A Message to Language Teachers

Popular to contrary belief, the life of an educator is not easy. I have watched my mom work for hours on end after coming home from an 9-hour school day. On top of grading tests and assignments until early in the morning, she would alter lesson plans to fit a curriculum that she did not design and come up with activities to keep students engaged so that they would be less likely to misbehave. As someone who really cares about her students, I have seen her work weekends, long breaks, and even summers, even though she technically will not get paid for all those extra hours. This is not a job where you leave your work at work and come home. So why do people complain about teachers being “lazy” or “bad”? What makes a “good teacher”?

It surprises me how many people pursue education that should not. There are those who do not seem to do well with people. As an educator, you are constantly interacting with all kinds of people. You need to have the capacity to do that every single day for hours. Teaching is more than just passing knowledge to others, not to mention being able to pass knowledge to others. Some educators are very smart but do not know how to transfer their knowledge to students.

You must encourage your students. Your subject is not mandatory after a certain point, so student enrollment can go way down after the first two levels of the language you teach. The goal is to get more students to take your class. If you are upset about enrollment, look at what you have been doing. Stop grading strictly; this will make students feel discouraged.  Make them feel like learning a language isn’t so hard and like they can reach that goal.  Dumb things down for them if they don’t understand a complicated concept. Make students excited to go to your class every day.

As someone who has successfully spoken three other languages with native speakers of those languages, I can confidently say that the majority of people will not correct every mistake that is made. Students will want to better their language skills, but how would you feel if you were excited about a certain subject or hobby and someone corrected every little thing you did wrong? Correction is necessary but should not be overdone.

My favorite class this semester is my Sounds of Spanish class. It is not just because I am interested in phonetics and the Spanish language, but a large part of it deals with the professor. Not only is he personable and engaging but he takes his time. As a teacher, professor, or tutor, you should be open to learning from those around you so that you can better your skill set. The best professors I have had all have that in common. They learn from other professors, students, and take their time presenting material so that others can understand it. Instead of assigning 100 pages of reading in a foreign language every day, they will assign a chapter of reading. The next day, they will reinforce what we read by going over the chapter and giving us an easy assignment that does not take up hours of our day, but still does a good job of reiterating what was learned in class. That is how information really sticks. That is how you set yourself and everyone else up for success so that one day, someone walks out of that classroom saying that they remembered something they learned.

I may not have much experience, but as a student who has been on both sides of the classroom, I have gotten a lot of insight from my experiences. I have tutored students in two languages and did an English-teaching internship in France, which is nothing compared to someone who has a doctorate or has gone through a certification process, but I came back from those experiences having learned some things.  What I can pass on is this blog post, a plea to teachers to treat their job as more than just a job. Maybe I would be able to walk around school one day without hearing, “I loved Spanish/French/*insert language here* and was good at it until I had Mr./Mrs. So and So.” It is not completely your fault for what someone else chooses to do, but you definitely make an impact on their choices. Make it a positive one.

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Teaching English in Nantes

When I was in Madrid, I did a lot of traveling. I did not take any local university classes, do any internships, or join any gyms. I just had fun exploring new areas and experiencing Europe. This semester, I decided I wanted to have some different and new experiences.

Being a Spanish and French major can be a great thing. You can pair languages with any field and it will make you more valuable. However, if you are like me who only likes to study languages, what do you do with two degrees in languages? As of right now, I can’t get paid to study a language, as cool as that would be. Unanimously I have heard three options: teaching, interpreting, or translating. I have tried all three but in an informal setting. This spring, I decided to look more seriously into these future career options. I took a class in translation and chose to do an English teaching internship.

My experience:

My program provided this internship opportunity, so I didn’t have to look far to be able to teach English. I was placed in a private school by the name of Saint Stanislas. I ended up teaching English six hours a week. I would teach middle school students between the ages of 10-14 for four hours on one day and engineering students my age for two hours. Before this internship, I already had some experience teaching basic Spanish classes to 2nd graders. I had also volunteered for a year in a bilingual charter school near my university. I knew this experience would be different from the others.

It was an overall positive experience that had some surprises. I enjoyed being able to teach about whatever I wanted to the middle school students. I was able to teach about topics that are actually useful such as pronunciation. I was also able to teach cultural lessons about the American school system and American regional food. I remember sitting in language classes and wondering why I was learning about some of the things I had learned about. I wanted to make this experience different not only for myself but also for my students.

With the students my age, I had less liberty. The teacher wanted me to do debates in small groups with the students. I tried to choose topics that wouldn’t make the students in the groups want to hurt each other after the debate. What surprised me the most about this experience was the fact that I thought I would enjoy teaching this group more than the younger students. I found the opposite to be true. I am not sure if it’s because of the freedom I had with the younger students or if it was because of the maturity level in the classroom. I found the French students to be surprisingly more disrespectful in class than American students.

The truth is, I did not get to teach the middle school students a whole lot because of trips they went on and their winter and spring breaks. However, I had not only gotten experience teaching them and students my age, but also being an assistant for a day in a Spanish classroom. It was very cool to be in a Spanish classroom setting in France, especially because if I go into teaching one day, I would not just consider teaching English but maybe Spanish in addition to English.

Tutoring:

One of the coolest experiences that has come out of doing this internship was the opportunity to tutor a high school student in Spanish. Upon meeting him, I asked him if he wanted me to teach him in French or Spanish since the class itself is taught in Spanish. He did not specify a preference, so I ended up teaching him Spanish in French. It was challenging to teach about Spanish subjunctive in French, especially considering neither of those languages are my native language, but doing this paid off. I did make a little bit of money on the side as a result of doing this but what I enjoyed the most was knowing that I was actually helping someone out.  After doing this internship and tutoring for a few weeks, I think I know a little bit more about what I want to do after graduating college and that, to a college student who is almost in their senior year, is a relief.