writing are always good, but to truly know a language, you must be able to comprehend when it is spoken to you and express your own thoughts. For example, many American high school students have perfect grades in Spanish class, but when it came time to actually use Spanish in a conversation, they were stumped. I believe the same goes for ESL.
OxTEFL: What do teachers need to give the best of themselves as professionals?
BB.: I think teachers need passion, regardless of what subject they are teaching. We’ve all had effective teachers and we’ve all had horrible ones. It is obvious to tell when a teacher is only there to pay the bills, and that can make a student feel like they are wasting everyone’s time. Passion is what can make a teacher really try – if a teacher really cares about her students, she will try her hardest to see them succeed.
OxTEFL: A memorable moment from your ESL experience?
BB.: One memorable moment I’ve had so far was with a Level 4 student. We had learned a handful of idioms during one class and the next week she used one of them. It wasn’t a big deal but it made me feel good because she not only remembered it, she actually used it in a real conversation!
OxTEFL: Your advice to new teachers or those considering becoming such.
BB.: If you don’t want to put in the hours, if you’re impatient, if you don’t care about helping students who may need extra attention, and if you’re teaching just because you got a job, do something else. If you feel determined to help a student understand something at all costs and feel pride when they finally learn it, then teach. Whether it’s history, literature, or ESL, it is a teacher’s job to help their student think about things they never knew before. You have the power to affect a person’s life, and that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.
OxTEFL: Best of luck in your ESL career!