Why the only teaching voice you need is your own

This summer my reading list has been a little different to what normally makes the cut for my beach reading.  Instead of my usual page turners, you will have found me getting to grips with a range of books from my DipTESOL pre-course reading list, a list which while has been incredibly interesting, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend slipping in to your suitcase when thinking about holiday reads.  With the abundance of teaching books out there it’s only natural that you will stumble upon a plethora of opposing ideas, beliefs and research and it therefore stands to reason that your head will pound as you try to get it around the various academia which undermines all your previous experience.  It’s easy to drown in a sea of reading lists and linguistic research but what is important to remember is that despite what the experts say, the only voice you need in the classroom is your own.

Arguably the most important factor in the classroom is the rapport between teachers and students.  Trust, respect and understanding are the key elements for successful learning. If learners feel that they can rely on their teacher to improve their language skills, they will be more pre-disposed to experimenting with language and therefore learning, as I’ve argued here while talking about the importance of building classroom community.  

Students have an innate sense of sniffing out fear, uncertainty and BS, in other words if you try and fake it until you make it, they’ll be on to you.  So what’s the answer? Be honest.  If there is something you don’t know or you get stumped by a grammar question, don’t try to invent answers or talk your way out of it. Tell your students that you can’t give them the answer to the extent that they need and deserve and promise to get back to them next lesson. AND THEN MAKE SURE YOU DO.

Students always look at me a little warily if I admit that I’m not sure of the precise meaning of a word.  However, when I explain that there is an English vocabulary of somewhere between 100,000 and 1, 000, 000 words of which the average person’s vocabulary is concerned with only about 20,000 of them (How languages are learned, Lightbown and Spada, 2013), we are not, and cannot be expected to be walking dictionaries. We are human, we don’t know everything and like every other human being we make mistakes, have off days and have gaps in our knowledge.  Sometimes dropping our armour every now and then is a good way of showing empathy with our learners and demonstrating a realistic model of how language learning works.  After all, if we can teach English without knowing all the words, surely this can inspire our learners?

By using our voices, our experiences and our knowledge, we will deliver lessons which our students can relate to because we are giving them a real, tangible model of how language works, lives and breathes.  We will gain confidence in our skin and this newfound confidence, in turn, will inspire us to develop, bringing new and interesting ideas and perspectives to our lessons.

In an industry where certain names carry legendary status, it’s easy to feel like a fish out of water, but remember, every experience is unique and every unique experience will carry important lessons to your students.  It’s not just our students’ voices that we need to make sure are heard in every lesson, it’s our voices too.

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