TweetI was going through some old files on my computer earlier today to see if there was anything I could delete when I came across this. This is the essay that I wrote as part of the application process for the DELTA course, which I took in 2003-04. I don’t think I’ve reread this since writing it almost a decade ago, but the pompous title of the piece led to to believe I was in for quite a laugh. Actually, looking back, it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Perhaps I’ll write a follow up post reflecting on how much, if any, of my thinking has changed in the last ten years. Have a lovely weekend, everyone.
The Role of an ELT Teacher
ELT teachers face a set of issues that are largely specific to ELT, and therefore the role of an ELT teacher is a unique one. Being an ELT teacher is both a rewarding and a challenging occupation, as a great deal of energy is required to inspire students to maintain their motivation to learn this language. When teaching a second language, the teacher must be aware that all classes have common needs. Furthermore, the teacher must find a balance between controlling the classroom and facilitating these needs. In this essay I am going to discuss what I believe to be the teacher’s role in addressing the common needs of students, and also how I as a teacher must find an appropriate balance between controlling and facilitating.
The first common factor relating to all ELT students is that they are venturing into the unknown. Every time they enter the ELT classroom they are taking risks in communicating that may be uncomfortable for them – and the teacher is their ‘guiding light.’ As an ELT teacher I must be aware of how this factor differs from group to group. For example, Lots of support is a must for teaching at the Elementary level. My role should be to aim to foster, support, and create as much speaking as possible.
Secondly, all second language learners need to practice the language they are learning, and therefore, an ELT teacher needs to create an environment that fosters student production and practice as much as possible. Teaching students at the Intermediate level, for example, means teaching discipline. Consequently, I need to remind students to practice daily while keeping their eye on their goal of English fluency.
Moreover, the students in an ELT class also need to be respected as individuals as they participate and contribute to the learning environment of the class. I feel that teaching is very much about listening. Being empathetic to the needs of students is the key to being a good ELT teacher. Consequently, ELT teaching often demands flexibility on the part of the teacher to work with students at a range of levels.
Finally, ELT students need to be instructed in a way that builds their confidence and competence in the English language. For example, Intermediate students often have moods that swing between happiness/pride and frustration/self-doubt due to the fact that these students can be at the Intermediate level for a while, and it’s sometimes not as easy for them to see their own weekly and monthly growth. I feel that confidence and competence can be enhanced by understanding the intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation of the student to learn the language.
How can I as an ELT teacher possibly hope to meet all of these needs? I need to firstly recognize the long-term goals of students and then realise the steps that need to be taken to reach those goals. The student must then be lead through those steps in a way that fosters independence. Knowing the subject matter and/or the teaching methodology probably isn’t enough. I will discuss what I mean by this in more detail.
The basic role of an ELT teacher is one of facilitator. This can mean being patient and living with silence as students collect their thoughts before speaking. Also, this can mean allowing more mistakes and giving feedback only after a student has finished speaking (or maybe at the end of the exercise, or even at the end of class). As a teacher I should be able to follow the interests of the students and tailoring topics and classes to these interests as they arise (sometimes this means letting a class stray from the lesson plan). Researching projects about football, pop songs for listening and reading, and role play dialogues between favourite actors could be examples of topics are tailored to the interests of the class, i.e. facilitating their needs.
Ideally, I think the balance between teacher talk and student talk in the classroom should be skewed towards the student – giving students the vital productive (speaking and writing) practice they need to gain competence in English. This means stepping back from the traditional role of lecturer/controller. After preparing the students, a teacher needs to put the majority of speaking class-time into the hands of the students. By doing this I will be enabling the students to learn, as opposed to being taught.
However, fulfilling the role of facilitator doesn’t mean letting the class erupt into anarchy. As stated, putting the majority of speaking time into the hands of the students will enhance their learning, but only after I have prepared them for this. There are times when I need to exercise control; certain stages of a lesson lend themselves to controlling. An example would be when I wanted the students to focus on accuracy, or when drilling. Also, as a teacher I am the main source of comprehensible authentic language input. However, control must be relaxed if the students are to learn and not merely be taught.
An ELT class therefore needs a teacher who is an enabler. By this I mean a teacher who not only knows the subject matter and the methodology but also how to work with other human beings. To exemplify, decisions in an enabler’s class may be shared or even negotiated. By doing this I would be able to take my lead from the students, and consequently be able to create the conditions that will enable the students to learn for themselves.
A teacher with a finger on the pulse of a class; a teacher who is capable of leading and of being lead, is a teacher who will be remembered as one who inspired and strove to meet the needs of the class.