|I am proud to be a teacher and I love to teach. Ever since
the first time I walked into a classroom in the role of teacher, in a
small local institution called Translex in Lima, Peru, I felt at home
and in control in front of a class. Even earlier, in grade school, I had
shown a predilection for teaching. On many occasions, when the teacher
was introducing or explaining a new idea or topic, one of my classmates
would miss the point or fail to grasp the concept. I found that not only
did I understand what the teacher was trying to get across, but I could
see exactly at which point my confused classmates had missed the train.
I was usually able to bridge the gap and help them understand the point
In a certain exhilerating way, I come alive in the classroom. Sometimes, due to the vagaries of the schedule, I have three or even four classes in one day. I may have missed a meal, not slept well the night before, or been preoccupied with lifes myriad complications and conundrums. Yet when I walk into the classroom, morning afternoon or night, I shed my weariness like waking from a bad dream, and am energized, uplifted and inspired, at least for as long as the class lasts. It is always a pleasure to teach.
There are those who will say that I especially enjoy the rapt attention of my students because at home neither my wife nor my sons pay much attention to what I say. While there may be some truth to this, and though it is true that my attempts to institute pop quizzes and regular evaluations at home were abject failures, it is more than that which draws me to the classroom.
I take special pleasure from teaching the particular kind of students we have at CELOP. After much thought on the matter I believe I have discovered why. Like many of my colleagues, I began teaching English outside of the US. Obviously, I started traveling before I started teaching. I still remember, as if it were last week, those first solo international adventures, when I knew little of the ways of the world or the people who populate it. I can still smell the spicy street food cooking on charcoal grills. I can hear the exotic strains of salsa and merenge pouring from forgotten cantinas and scruffy bars on the gringo trail. I remember learning my first few phrases of Spanish, and the delicious wonderment when I discovered that by stringing a few of them together I could actually communicate in a foreign language.
Everything was crystal clear and remains etched in my memory. I was almost overwhelmed by the physical sensations of newness and the realization that the life I had known at home was not the only way to live on this earth. The feeling of freedom, of independence and self-reliance, the knowledge that the high wire could be traversed without a safety net, were perhaps the defining experiences of my youth. To work everyday with interesting, enthusiastic individuals who are just now undergoing the same process of self-discovery and revelation is both a pleasure and a privilege.
My tactical teaching philosophy could be called eclectic pragmatism. As the years of experience have accumulated, I have collected quite a variety of techniques and activities for different topics, levels and student learning styles. When choosing both material and techniques for a particular class, the teacher must take into account not only the level and the point in the syllabus to which the class has advanced, but also the time of day, day of the week, season of the year, the weather, the internal class dynamic, and the reactions of the students to past classes. During the class you must be sensitive to both verbal and non-verbal cues from the students which tell whether they are interested, bored, frustrated, amused, rebellious or confused. And you must be prepared to react to these cues by altering your pitch, changing activities, varying the pace, repeating parts in other words, or leaving your carefully prepared class plan entirely and improvising.
Two of the things in which I firmly believe are reliability and preparation. Woody Allen said the 95% of life is just showing up I say the other 5% is showing up prepared. In fact, I am often over prepared, with far more material ready than I could possibly use. Teaching a class which has been adequately prepared is a no-brainer; I could do it in my sleep. Teaching a class for which one is not prepared is a nightmare.
Strategically, I have long believed that the key to a successful outcome of any learning experience is student motivation. Even the best teacher and the latest materials are not as good a predictor of learning as the desire and dedication of the student. Teachers must strive, therefore, to unearth, nurture and expand on existing student motivation, and sometimes to create or discover motivation where none is immediately apparent.
Finally, I see the role of teacher more as a facilitator than as an imparter of knowledge. As an ESL teacher, the subject matter to be explored is the world itself, in all of its wondrous, multitudinous magnificence. Our task is to give our students the linguistic tools to gain access to the English-speaking side of this marvelous matrix, while acting as models, both linguistically and professionally, as they find their way in this brave new world.