Teach English in Heping Zhen - Huai'an Shi

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During my time in elementary (primary) school, a particularly empathetic and engaging teacher noticed my interest in reading and math and gave me additional passages to read and math problems to work on. This allowed me to remain engaged and challenged as we studied these topics without causing disruption for the class. I think that the opportunities she provided me played a large role in my continued interest in these areas and that her approach speaks to a larger truth about teaching of young learners — a teacher should enable but not micromanage or over-dictate the learning of their pupils to best promote their development. There are several reasons for this, namely that students learn best through practice and that in over-specifying a student's activity, a teacher can demotivate and reduce that student’s further learning. While I aspire to teach English to young learners in Malawi in a few months, and have learned much about what is involved in doing so as a part of this course, my primary interaction as a teacher with young learners has been through teaching middle (primary) school students an engineering design course, and to a lesser degree through teaching high (secondary) school students a preparation class for a college entrance exam, the Scholastic Assessment Test or SAT. In these cases, I have found the greatest success when I provide the basic structure of a lesson — in the case of engineering design, the problem statement, materials, and design constraints, and in the case of college preparation, a passage or math problem — then allow students to work in groups or on their own, depending on what stage we are at. This allows me to monitor the class, providing tailored guidance to groups or individuals where necessary, and critically, it allows students to experiment with the material on their own. In this way, students view their victories as their own, and I am able to provide additional challenges to advanced groups, or additional structure or tips to groups that are struggling. I have also found, particularly in the case of engineering design, that it is this semi-guided approach that best unleashes the creativity of students, who have designed then built remarkable and novel solutions to the provided problem in this environment. Were I instead to provide a complete step-by-step approach to creating a solution to an engineering design problem, e.g. the build instructions, or provide the way of correcting each mistake as we encountered it on an exam passage, students would be able to follow along, and would arrive at a working solution / the correct answer, but the challenge, and the resulting gain in skill or learning, would be much reduced. In fact, if taken too far, this overly-structured approach could demotivate students as they would see their contribution and autonomy marginalized, and would view any victories as the teacher’s instead of their own. Looking down the road, I have found that it is this sense of achievement that is necessary for students to get excited about continuing to work on a project or subject area, e.g. studying it in college then contributing at a high level to an associated profession. However, it is of course possible to go too far in the other direction. Without enough structure, e.g. providing students a box of parts and a general problem, or an advanced math problem without context, students are unsure of how to even start, let alone advance to a working solution or answer. Further, it is clearly the teacher's role to impart knowledge, not simply to provide material and discipline, and a teacher at this other extreme would be abdicating this responsibility. It is my belief that this approach is also critical for teaching students English as a foreign language. Language, like engineering design or skills like mathematics and reading, is a complex and "messy" endeavor — one often has to go down many wrong roads, failing early before reaching a functional outcome. By providing students both the basic structure but also the space to experiment, they are able to internalize the various grammatical rules and their exceptions, and commit them to memory by successful conversation on meaningful topics, as recommended in the course. I am excited to apply this enabling approach to my future English language classes, as my elementary school teacher did for me all those years ago, and as I have done with students in different contexts more recently, and I know the knowledge base and tips contained within this course will provide me with a solid path for doing so.