Through the eyes of a young teacher…
Giving learners the chance to have their say
Patricia Salguero, an experienced EFL teacher from Peru, is particularly interested in a humanistic
I still remember that first day when my heart was beating faster than ever. Nineteen years ago, I started teaching English in a high school, It was an honour for me to go back to my own school where I had played, learnt, and shared my adolescence with my school mates, but this time I came back to play an important role in the life of my own students.
As I started teaching, most of my high school students seemed like my classmates as I was only four years older than them. At the beginning, being on the spot was totally different from what I had learned at university and even in my practice teaching cycle. Being there in class, made me go back to my seat at high school and see how students feel in class. I felt like one of them, trying to understand what it is like when teachers asked them to be sitting down for seven hours or not to make any noise in the classroom.
It was there that I started to look at those students who were four years younger than me with another perspective. All of them wanted to learn but there was something missing in most classes in different subjects. The ties between the academic factor and the humanistic one were severed; therefore, most of them were lost in classes or even worse, never actively involved in them.
That’s how I perceived engagement: to treat every learner like an individual human being with needs, strengths and weaknesses. I spent hours looking for engaging activities for my lessons and the class needs. Thinking of some issues that they were facing on their daily routine and also thinking about the way they could respond to them.
Teaching students to persist in carrying out a task, or offer help on homework can strengthen friendships, increase students' satisfaction with school and their chances of succeeding.
It was then that a 20 year old teacher began to understand how a teenager can feel when they are asked to do something that they do not like or they disagree with. One of the most useful tips was to ask them what they think about the activity, what they suggest; how they would change it; why they think it was important, and if they liked doing that. That feedback made me grow as person and as a teacher.
For most teachers at that time, I seemed to be the inexperienced crazy English teacher but I knew something else was growing. Later on, I found that by sharing a break with students, asking them how they feel even if that day was not an English class, playing with them out of the class, giving them space in my class to have their own say, to think loudly. What was even more important was that we worked on learning to respect each other; developing tolerance between teens.
My reward? Despite being so young, I earned something that some other senior teachers might be looking for ages : RESPECT
It wasn’t the respect that some teachers may think it was the right one, stemming from a teacher’s authority and power. I got a different kind of respect rooting in the rapport we had built. I had earned it with the way I taught them to support their views and by giving them a chance to express themselves, negotiate their ideas and views.
I would add that by encouraging students to learn through failure, they may be more likely to ask for help in developing new approaches, new ways to see their process of learning with a different view; being aware of their roles in order to challenge new goals for their lives, they are more grateful for and reflective about the help that has been given to them in the past..