Fake it until you make it: week one of teaching ESL

English is a really hard language to teach.

But seriously though. The way we spell English words isn’t consistent. We stress parts of our words (and parts of our sentences) at random. The sounds of our letters change from word-to-word . Our grammar is complicated (and erratic). We love idioms and phrasal verbs. We even incorporate words from other languages into ours.

One version of the phonetic alphabet (a.k.a. my new bible)

After one week of training, I’ve learned that teaching English is tough and rewarding. My class of 18 other teacher trainees had a baptism through fire our first week by being thrown into real-life ESL classrooms on our second day into the course. We had a night to prepare a 20-minute lesson with some written suggestions from our instructors on how to go about it. I had to teach the future perfect and future continuous tense of English (uhh what?)

I’ve always found the phrase “fake it until you make it” to carry some truth. On my first day in front of the classroom, I felt like a fraud. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was younger than many of my students (they ranged from ages 16 to 65). And each student was at a slightly different level of English even though they all qualified for upper-intermediate.  And yet, my class didn’t crash and burn. In fact, it went really well (although I apparently spoke too quickly out of nervousness). I think it worked because I faked being a teacher. I pretended like I knew what I was doing and found that the class took it very seriously. And (hopefully) they walked away with a decent understanding of the verb tenses I was teaching.

So now I’m three lessons in (I taught two other 40 minutes lessons this week) and I’m feeling confident that English teaching is definitely something I want to do for the next year or more. I’ve been so impressed and humbled by the work ethic of my students who have such a strong desire to learn English.  My students are from around the world (the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Germany, Taiwan, to name a few) and all seem dedicated to perfecting a language that’s going to improve their lives in some way, rather it be in employment, education, or standard of living.

Manfred, a student from Germany, asked to take a picture with me after class

Now I don’t want to sound like I’ve walked into a classroom and changed any lives. This isn’t Freedom Writers and I’m not Hilary Swank. Nor is this Dead Poets Society where I’m inspiring students to stand on desks and profess “Carpe Diem”. But I’m having fun and I’m discovering that teaching might be a path for me.

Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” -Anatole France

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