When I was living in Madrid last year, I needed to find a way to make some extra money to afford my year off from University to learn Spanish, so I did a search on Craigslist for English teaching positions. I e-mailed a few language schools and to my surprise, got a call the next morning asking if I could start that same day! A few hours later it was me, some kids, a white board, and a marker and I was scared, but actually didn’t do too badly. This went pretty well for a few months until the school ended up closing and I didn’t get my last paycheck, but that’s another story…
My biggest problem when I was teaching English (other than you know, not getting paid…) was that I felt guilty teaching. Why? Because I had absolutely no experience. I felt like I was wasting the students’ time and the parents’ money because I hadn’t had any special preparation, or Master’s Degree in English or a TEFL or CELTA or even that much experience with kids! I felt like I was helping my students (aged 5-20) somewhat with their English but I was distracted by the feeling that I couldn’t effectively explain everything “properly” because I wasn’t an English grammar expert, and for that reason alone, I shouldn’t be teaching.
When I came back to Austria this Summer, I was speaking to my friend from England who has lived in Vienna for a long time and who had also taught English, and she told me that the very first class that she taught was at the University of Vienna in front of 70 students, and she also didn’t have any experience! She ended up teaching English for years! That definitely made me start thinking differently the whole “teaching English without experience” thing.
The other day I saw this video posted by Steve Kaufmann (blog) and it made me realize that it really isn’t so important to know English grammar inside and out, backwards and forwards in order to be a good language teacher. It is more important to be resourceful, to have empathy, and to motivate your students to learn the language.
Here is a quote from the video on whether or not it is important for an English teacher to be deep into their grammar:
Why does that matter? I’m sure the average English teacher speaks English at least as well as the average native speaker and if the learner is able to speak as well as the average native speaker, I think the learner is probably going to be quite happy. So, why does it matter?
He also says that he would rather have a teacher who is an interesting, average person than someone who has four degrees in Linguistics and who would make a point to teach him a bunch of rules.
So I have decided to give English teaching another go. I currently live in a small-ish town outside of Vienna and since it has proven nearly impossible to find an apartment in Vienna I will be communting to Vienna everyday but returning here for the evenings, so I will be offering English tutoring in the evenings and weekends to students at the local schools.
A native speaker who speaks their own language quite well but doesn’t know any grammar rules, to me makes an excellent language teacher.
… and on that positive note, I am going to go work on my flyers that I will be posting around the local schools this week! 🙂