While I survived my first week of school (yey!), it’s just the beginning. I still have a long way ahead of me. As I mentioned in my first chronicle, this term is quite different from my past terms because I am teaching night classes for the first time. I would not characterize it as “difficult.” Teaching is teaching – regardless of any time schedule. However, since I also teach in the mornings on the same days I teach in the evenings, the demand of talking for 7 hours can be physically challenging. But, I am not complaining; I love my job!
So how did my first week go?
First week of school is usually the opportunity for the instructor to communicate clear expectations in the class. Immediately you have to set the tone on the first day of school. Experienced educators will tell you, “expectations are what you allow them to do, not what you say.” Thus, immediately setting a positive tone in your classroom is very important. First impressions lasts, so it is best to rememner that the first day of school as a microcosm of the coming year. It should represent who you are as an instructor and what you expect the classroom to be. In this regard, I feel quite confident that I did a good job.
This term I am teaching four ESL classes – three of which are quite large with 22 to 27 students in each class. Their countries of origin span from five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. I must admit, sometimes I enter my classroom and I feel like I am in the Tower of Bable. When my students all talk at the same time in their languages, which usually happens during our break, it is like listening to people speaking in tongues. It’s wild. United Nations wild!
That was my experience during the first week.
… And I assume I will continue to experience it until every student in my class understands that he/she needs to speak English while on the campus. While it is not too much of a challenge reminding my higher levels students, it can be a real struggle for beginning students with limited vocabulary to speak English all the time. So, how do we bridge the gap? How do we communicate when everyone speaks different languages?
Every ESL instructor has different teaching styles. Since, it is a spoken rule in our program to encourage students to speak only in English, it is then the responsibility of the instructor to explore different instructional methodologies to meet the students’ needs, and make their learning a valuable enriching experience. I know – it is easier said than done. In my case, I usually let my Spanish speaking students immediately aware not to get fooled easily by my Spanish sounding first name and “morena” skin tone. Each time they mistakenly speak to me in Spanish, my immediate response is “no comprende”, and instantly they stop – and laugh. I do the same thing to my other students who speak other languages, except that I do it with my “no comprende” facial expressions.
My “no comprende” is my go-to response; however, it is not anywhere near the ultimate solution to this vexing concern. This is one reality in language instruction that every instructor has to face and negotiate. So what do instructors do? When I was in graduate school, we debated the level of importance between vocabulary and grammar, and we unanimously agreed that the former is more substantial. That being said, a good place to start when teaching ESL, especially beginners, is to provide them with a plethora of vocabulary words and then teach them how to use these words in correct sentences. It is not going to be fast and easy. It may take some time and hard work, but believe me, hard work works! Oh what a sight to behold when the light bulb finally comes on.
So, that’s where I am right now in launching the courses I teach this term. As always, it is an exciting learning journey not only for my students but for me as well. As I have noted in my teaching philosophy: teaching is not only a profession or a career; it is also an opportunity to share life’s experiences. I have always believed that those who take the challenge of facilitating learning also benefit and receive an education in the process.
“Of all the hardest jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher.” -Maggie Gallagher
Thanks for reading and have a nice day!