Several days ago Joanna Malefaki wrote a post called Dear Me with an Educational Twist where she asked herself: ‘What advice would I give my younger teacher me?’ She answered that question beautifully in the form of a letter to herself, and then invited other bloggers to join and do the same thing. I started brainstorming my ideas immediately.
That same evening there was a new post on the same topic from Hana Ticha. She tagged me in her post, which meant there was a real chance, or a reason, to share. Doing it now!
A while ago I read a book ‘One’ by Richard Bach. The main characters there travel in time and space and meet themselves in certain points in the past and talk to ‘younger selves’, or even ‘alternative selves’. It is probably not a super new idea about a parallel/alternate worlds where ‘we’ or our personalities keep going according to the choices we made. A quick example: even though I had decided to become a teacher in the past and did not become a film director, as I had been dreaming, there is ‘another world’ where ‘Zhenya the film director’ is living and working.
The big questions of the book are: What if we could talk face-to-face with the people we were in the past: what would we tell them, and what would we ask? I thought that #DearMe idea adapted for teachers can work beautifully if I add a specific point in time where I would like to address this message to myself. It is 12 January 1999, the night before my very first lesson at a state school in Ukraine.
You might be surprised to read this letter now, and even more surprised to learn who it is coming from. First things first.
Tomorrow you will be giving the very first lesson in your life, and I know this is all that has been on your mind for several days. You are feeling scared that you are only 4 years older than your students tomorrow, and you are afraid if you are going to be treated like a teacher at all. You are rehearsing what to say, anticipating possible questions the students are going to ask you, and imagining how you would respond. You are thinking a lot about the lesson steps (yes, I know you are not super sure what the steps of the lesson should be, because you have not even had a course in Methodology at your university yet). You are thinking whether or not you should be entering the classroom at all, because you know that it is not a job of your dream. (well, at least, this is what you are thinking now). You called your friend asking for advice or support, and all you heard was ‘Remember how we were treating those young teachers in training when we were teenagers?’ You are worried about the senior teacher and what she would think about your lessons (if she ever has a chance to observe you). You are worried of more and more details with every hour brining that lesson closer. You can’t sleep the whole night.
I am writing this message to reassure you: the lesson will be all right. The students will listen to you, and you will feel there was a warm understanding between you and the group. You will feel relieved after the lesson, and you will be teaching in this school (this class and the other group of younger kids) group till May, combining your full-time studies, missing classes, making up for them and making sure you get all A’s at the end of the term. By the way, you will never be observed in that school at all! You will go and observe a couple of lessons by other teachers — but that’s not the point now.
Believe it or not, teaching will be your job, your lifestyle, maybe even your calling for the coming years and years. No, it won’t be teaching in a state school: later this year you will take a teacher training course in Kiev and receive a certificate of Teaching English to Adults (it will be called CELTA later, but now it does not make sense to you anyway). It might sound strange now, but those 4 weeks will turn your world upside down, and life will never be the same for you again. Remember how often you were wondering about the decision you need to make: to become a teacher/educator or to work as a psychologist/coach? Well, the truth is that teaching English using communicative approach will give you a chance to apply your knowledge in both fields. You will work in an international language school. You will travel – for conferences and courses abroad. You will run courses for teachers yourself. You will meet a lot of amazing people from around the world. You will…
I can’t tell you much more and take away the surprise part, or the joy of discovering and learning by yourself. Maybe the tips below will seem general to you — just read them now, and maybe keep this piece of paper to look at later. Especially at the time when you doubt and worry. Like now.
welcome observation of your lessons: you will be observed a lot in your teaching career anyway (by your boss, your peers, new teachers, colleagues, potential customers, guests, etc.) Most of the time, the situation won’t allow you to say ‘no’ to that, but you can definitely learn a lot from this experience. [A little ‘tip’: invite your boss to observe you as often as you can — that will actually guarantee that he won’t be coming to see your lessons so often!]
learn (about/with) your students: about their lives outside the language course, about their study habits, their personalities, hobbies — anything they feel comfortable to share with you might be helpful in their learning process. Remember, you will be using Communicative Approach, and it is all about (and for!) communication in a foreign language
don’t trust course books, don’t take everything they offer for granted, check the information (even Grammar rules!) Yes, even in those beautiful colorful foreign course books. Definitely in the state school books your students are using right now. You will be amazed to learn that those books were written by human beings, who also make mistakes
(connected to the above): develop your critical thinking skills. Well, I know it is a new term, and unfortunately, it never came up even in the Psychology courses you took — so you need to do some homework and read everything you can find on this subject. Yes, I know how much time you are already spending in the libraries, but that’s a very important thing to do. You will see why.
Stop worrying about ‘teaching correctly’: there is no such thing! (Believe me, there is no perfect lesson either) Embrace making mistakes. If you combine these ideas, you will see what I am hinting at: enjoy the process, both the learning and teaching, appreciate the beauty of human communication, be grateful for those wonderful people around you, trust your luck and intuition — and you will see miracles happening!
Hope you can sleep now. Wish you could write back to me (from time to time) and ask specific questions about everything — but that would probably spoil the magic of life. (keep writing those questions down, just in case — who knows, maybe one day you can share them with someone else)
So… good luck in this journey. We can do it!
Teacher Trainer, EFL/ESL Teacher
While I was drafting my notes and posting this entry several more bloggers created their letters to selves: by Christina, by Marjorie, by Angelos, by Sandy (I might have missed someone else— and there seem to be coming more – watch #youngerteacherself on Twitter!)
Thank you for reading this far — looking forward to the comments and thoughts! 🙂