Teach English in Lubei Zhen - Tongliao Shi

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In this essay, I will discuss some ideas which can be useful to help students cope with stress when having to deal with the preparation of Cambridge exams. Nowadays, many people, both teens and adults, sooner or later find themselves in a situation in which it is highly recommended or even mandatory to obtain a Cambridge certificate, and something I have realised throughout my six years of teaching English is that exam preparation represents a significant percentage of the English teaching industry. Teens don’t actually need it to graduate from high school, although their parents might strongly encourage them (or in some cases even force them) to prepare for a Cambridge exam, as they are aware it will be very useful in their child’s future. In these cases, teens might feel a lot of pressure from their parents which, if not managed properly, could lead to stress. They day might come in which some colleges start to require students to have the First Certificate in English in order to be able to graduate. If obtaining a University certificate is quite challenging per se, requiring students to possess the FCE so as to be issued their certificate only increases the pressure they already felt without this requisite, thus fomenting the probability of their experiencing stress. In addition, many job positions require candidates to posses the FCE in order to apply for the job and, sometimes, company managers might even require or at least pressure staff to obtain the certificate. As a teacher, I have had more than once Business English students that I have prepared for the FCE in their actual office, instead of teaching them Business English, and they told me that although they were mainly interested in practising their English speaking skills, they were “obliged” by the management to take this exam. As we can see, whether because it’s an attractive credential to have on their CV, or because it’s actually necessary for them to have it, many students are very likely to experience stress when preparing for a Cambridge exam, as there is a lot at stake. Therefore, how can we, as teachers, tackle this situation? We might need to act as psychologists. This is a technique I have put into practise more than once, with both teens and adults. At first it can be a bit strange as we might feel somewhat out of place, since we are teachers, after all, not therapists. However, I believe it can be very positive for students if we try to take away as much pressure as we can. We want them to pass the exam, that is our main goal, but it will be difficult for us to accomplish this if they are under too much pressure. It is a well known fact that stress can lead to anxiety, and if anxiety gets out of hand, this is definitely not the appropriate atmosphere to prepare for an exam, let alone take the exam itself. Hence, we need to create a calm atmosphere in our classroom. We need to show the students that we are on their side, and that we care about their future. In a way, we need to act as their friends. Techniques I’ve found quite useful are asking them every now and then how they are, how work is going, are they being able to cope with the course, and so on. Basically, showing interest towards them. In my experience students respond positively to this. When I was a student, both as a teenager and young adult, I had some teachers who, instead of praising students’ efforts, seemed to focus on highlighting mistakes. In my humble opinion, this is absolutely not the right approach for teaching in general, but especially regarding exam preparation groups. If we only focus on correcting students’ mistakes, they will very likely feel discouraged. So we must approach error correction in a sensible way. Obviously, if we are covering one of the Reading and Use of English parts from the exam, when we correct our students’ tests we will have to mark each answer as “right” or “wrong”. Or when we are correcting their writings, we will need to correct all of the mistakes, providing some feedback. However, when working on the Speaking, we should not correct each and every mistake they make, and when we do correct some mistakes, we should remember to “compensate” this by providing some kind of encouragement and highlighting the positive aspects as well. Even when correcting the writings, if we write comments such as “well done!”, or if we underline the connectors to highlight the good use of language, we will be encouraging them, thus reducing the probability of their suffering stress. Another interesting idea could be suggesting students to practise some relaxation techniques throughout the course, and especially right before the exam. One that I would propose to them is to put into practise some breathing techniques. There are many different tutorials on the internet which cover this topic, and we could even dedicate a couple of minutes in one lesson to do one of these breathing exercises together in class. To sum up, so as not to increase the pressure students already feel when preparing for an exam, our job, apart from going over the parts of the exam, should consist of calming our students down. They need to understand that even if they aren’t able to pass the exam, that doesn’t mean they won’t have a future. They will still have many professional opportunities. Not only can they take the exam again, but they might also contemplate the possibility of pursuing a different career in which the possession of the FCE is not mandatory. If they understand that passing the exam is not a matter of “life or death”, the pressure will be significantly reduced.