Language Teacher Who Loves His StudentsI am a language teacher and work as an English professor in a university in the Middle East. Language teaching is extremely difficult (to do well), and even at the higher levels, takes a great deal of creativity, patience, resourcefulness, and maybe most importantly, a sense of humor.
In this teaching position, all my students are Muslim women, many of whom are very well off financially. Truthfully, most attend college to get out of the house, socialize, and improve their marriage prospects. So, some aren’t all that motivated.
Many other instructors—in the Health Science Dept. or in other majors—have problems with these girls (not motivated, lazy, chatty Kathys, even rude sometimes). But, I almost never have these problems.
In class I am flexible about most things, except respect. I won’t tolerate disrespect between my students, nor toward myself. Other than that, I focus on being the resident English expert and an authority figure who sets the best possible example.
I have been teaching since the sixth grade, where my favorite teacher of all time showed me that if I wanted to learn something well I should try to teach it. Mr. Clark held a Master Class in teaching and true support for his students. He is with me to this day in how I teach. Mr. Clark never let us accept failure, so I don’t let me ELT students accept failure either—provided they will put in the work.
After my students get to know me and trust me, we have a great time in class. Mostly, they work hard, but they will also accept me getting after them a bit because they know I truly have their best interest at heart.
After a while, many of my students will tell me things about themselves—things I never ask about. They know I will listen and never repeat what they tell me. These aren’t deep, dark secrets—just things they want to share with an adult whom they can trust.
Since I really know my language and strive to improve every day, I can help my students both at the concrete level and at the conceptual level. I am proud that I am able to create really competent second language learners, and my students get more and more confident and content as the semester goes by.
I believe in honesty in the classroom because I know students can tell if they are being manipulated. So, I let my students know what I am thinking, and if I use a ‘technique’, I inform them, ‘I am doing this so you will learn or do that’. I also am able to laugh if I make a mistake (not often) in class. I use this as a teaching moment and even compliment a student for asking a question that might have revealed my error. I ALWAYS reward effort, and good comments or questions. I find this honesty brings out honesty from my students—they participate more and more enthusiastically.
Even though my own personal life is not so great, I at least know I have touched the lives of my students in a truly beneficial way. Maybe in my next life I’ll have a chance at more personal satisfaction, but successful language teaching is not a bad legacy.