Sunday, October 26, 2014

You Teach English?

Yes, I do. And if you’d told me six months ago that I would be teaching English, I wouldn't have believed you! We all teach English; Kate and Evan even teach both an adult and children's class. Right now we are halfway through the semester and people still come in every day asking if there are open spots.  Many of us gave our classes a midterm exam this week so I wanted to reflect on my journey of becoming an English teacher thus far. Before I got to Ecuador I felt pretty certain about the programs I wanted. I was particularly interested in the health programs which made sense for me as a recent graduate with a Public Health degree.  I honestly hadn't really thought twice about English.  

After the five of us 13-monthers moved in the Manna house and began observing the programs and getting ready to select our top picks, it became clear that we were all going to be teaching English. When the semester started, there would only be seven program directors and there are nine English classes. Looking back, I’m extremely glad I didn't really have a choice about teaching English because I’m not sure if I would have chosen to do it on my own. I was definitely overwhelmed just thinking about teaching an English class. Sure, I know English. But just because I’m a native speaker in no way means I can explain why we usually put our adjectives before the noun (it is the opposite in Spanish for the most part!), why we have so many irregular verbs or why “they’re, their, and there” all sound the same but mean different things! 

The old program directors left us ample resources and lesson plans, but I still felt extremely unprepared walking into my first class. Planning that first lesson was stressful. I stared at old lesson plans and desperately tried to incorporate reading, listening, writing and speaking activities into a one hour lesson. A few days later I would learn that first hour lesson was a piece of cake to plan. I now had to plan activities for a three hour lesson! I try to over-plan because some activities will take longer than expected, like speaking activities; many hate speaking in class. While other take much less time, like vocabulary exercises because the majority of our students have a really good vocabulary and have picked up so many words from music and movies. I’m still learning how to best make my lessons but I've definitely improved and am learning my students’ pace!

I teach the adult intermediate English class (the second level out of five). Teaching adults is nice because they all have specific and interesting reasons for wanting to learn English. Usually adults want to learn English for their job or so they can help their kids. And they genuinely want to be in class - however, some program directors who teach kid’s English would have a different take! I had expected to be speaking a lot more Spanish in class than I actually am but my students really want me to say everything in English. I think this is good because the exposure to new words and my pronunciation is really helpful for them, even if I have to clarify things in Spanish. 

I've really been enjoying teaching English but wanted some formal training to help me feel more effective. Two of the PDs last year took a 160 hour online TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and after successfully completing the course they now have a TESOL certification. Carley and I enrolled in the online course and we are both about half way through. So far we've learned about how to teach certain verb tenses, phonemes, classroom management and even the best ways to give feedback. It is definitely helping me feel more confident in my teaching and by December I’ll be TESOL certified! If I do decide to continue teaching English after my time with Manna, having this course under my belt will definitely serve me well. 

Conclusions: English is hard. It’s probably (definitely) way harder than Spanish.  Currently, English is the third most widely spoken language, second to Mandarin and Spanish, yet it permeates everywhere. I feel so incredibly lucky just to have grown up speaking English and this new-found interest of teaching is incredibly exciting! 

~ Amelia Hulbert ~ 

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