Let’s get back to challenges…I’ll start with this one, coming from my dear friend Dora, who invited us to share our first time teaching a class. It was such a joy going back to remember that first time, what led me to it, what it meant to me and those students – friends, actually, learners riding the same wave with me.
There are some ideas that can take us further than we could ever imagine.
When you’re seventeen, you really don’t know much, but it feels as if you know everything, you say and do things with ease, you feel fired up by literally the tiniest spec of anything. In 1999, I was volunteering for my local youth club and, having experienced the wonders of community as a child, it was only natural I would be getting more actively involved in it all. It was supposed to be a general, relaxed discussion on the club’s future projects; however, all of us involved felt we were part of a great family, and families are often called to make important decisions. There was one thing I loved (and still love) dearly, languages. So my suggestion as a future project was language courses, starting with English. Get a teacher to design, organize and give our members an amazing educational experience. I didn’t expect an approval. I didn’t expect to be asked to do it myself, as finances were unfortunately scarce if not non-existent. I didn’t even expect that I would say yes. But I did. And that’s how it all began.
I realized very quickly that I had no idea how to do this. I absolutely adored English, yes, I had already passed my C2 exam three years earlier, yes, but teaching my cousins and friends was really very different. The only thing I could think of was asking my own English teacher for help. He awarded me with a strange, indefinable look, the urge to consider this decision carefully and a pile of books. Grammar, Course Design, Language Study, Poems, Prose and Satire. ‘Where should I start?’, I asked. ‘With being happy about it all’, he replied. And I was.
During the four months of preparing everything, I didn’t spend much time with friends and family. My companions were Adler, Lynch and Bailey, Larsen & Freeman, Thornbury, O’Connor, Avery & Ehrlich, Yule, Short and Lederer. It was my teacher’s selection, and I remember thinking ‘my, he’s obsessed with grammar! At least I get some literature’. I made plans for the whole course and my teacher reviewed them. I presented them to the club’s Board and they approved them. We were to begin that October. There had been a lot of interest, mostly from members my age and a little bit older, so we would be having three classes.
Nothing prepares you for a class. You can have all the plans in the world, design them to the last detail, the last second to be used, still you’re not 100% ready. And that’s a good thing. It is people you’re dealing with and that is the most significant part of teaching. I was so nervous before I went into the room, knowing that thirty-five people were waiting for me. When I walked in, though, it was obvious that there were thirty-five friends waiting. How do you start? With a deep breath and a big smile. I used about 40% of my plans for that first lesson. I wanted to share my love for the language, its potential and that’s what they wanted too. Perhaps I was lucky, I’m not sure. We went through the alphabet, common words and expressions they wanted to know and use, we talked about why we were there and what we hoped for. It could be defined as a conversation class. I could label those classes in many different ways, now that I know what they were and what was happening during the three years the project lasted.
Three years down the line, I got my first qualification as a foreign language teacher and though I had chosen to study Pre-School and then Primary Education first instead of English Literature, language teaching was just what it was going to be for me. Again, it was the sharing and the potential that fascinated me. Working on the roots, working with what matters – and that will always be guiding people to their future – can happen in any language. In fact, language being our common root makes everything so much more essential and wonderful.
I have made many mistakes along the way. Working in reverse, I like to call it. You do, you get feedback, you rethink, redefine and rework. You aim for the best, you train more and further and you keep making mistakes. You bring the world in, you use yourself, you make your students part of it. You can pile up degrees, certificates and skills but remember to work with the ones you’re teaching because they teach you in turn.
My initial thought was to dedicate this post to those first students, but we are still in contact and we know what it meant to us. I’ll dedicate it to Roger; the teacher who showed me that what teachers say is not gospel, but what they do stays with you forever.