FCE keeps me sane, Spanglish is real, troublesome students…

Sometimes you get to a point as a TEFL teacher and wonder if you know it all. I mean, how difficult is it to teach kids how to put an ‘s’ at the end of a verb, or help them pronounce like, like ‘like’, and not like ‘lick.’ 

After twelve years of teaching I’ve built up a fair amount of knowledge, techniques, and have found my ‘style’ of doing classes, but if I really think about it, I’ve still learnt a lot this year. No one likes a know-it-all anyway, especially me.

Here are eight things I’ve learnt this year as a TEFL teacher, spilt over two blogs.

What's round the corner?
Photo by Epcott Legacy
1)     Troublesome classes are always round the corner

After dealing with three rather demanding, competitive and extremely rude teenage girls a couple of years back, I thought I’d had my worst possible class ever. There was some serious tension in the class between them, me, and the two poor lads who were objected to nasty abuse for a good nine months. In the end, after seven months of battling, and loads of patience (and a bollocking from me and the director) I whipped them into shape and they started to behave like civilised human beings. One has now become a charming young lady, the other two left, thanks god. I was adamant that I couldn’t possibly get a worse class and would never have to endure such a horrific group of adolescents. I was wrong, or I thought I was for at least three months.

Last September I was dished out another tricky, devious, and complicated class. This time the problem was some  lads. For about two months I had nothing but attitude, boisterous showing off, and mini wars. At times they were funny, but it was their immaturity that really got to me. I had endless talks with the class about their way in class, and lack of work done. In the end, after a disastrous lesson where only three people had done their homework, I lost it. 

The next class I had them sat in rows and made a speech about how there were six students who were causing problems, wasting their time, their parent’s money and their colleague’s education. I made them present to the rest of the class about why they were at the academy, how they were going to change their attitude and what their parents would say if they found out about their behaviour. After a few tears, it worked. Since then they’ve become one of my favourite classes, we get on really well now, and their marks have improved. But it just goes to show, no matter how long you've been in an academy and have worked up a decent reputation, you can still get those tricky classes. 

We live in a Spanglish world.
Photo by satanslaundromat
      2)      I’m all for Spanglish

I know, there must be hundreds of TEFL teachers in Spain who dispise that statement. I haven’t given up fighting the ultimate fight of forcing out the evil Spanish from our classes, but I’m definitely more lenient this year.

I’m not sure whether I’m just tired of spending so much time saying ‘English please,’ or have just had enough of getting annoyed or ratty if they speak in Spanish all the time, or whether after 10 years here I’ve just realised we are fighting a losing battle, but as long as I get about 80% English in my classes I’m happy.

If you really think about it, most classes are just not capable of producing that much English in class. Not only because they don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves, but also because their brains are just not up to it. I remember doing a Spanish course back in London, and I’m sure 80% of the class was in English, especially at the start.

Why should we expect them to suddenly stop speaking their native language? Sometimes it’s useful anyway, to check meaning and understanding, give instructions to younger learners, and also build up rapport and have a laugh in class once in a while. I think the kids appreciate it too, knowing that they can communicate with you if they have a problem. Kids need to be able to express themselves, banning Spanish altogether is only causing tension and frustration in class.

We live in a bilingual world anyway, most of the conversations I have with my wife are in total Spanglish. We understand each other, normally, and most of the time we don’t even realise if we’ve spoken in Spanish or English. So there, go easy on your students. Keep fighting, but be lenient.

3)      FCE keeps me sane

I love teaching a range of levels and would go mental if I had to do exam classes all day, but I get so much more out of teaching FCE than any other level. A lot of people say they find FCE boring and dull, but I just don’t see that. It’s those classes at the end of the day which really give me a kick and I think it’s the only time in the day when I can actually be myself, talk normally, and have a laugh with the students. Sure, there is that pressure of getting them through the exam, preparing them for skills work, and loads of marking, but what’s better than actually getting to know a group of people who really want to be in class. Fair enough, you do get the odd FCE student who is still being forced to go to class by mummy and daddy, but even they can get involve in the banter.

I guess the main reason I love the level so much is because I get to have adult style conversations, they (normally) laugh at my silly jokes and crazy anecdotes, which, after all, is the main reason that people become TEFL teachers anyway.

4)      You can teach low level students high level vocabulary

And why the hell not? What’s wrong with teaching your young learners a few discourse markers like ‘well’ ‘actually’ and ‘I mean’ to spice up their fluency skills. Why can’t you teach those moody teenagers and few colloquial and high level expressions to raise their apparent level of intelligence to over and beyond the norm? Why can’t you add your own expressions to your students prepared talk for their oral exams?

I guess we don’t, or at least I haven’t, because I just didn’t think they were up to it. If students can’t remember that ‘was’ come after I/he/she/ and it, then how are they going to remember expressions like ‘the crowd went wild’ ‘the most kicking party of the century’ or ‘strolling around central park.’

Fair enough, most of them will forget what you’ve taught the moment they bomb into their communal swimming pool, but you never know whether they might produce those expressions one day.

Part 2 follows next week where I talk about blossoming students, DELTA being a waste of time, and living comfortably as a TEFL teacher.

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