La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

The chameleonic existence of a language teacher

Jayne A. Herzog-Yates

Le prof de langues doit inlassablement faire preuve de vraie flexibilité et de capacité d’adaptation, pour réajuster en continu son matériel et ses attentes aux profils différents et aux motivations de ses classes, toujours à l’affût des progrès, même très simples, mais exprimés par les apprenants eux-mêmes. L’important, c’est de trouver le meilleur rythme de la classe, en tenant compte des besoins des élèves, tout en les stimulant à devenir des apprenants autonomes. “Je vous donne la clé pour apprendre l’anglais, mais vous devez la tourner et ouvrir vous-mêmes la porte”. Le matériel didactique, dont aujourd’hui nous abondons, mérite néanmoins notre attention constante, pour qu’il réponde chaque fois au contexte, et... pour nous faire gagner du temps: la simplicité et la variété préparant l’efficacité. Apprenons donc à changer d’aspect et d’environnement plusieurs fois par jour, tout comme les caméléons! (réd.)

When I was asked to write this article I was just coming to the end of a nine year stint as a freelance English teacher. It was a time of reflection as I stepped from the uncertainty of one life into the (almost) certainty of life as a full-time employee. I looked back at days when I began the day teaching business English to Swiss bankers, spent the afternoon preparing teenagers for the FCE (First Certificate of English – Cambridge) and finished the day teaching elementary courses to adults from all walks of life, all ages and educational backgrounds. So how did I do it? So how do we do it? The keywords in my mind are flexibility and adaptability or in the words of the Boy Scout Movement in the United Kingdom- Be prepared (and I would add) for any eventuality.
First and foremost we must think of the target of the class we are teaching, are they preparing for an examination, learning English for their job, for a trip to an English speaking country or just for fun. As we plan and teach our classes we should be aware of these targets and take them into consideration. They will inevitably determine the level of commitment we can expect from our learners. It would be foolish to expect 6-8 hours of home study from my ‘club’ or business classes, however I do not expect anything less from my diploma candidates. So we have to adjust our expectations to each and every class, if not to each and every learner. Staying on the subject of expectations, I have learned to take pleasure in any amount of progress my students make. As long as I feel that they are making progress, that they recognise this and are satisfied with the progress they are making then I am happy. Last week I finished teaching an intensive summer course and on the last evening one of my female learners came to me and with great pride told me that she had received a phone call from England that very day and for the first time ever she had had the confidence to answer the enquiry and deal with it in English, this kind of feedback makes my job worthwhile and is worth just as much to me as an A in one of the Cambridge exams. Naturally, there will always be students who are dissatisfied, who have unrealistic expectations of what they are able to achieve in the time they have allotted themselves eg: the complete beginner who walks in the classroom, announces that he/she wants to take the ‘First’ (FCE) within a year and then proceeds to do no homework whatsoever, subsequently leaving the class, disgruntled with me as I had not fulfilled his/her expectations. This kind of thing happens frequently and we as teachers have to help our learners to appreciate the small steps forward they make and not to become despondent when they do not achieve their unrealistic expectations. [...]

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