Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Typical Language School

I arrive at Casa Xelaju (the Spanish school) at 8am. I come into class and sit down. I'm very enthusiastic about learning Spanish. Last night, I did all of my homework, plus I studied extra.

The teacher says, "hola". She doesn't smile. She already looks bored. She wastes about 10 minutes going through papers while I wait. I'm the only student in the class, so I have no one to talk to. Finally, she asks for my homework. She reads the essay I wrote and corrects it. This is useful, I'm happy to get feedback on my writing.

Next, she asks me to talk a little about what I did yesterday. I start talking, but she gets a call on her cell phone. She takes the call and starts chatting! She hangs up and then says, "I need to get some coffee, I'll be right back". Ten minutes later she comes back. I suspect she was actually talking on the phone.

She asks me to start talking again. She looks totally bored... no smile, no interest in what I'm trying to say.

Next, she gives me a picture and tells me to describe it. I do my best while she sits in the corner looking bored. Occasionally she corrects my mistakes.

After this, she tells me to read a paragraph. Then I have to do a worksheet and fill in the missing words. Then I do another worksheet, writing answers to short questions. While I write, she stands and looks out the window. She leaves the room several times.

Finally, we have a 30 minute break. I started today with lots of enthusiasm, but now Im bored and annoyed. I'm happy to have a break.

When I come back from the break, she gives me a Word Search and a Crossword Puzzle. A Word Search and a Crossword Puzzle! I can't believe it. I have been teaching for over ten years, and I know that this is a total waste of time. Its a useless way for the teacher to do nothing while the student wastes time looking for words in a block of letters.

Now I know for sure-- my teacher doesn't care at all. She is bored with her job. She has no motivation, no energy, no enthusiasm, and no method.

At the end of the day I must admit that this school is mostly a waste of time. The one good point is that I get to talk in Spanish for the last 45 minutes... which helps boost my confidence and motivation and enthusiasm again.

As I walk home, I'm reminded of Steve Kaufman's words-- you cannot depend on schools to teach you. Learning is your responsibility.

And so it is. I won't let this school destroy my motivation. I know, in fact, that this school is a very normal and typical language school. I have seen these same behaviours at many English schools I've worked at. Of course, I know that every teacher gets tired sometimes. But even on a bad day, I tried to at least have energy and enthusiasm.

After this experience, I finally understand the majority of comments I get from my students. Many people write me and thank me for the lessons. They like my teaching method. The improve their English speaking.

But the most common comment I get is something like, "Thanks so much for your energy and enthusiasm. I love listening to your voice. You make me excited to study English. You make English fun." They like the lessons, but what they really LOVE is the energy and enthusiasm.

After today, I totally understand. Today, I didn't care about teaching methods-- I just wanted her to show some interest in me. I wanted her to enjoy teaching me, and enjoy helping me learn Spanish. Instead, she almost destroyed my excitement for the language.

But this is not the end. I will focus on the few good points of the class (an opportunity to talk in Spanish)... and I will spend my free time listening to interesting Spanish, reading interesting Spanish, and writing Spanish.

I will enjoy the language, and learn it myself!

And finally, I will remember this experience-- to motivate myself to continue improving as a teacher... and to always LOVE teaching English.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.


hiroshi said...

Que pena, AJ! you look haggard and exhausted on your pic ( just kidding:))

sounds like you dont like most of the teaching methods at this school. I am afraid that you have already paid the tuition fee.
it is no use crying over spilt milk. so, why dont you try to get the most out out of this school?

1. maybe you can teach your teachers how to teach in better ways. It is pointless if you wait for them to change. so, change them, AJ! I am sure that you are better teacher.

2. any experieces, no matter how terrible they are, can be turned into positive examples. so, observing negative examples at this school can help improve your teaching method. sort of like ying and yeng.

Steve san is quite correct that it is our responsiblities to learn. that is so true, but I believe that there are still some unique, creartive, interesting schools out there where motivated students have animated discussion with teachers. it may take quite some time to find such schools, so create your own school based upon what you imagine to be ideal.

hope that you will enjoy your trip! have a nice day.

From Paraguay

Kyunglim said...

I'm sorry that the school does not use the method of "listen and answer". I was interested in the Spanish school. but i'm disppointed that.

ps. I love your energy of teaching english. So, I visit your blog everyday.

blueaspen said...

Hi AJ,

I'm sorry to hear about your dissapointment.
I think that we can't blame your teacher for being unaware of better ways to teach in an efficient way. But we can blame her on her lack of respect,interest and motivation.

If that woman failed to understand that you are not an ordinary student, that you really want to learn Spanish, and was so boring while teaching to you, I'm sure she chose the wrong profession. She should work in anything except in teaching languages. She doesn't deserve it.

She wasn't even respectful in the first place!, because she started chatting on her mobile in the middle of your lesson. That was your time, not her spare time. She was earning money from you, when she was chatting with a friend.

If that teacher behaves that way with a student like you, I don't want to imagine how she teaches to the average student.

Anyway, AJ, let me tell you this: I'm Spanish and I've been listening to your podcast for more than a year so I think I can say I know your method a little bit. Actually... I play jazz, and let me tell you something: there's a lot in common between learning to play jazz and learning a language. Jazz is actually a language. So, if you want, I can help you with your Spanish the way you want to be helped. We could create mini-stories in Spanish and we could set a time every week to speak on skype. Of course you don't have to pay me. Guess what: I have a new job, I'm teaching English to a class of 8 students at pre-intermediate level. This is my first experience teaching to a group, and I'm now beguinning my second month, so you can imagine that I have a lot of questions about English, any day! So we can help each other with languages. I can create simple mini-stories for you, and you can record my voice with Pamela or any other way. I'm also a very motivated learner of languages so I know that it will be fun. Just let me know if you are interested.

Have fun in Guatemala and take care of boring teachers!

Ignacio (from Spain)

skype name: blueaspen

Rookie said...

AJ, I don't know but this sounds YOU were ripped off, or not ? Anyway, may be the teacher was not motivated to teach just one person, don't you think ? I don't why you didn't share your experiences on English teaching.
About blueaspen, it's a very good IDEA, I'm latino too, and we can teach you Spanish through Skype if you want and have time (no money involved, just learning community)!!


AJ Hoge said...

Find the Positive

Si, que pena! However, I am trying to make the best of the situation. After being disappointed, I've decided to do a few things:

1. Use this to improve my own teaching. This is a great opportunity to understand the feelings of my own students. Also, I'm thinking a lot about my past teaching-- I'm trying to identify weaknesses. How can I improve? How can I help students feel happy and excited to learn English? This is a good opportunity.

2. Build my Spanish confidence. I'm just going to talk as much as possible-- even with this bored teacher. Though I make mistakes in almost every sentence, I'm speaking more Spanish than ever before. I'm much less nervous about it-- which is great.

Also, I have a great host family... so I talk to them all the time. In fact, I told my host mother that she should open her own school-- she's so patient, friendly, and helpful. I love talking with her.

3. Use this teacher somehow. The one thing this teacher likes is grammar, so I'm gonna use her to correct my writing. I also asked her to give me practice with the common past tenses.. which is helping me understand more of what I read and hear. Its not great, but that's OK.

4. Take responsibility and study a lot by myself. I've been watching a Spanish TPRS DVD every night. I'm also listening to Spanish articles and reading the local newspaper. I don't understand much of the newspaper, but I do understand the basic ideas and am learning some new vocabulary

5. Stay motivated and enthusiastic. I love talking with Guatemalan people and this has increased my motivation. As we say all the time at Effortless English-- "Real communication is very motivating and enjoyable".

6. Think about ways to continue learning once I return home. When I get home Ill continue the listening practice, join Lingq as a paying member (to chat with Spanish tutors), chat on Skype (thanks for the offer RK), etc...

7. Plan more trips to Spanish speaking countries. For me, "study" is not motivating (especially now :) But I love travel and I love communicating. In SF it was often hard to study because I don't really need Spanish there. But traveling in Central/South America is very motivating. It feels great to chat for an hour... even using terrible broken Spanish. To stay motivated, I need to continue visiting Spanish speaking countries and communicating with real Spanish speakers.

So... though the school is typical and unmotivating, overall the trip has been great.

Rookie said...

AJ, anywhere, anytime !!
Que la fuerza siga contigo my friend !!


pau said...

That’s the spirit!
Enjoy your trip. You can’t do much about your teacher, but the experience with native speakers is priceless.
A personal recommendation: the local bookstores, maybe the local newspaper, magazines, all the sources that you can collect there to continue your studies at home.
By the way, I’m another Spanish native speaker wishing you the best.
Thanks for the podcasts,

Pamela said...

Hi there,

I came across your site by accident. Your philosophie of how to learn english quicker sounds very interesting and I will try it.
Am looking forward to seeing better results.