I cannot say that I chose teaching as a career. It was teaching that chose me. Since I was a child, I heard people saying that one day I would be a teacher – my parents, my pediatrician, my teachers. At a certain point, maybe in adolescence, I wanted to find myself instead of following what everybody told me of what I should be. Then, I decided I would never be a teacher. I also decided that I did not want to work in anything related to schools. I went to college to become a Speech and Language Pathologist and Audiologist, and within that, I chose the areas of Voice disorders and Audiology so that I would not have to work in a school setting. To my surprise, while working in that, the job opportunities I enjoyed the most were those in which I had to teach. I taught workshops about language acquisition and speech disorders to parents, teachers, other speech language pathologists (SLP), and to doctors. I designed the curriculum and taught a short term course to SLPs about vocal disorders and therapy, and I had other teaching plans in mind. However, in the middle of all that, for many reasons I was not happy with the career I had chosen. Finally, I found myself looking forward to a fresh new start and the only option I could think of was to become a teacher.
I started teaching English with no experience whatsoever. The only experience I had with language education was from a student’s standpoint. I had formally studied English for at least 16 years at that point, and I had studied language acquisition in college and graduate school, so I thought I would be able to teach based on that knowledge. I was wrong about that, but I was also blessed when I found a job at a school that offered me valuable training. My teaching career started in 2007 and has developed ever since.
Since I started, my perspective about teaching and learning has changed a lot and many times. I have learned about, believed in, tested, given up, and revisited theories such as behaviorism, constructivism, Montessori, multiple intelligences, i+1, and some others. I have tried to incorporate approaches and methodologies such as translation, grammar only (drilling), English only, the lexical approach, the communicative approach, content and language integrated instruction (CLIL), top-down, bottom-up, inductive, deductive, and others. I have tried to be the “friend-of-the-students” kind of teacher, I have tried to be lenient, moderate, strict, and dictatorial in the classroom. I have learned about the ideas of Piaget, Vygotsky, Chomsky, Jakobson, Skinner, Krashen, Pinker, Bakhtin, Gardner, Freire, and many other philosophers, psychologists, linguists, and educators. In almost 10 years teaching, I have found that each of those theories, methodologies, and approaches to second language acquisition has its values, but none of them stands alone.
Language learners have different learning styles, learning strategies, skills, and motivations. There are many factors that weigh in the outcomes of their learning processes. As a learner, I work well with repetition, drilling, systematic exercises, and metalanguage, but not everybody does. As a teacher, I tend to over-teach and over correct, but not every student deals well with it.
My teaching philosophy and practice are constantly changing and improving as I gain more experience and work with more diverse learners.
Above all, I believe that every person is capable of learning – although at different levels. Not everybody will learn the same from the same class or lesson, but everyone will learn something. Therefore, I try to provide students with individualized profile comments based on formative assessment, believing that there is always some level of learning. Simply stating that a student has failed in an assessment is to say that there wasn’t any learning in the process. Static grades, without any comments or the opportunity to review strengths and weaknesses, may produce stress in teachers as well as in students. What is an A or a diploma if the learner does not know how to apply the information to real life situations? What is the importance of a D or an F when the learner is successful with whatever he/she has learned? Is the grade the ultimate reward in the learning process? Learners can take much more from grades when they are linked to formative feedback pointing out what has been accomplished and what is yet to be.
I believe in project-based learning and in life-long learning. I believe in developing learning strategies so that each student can find their own way into acquiring knowledge. I believe in raising students’ motivation and self-confidence so that they can enjoy the learning process. I believe in building a positive rapport with the students. I believe that we all learn what we are interested in learning and are given the opportunity to learn. I believe in structured teaching and scaffolding, although some students will leap and “climb” that scaffold faster than others. I believe in teaching as sharing information – when I share I never lose anything; instead, everybody gains.
Paraphrasing Horton (Seuss, 1954),
I just have to teach them. Because, after all, a learner is a learner, no matter how small.
I can’t put teaching down. And I won’t! After all, a learner is a learner. No matter how small.
Seuss. (1954). Horton Hears a Who! New York: Random House.