Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Teacher as the Light at the End of the Tunnel


They came to the first class timidly. They looked at me, their faces enthusiastic and hopeful. They all had their textbooks open at the first page. They wrote busily into their notebooks and, when I gave them homework, they all brought it back the next class.

No, I am not making it up. These are my new students. Some of them are my old students, but they have all transformed themselves into this dream student overnight.

Am I surprised? Not really. I have seen this strange behaviour before. It was back in the nineties. I don't like to remember those times. Wars, hyperinflation, the general feeling of despair... Our students, however, were eager to learn. Most of them were planning to leave the country for good and my school was a safehouse between their old life and their new life. Others wanted to learn English just in case...

A very good friend of mine got out of a painful relationship some 10 years ago. I remember that she kept repeating: I am going to learn English really well. I am also going to learn how to drive. Then I'll buy myself a car. And then I'll go anywhere I want.

Now that the economic crisis has hit us hard, learning English has once again become a priority for a lot of people. This time they are not focusing on leaving the country right now (nowhere to go while the crisis is all around us), but they are still learning the language just in case. Because, once you can speak English well, you can go anywhere you want.

OK, maybe I am imagining it. I have been really lucky with my students this year. Yes, they are enthusiastic and yes, they are eager to learn. And yes, I smile on my way to work every day. Even if they are not looking for a way out, I know they have had to give up a lot to be able to pay for the course. And that makes me think about my responsibilities as a teacher even more.

The EFL classroom is the place where people learn English. The main idea, then, would be to make sure they learn it well. However, that's not the only thing we do in the EFL classroom. We support each other and celebrate each other's victories. We inspire each other. We share stories. Not all of the stories are nice, especially these days. What do you do when a student walks into class immediately after she has lost her job? Do you talk about it, or do you leave her alone? If she starts crying, what do you do then? They never taught us those things at the University.

I have said it over and over in this blog - I believe in the healing power of the group. That's why I would say that one of my first responsibilities as a teacher at the beginning of each semester is to create that group spirit. So that we can support each other through the learning process and through whatever happens outside the classroom.

I don't know why, but I have been working on this post for two weeks. I wrote, I deleted, I wrote again, I deleted again. The only thing that I haven't deleted so far is the title. However, making the rest of the post live up to the title was what troubled me. What wisdom, ancient or new, could I pass on to you? What advice was I going to give you? What solution?

Well, here it is: just keep doing whatever you are doing in the classroom, because it is important. Especially these days.

That's it?!

Afraid so. I couldn't think of anything else to say to you and, anyway, that's what I have been doing all this time.

I created this slideshow last winter when I attended the Images4Education workshop:

I Want My Students To
View more presentations from lunas994.

I am going to publish this post as it is now. I am finished with editing it. Please feel free to add your thoughts. How can EFL teachers help their students go wherever they want to go? And what exactly is the role of an EFL teacher during the time of the economic crisis?


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post, and although I am on the other side of the ocean, my students also suffer from the economic straits the world is in. Many come to the United States thinking life will be so much easier, and, in fact, without the support of the family and friends they left behind, it can seem even more difficult. They often cry with us because, I think that, as ESL/EFL/ELL/ESOL/TEFL or whatever you call it, we have a special place in our hearts for the longing of its people to live well with dignity and in peace.
Thank you for finishing your article. I look forward to the next one!

Sheri said...

I am so glad you finished your blog post. Your students are fortunate to have a teacher who cares for them as individuals and plans for them to grow together as a group. The process of learning a language includes self discover as well as learning from others. Go forth boldly, never losing your empathy and compassion for the people you teach!

Anonymous said...

I love posts like this that are struggling to express what we do in the same way as we struggle to put our ideas into practice in the classroom. The answer to your questions is endless renegotiation and rethinking and allowing and helping them to do those things

TEFLtastic blog-

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Natasha

Your post is so inspiring. I agree with you that establishing a strong bond in a group is vitally important for dynamics and morale. A teacher and students can withstand anything as a class if that initial trust is won. Sometimes it takes time but it is always worth it in the end.

I love your slideshare! You have hit the nail on the head when you say just keep doing whatever you are doing in the classroom.

Natasa said...

Thank you all for understanding me so well.
Rita, I know everyone is feeling the crisis right now. Maybe that's why we understand each other so well. I agree, people often think that they are going to have a much better life if they go to another country, but being an immigrant is not easy. I am sure you have heard a lot of sad stories and I know you are trying to help.
Sheri, thank you for your support and for your kind words. I agree, being a part of a group is important for a language student.
Alex, you are right. This is exactly what we do in the classroom. We struggle, we doubt and we are never sure whether we are doing the right thing.
Janet, I am glad you agree with me. There are all sorts of crises in the classroom and if strong bonds have been established, everything is much easier.

飯糰夾蛋Karen said...
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