While one of the major reasons I got TEFL certified was to help with lesson planning; another was to learn about the history of education. We’ve been instructing for centuries, so how did it start, how has it changed, and how should I mold my style?
I also wanted to learn more about the relationships between teachers and students in different cultures to understand how I might be expected to act (for example, teachers in countries like China and South Korea are the knowledge holders- there to disseminate information and not be questioned). Ultimately, I learned that in Spain, similar to the United States, the relationship between teacher and student has a medium power distance, with a bond ultimately built from mutual respect, and the belief that each will try their best each day..
With this knowledge under my belt, I asked myself, “What kind of teacher will I be? Will I be strict, fun, creative, or by the book? Can I be both strict and fun?!” (yes future teachers, you can be fun and strict, but it’s a fine line too easily crossed without years of experience, but don’t lose any sleep over that just yet).
From what I’ve experienced, students decide if you’re a strict or fun-when-you-want-to-be-strict-when-you-need-to-be teacher is in the way you give feedback. TEFL prepared me for the proper ways to give feedback based on a students’ level of English, and situationally (alone, in a group, during a brainstorm). For example, if a student pronounces a word wrong while reading to the class, do you correct it? If you decide Yes, have you noticed if multiple students have had issues with that word or that type of word? Does the country you’re teaching in have difficulties with that type of letter configuration?
Should you correct the world in the moment, stop after the student reads and create a mini lesson for everyone to practice, or take the student aside after class? All of these are viable responses (giving feedback, letting it slide, creating a group lesson) that you need to consider in the moment. It’s a game-time decision that becomes easier with time, and as you learn more about the personalities and proficiencies of each student.
Building Relationships with Professors
Both the TEFL 60-Hour Certification and the Teach in Spain Pre-Departure Course were adamant about the importance of building relationships with the other teachers at your school. Particularly, showing up to the teachers’ lounge at lunchtime for gossip and chitchat to prove you are serious about the school, culture, and improving your Spanish. Here in Southern Spain, there is a short break midday for students to go to recess, and then they leave for the day at 14:00 so as to have lunch and siesta with their family. Thus, this break is the only teacher-to-teacher facetime for bonding outside the classroom. They don’t gossip, but they do speak a mile a minute (as we all do with friends) and keeping up is often discouraging. However, just being there, listening proves your worth in the school culture. That’s the relationship between all teachers; there is also that between the teachers you have class with, your Bilingual Coordinator, Jefe de Estudios, the School Secretary, the Security Staff, Maintenance Staff, and Copy Room Staff. If something happens and you need help, these people need to know your name and associate it positively.
The teachers in the classroom with you will be your biggest advocates with the other teachers. This is your chance to prove your worth as an expert English teacher, as well as create a support system. Prepare fun, diverse lessons that engage the students, and if you can, bring the topics back to their culture. Do your research on [Spanish] language, cities, history, politics, sports, food, everything, and then ask your students questions where the other teacher can get involved and help everyone learn.
Building Relationships with Students
1. Be Patient
They are trying. If they aren't, change it up. Teaching is about agility.
2. Be Kind
You don’t know what they’re going through in their other classes, with friends, or at home.
3. Be Serious
When you first meet them, explain you’re there to help, the same as any other teacher. If you build credibility around yourself, they’ll respect you.
4. Smile and Hug Them
Difficult, right? Nonverbal communication is 90% of how we perceive one another, so your actions are going to speak much louder than your words in this job. Ask them about their days when you see them in the hallways, in the grocery store, on the street. Show that you care- it will ensure they try their hardest in class, and you’ll all have more fun than you can imagine, learning.