An early post this month, to pre-empt what will surely be a busy run to Christmas. So a year and a half term or so into my new career, it is as good a time as any to take stock. I have been reflecting of late about whether my teaching has changed for the better or not as a result of being in the new environment – a large international school for children (as opposed to the adults with whom I spent my early career in education).
For the first nine months or so I had the vague sense that I missed my old EFL classroom. I missed there being structure-based learning outcomes, I missed only having to raise a paw for silence, I missed meeting new and interesting adults from different cultures. I also missed my old colleagues; my old workplace was held to be the best in the world in that respect, or at least they all still maintain so!
Then, last May or so, as the academic year was beginning to wind down, I began to enjoy my new career in and of itself. It had in some senses been the annus exhaustis – my second son had been born, we had moved house twice, I was still trying to do publishing work, and there were some family issues on top. At my new school, after a good period of trial and mostly error, I think I was just beginning to tune into the teen mind and outlook. I had that key bank of activities that worked in the sense of both appealing to the students and resulting in progress. I had timed my assessments better. I had modulated and refined my task-based learning lessons. I had, in a word, learned.
This academic year, it has all changed. It seems that now I am on a default wavelength of sorts that runs those lessons now for teens rather than for adults. Again I have only really my own reflective feedback to give, but I think when I put a good deal of effort and consideration into my planning, I am able to go some way to catering for teens’ limited attention spans (and corresponding need for variation in pace and activity), teach cognitive improvements as well as skills, provide differentiated tasks and outcomes and enjoy those lessons at the same time. I am also feeling mentally stimulated in a way I didn’t always feel in EFL, perhaps because of the literature element. I’m (still) learning: in the spirit again of the developing teacher, one is still very conscious of how much one has still to master, assimilate, perfect and improve yet further, but there is cause for optimism. This is in no small part due to my classes this year, which are generally full of engaged and engaging little humans.
So how does that reflect back on my carefully crafted near-decade in EFL teaching? As may be inevitable when changing gear in a career, there can be a tendency either to look up to or look down on one’s previous incarnation. The former perspective means that you think EFL teachers have it made; they have time and energy to experiment pedagogically; that they have excellent fun in and out of the class; that they can rely on and luxuriate in the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation of their tiny class. The latter means you think EFL isn’t ‘real’ teaching; ‘real’ teaching is a million times more work; ‘real’ teachers are the only sort worth the label; you may sniff at teaching form and function when ‘real’ beauty is to be found in poetry and prose.
To which, of course, the answer is that neither is true; there’s a healthy dollop of the ‘grass being greener’ in at least one of those viewpoints. But in academic terms, to employ a metaphor, I am now in the foothills of a mountain, having come from a low base camp. I used to be at or near the top of a hill. To extend that metaphor to encompass my future career, it may be that from the hill one can see other pastures – I am interested one day to return perhaps to adult training, though it is unlikely to be in EFL. But for now, the mountain is magnificent – occasionally vertiginous, but full of majesty and excitement.