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What I know about teaching

There's little point in me trying to persuade anyone I'm a fount of knowledge on the subject but having given my first real life teaching lesson tonight I feel I learned a couple of interesting lessons myself.


Of course it's way too soon for me to be expecting to have all the technical aspects of preparing, planning and delivering a lesson nailed and running on auto-pilot. That's not going to happen for years, and further assumes I stick at it long enough, but there are plenty of other facets to becoming a good teacher that deserve equal attention.


I got to my student's address promptly and thankfully didn't feel too many nerves. I had planned a decent enough lesson and as an introduction was giving this one free. So, how could any reasonable person complain? That said, a lot did hinge on how well this hour and a half went, not least the prospect of payed lessons springing from this tutorial, so I was glad I was not feeling crippled with tension.


Once inside the house though the old nerves took over and I thought it was an awkward first 10 minutes. The lesson felt clunky and a little misjudged - and I remembered the exact same situation occuring on the training course where what you had planned and expected to happen somehow didn't actually pan out. I ploughed on, and my trainee gamely battled on too. We seemed to reach what I thought was the nadir about 50 minutes in. There had been no real flow or rapport, the lesson hadn't really caught fire, and I was meandering worryingly to a part of the plan I had low confidence in.


That brings me to the second lesson I took away - but I'll leave that for the moment.


The final 10 minutes were as different from the first as it was possible to be. I had relaxed, and more importantly so had my student, and she was speaking English as best she could in a seemingly inhindered fashion. I stopped her to point this out. Her stated aim at the start of our meeting was to become a better conversationalist and here she was, albeit it with some severe pronunciation issues and a limited vocabulary (but that's the teccie stuff I have to deal with for her), doing just what she thought she couldn't do! She was delighted with herself and from that moment on the labouring that had gone before all felt worth it.


For me the lesson was clear. Once the student had relaxed and had begun to feel confidence, in both me and in herself, she got really stuck into things and was far more willing to chance her arm. That skill of being able to make someone feel comfortable and confident is as important as all the technical knowledge you may learn to use. It reinforced what I had learned on the course, but had temporarily forgotten, when I had seen the same thing demonstrated in our training classes. Win the hearts and minds first and you are nearly there.


That second lesson? Well, when we got to the cringe-making part of the lesson I hadn't been looking forward to my student rose easily to the challenge. Far from finding the section difficult she excelled - the main reason why she ended up feeling much more relaxed. The section required her to write some poetry, then read it out, something I'd have found incredibly tough to do in my own language never mind a foreign one. Not so my student. Clear evidence of something I'd have understood as perfectly obvious if someone had tried to tell me beforehand, that the things we may find difficult aren't necessarily going to be the same things the students struggle with - and vice versa. Sometimes you don't see the wood for the trees though do you?

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