Tuesday, 15 March 2011

We are all Students

My first few days working here at the language school I didn't have all that much to do. The academic year here begins in March and runs until November, so January and February are the longer (summer) holidays. During these months (or so I'm told) Santiago is empty, as all the families make the most of having time off work and school to retreat to the mountains, the coast or the south to get some rest. The school I'm working at offers intensive courses over the summer, but by the time I had arrived they had all been allocated teachers. So, in order to justify paying me for two months, I was despatched to various classrooms to observe other teachers at work and, when I felt ready, was expected to co-teach a section of the lesson that followed.

Although intially I resented the feeling of being fobbed off onto "observations" by my coordinators who didn't seem to have anything more productive to give me, the experience soon proved to be an infinitely enriching and enjoyable one. I was priveledged to watch every shape, size and design of English teacher I could ever imagine. There was the quiet, soft-spoken R with his North American lilt and his expertise in phonetics and sound formation; and the loud and boisterous I who cracked joke after joke and and kept his class in hysterics; then there was the bubbly V who spoke with soothing condescension to her students, like a mother pigeon cooing to her chicks, eager to laugh at their jokes or reassure them of their progress. I watched teacher after teacher and slowly began to piece together a semblance of the sort of educator I want to be. Teaching, in this sense, seems to me to be like any form of modern art- part original creativity, thoughts and ideas; part reinvention, reconstruction and inspired by other's performances.

Another facet of what I observed that made a great impact on me was the humility that these teachers possessed. Not all of them, to be sure, as I have outlined before TEFL attracts people from all walks of life and seems to provoke misplaced-ego-syndrome in the most unlikely of victims, and to this my current environment is no exception. But for the most part, I have so much to learn from the attitudes of the teachers here. There are about 70 odd teachers employed at this particular branch of the school, 6 of whom are native-speakers, the rest of whom are chilean. Most, if not all of the chilean teachers have a 5 year bachelors and masters degree in teaching, as well as years of experience teaching English. They are well-versed in grammar and linguistics, and have transformed themselves into that rare and desired breed of bilingual chilean, admired by the rest of society. And yet, when I walk into their classroom, barely 3 years experience and not even a degree under my belt, they are just as keen and eager to learn from whatever small contribution I could attempt to make as their students. They are quick to correct themselves and take notes and ask questions just as much if not more than the actual paying students. After the observations they rush to ask me what I thought and if I had any feedback on how they could improve. I am there to learn from their experience, and yet they want to hear from me. 

I see in this attitude something that I never want to lose. In order to be a good teacher, one must remain a good student- ever learning but moreover ever ready to learn. One cannot learn if one sees oneself as superior to the person who is imparting information or expertise. One cannot learn if one dismisses some people on grounds of age, experience or talent and accept only to learn from certain others. I truly admire this about the teachers I have met here. I don't know if this can be generalised to all chilean TEFL teachers, or chilean teachers, but the ones I have met so far, in the situations I have been in up to this point have inspired my admiration and sparked in me a genuine desire to remain ever as humble a student I can, in order to become as good a teacher as I ever could be.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent piece of writing reflecting a good attitude and maxim to carry with you throughout your life.

    Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.

    Albert Einstein

    A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

    Henry Adams