It was the beginning of a new school year and the annual preparations had commenced. It was high time I visited my local bookstore and found solace in the vast, albeit comforting variety of colorful stationery I deemed necessary to carry out my duties. A colorful pencil here, a rubber there... Oh! Here’s something for my junior students! Shiny sticker sheets adorned with the latest of characters that have been popping up on their screens. It takes a lot of effort to keep up with all the latest trends; a rewarding one nonetheless.
As I was waiting patiently in line before the cashier, a shop assistant walked by and wished me a happy and productive school year. Suddenly, the woman in front of me turned and politely asked if I were a teacher. I affirmed her suspicions – we teachers do stand out in crowds, don’t we? After some small talk and introductions, ‘Mary’ as I will be referring to her, shared that she is an English teacher and focuses solely on private tutoring. I myself prefer teaching at schools for personal convictions which I will get into detail below.
Text by: Katherine Reilly
Don’t get me wrong. The capacity of an educator to broaden one’s horizons can be executed in any learning environment regardless of said number of students. However, the application itself is what matters. To be more precise, Mary shared her grievances with me. She had lost many students and was struggling to make ends meet. Some of the reasons the parents shared with her had to do with the delivery itself. She was labeled as boring, uninspiring and ineffective – a stab to the heart. Mary herself seemed punctual and well versed in her speech. It was obvious she loved teaching and the pain in her words were all too evident. Then I noticed what was wrong. She was carrying a text book more than a decade old. All books have value regardless of age, however, the publication itself was an indication of a professional who hadn’t had the opportunity or insight to keep up with the times.
ELT has made tremendous strides throughout the years. Both the context as well as the methods implemented in the educational environment have been inspired by decades of research and the application of the highly regarded 21st century skills. All of which have left a lasting effect on the materials produced by ELT publishers. After some conversation she hesitantly admitted that she hadn’t attended ELT conferences in decades! Concepts and approaches such as flipped learning, transversal competencies, technology, even the aforementioned 21st century skills were news to her. Her choice to withdraw from social media – although respectful in its own right – is highly detrimental in our field. New publications, trends, ELT methodology swept by her as a gust of wind, leaving her impervious to the tide of information and the prospect of improving her craft.
Even the oldest of publications can be adapted to the needs of a student. However, constant training by attending ELT conferences which incorporate academic lectures and revolutionary applications are without a doubt a staple in our field. An innovative approach can transform said publication to a pleasant and meaningful experience to the learner. Have the students switch a simple writing task to a group presentation. Why not disregard the boring gap filling exercise with an interactive one? Assign research beforehand, only to have them shine the next time, instilling them with the proper confidence to carry out their obligations in class and why not, have a fun time while doing so? Repetitive exercises and setting predetermined tasks presented from the textbook’s point of view will only put us, the teachers at center stage, ignoring students’ potential and the ones with different educational needs and/or abilities. This paradigm must be avoided at all costs as educators must adapt a task-based model, allowing students to progress from language experience to language analysis. This model of course can be adapted to individual as well as collective audiences. However, the benefits one might reap are far more in the classroom, as the 21st century skills themselves can be thrust into full gear with greater ease there.
It is everyone’s personal prerogative to avoid investing personal time, money and mentality to improving ourselves. The choice however, must not be enforced upon our students who are obliged to keep up with the times and be fully equipped with the proper values, skills, knowledge and attitudes to contribute to an ever-demanding society of competition and demand.
As for Mary? We became friends and she attended my speech at the Foreign Languages Forum. Speaking of Forum, we all have wonderful experiences to share with each other. I can’t wait to see you all next September. Till then… keep up the good work and don’t become stale!