Teachers’ Stories: The Old Man And The ESL Student

The Old Man And The ESL Student

The Old Man And The ESL Student

I wasn’t a teacher for most of my working life and only ventured into this career quite late in my fifties. I had come to one of those crossroads when a decision must be made as what to do, and one hopes the correct choice is made at the time. In this circumstance it was a good move, even though I entered with trepidation, not really knowing what to expect.

I had visions of rambunctious young people who would rather be anywhere than sitting in a classroom listening to some old guy teaching how to pronounce “something” and “disheveled”, which is how I sometimes appeared after a class. But as lessons came and went, I came to realize it wasn’t that bad a gig, thanks largely to my students. Much to my glee they wanted to learn, and on top of that they liked me as their teacher. Who would have thunk? (think, thinked, thunk)


The Late-Developing Teacher

I often wondered, what if I had started teaching earlier? Would I be that much better with all the experience? Maybe I would have tarnished with the years and become complacent or satiated, or both. Maybe the freshness of a new career inspired me, the teacher, which then rubbed off on my students. Maybe it was my students’ enthusiasm rubbing off on me. More on that later.

After years of teaching in class and having encountered rotten administrations, school closings and eventually a layoff, I decided it was time to go back into the non-teaching world where rotten administrations, closings and layoffs are just as prevalent. There is no escaping politics, so now into my 60s it was time to brush off this day-job nonsense and do something I like to do, namely teaching.


Using Technology to Teach

The Internet must have been designed by a teacher for teachers. It is the perfect tool for one-on-one classes by being personable but not in each other’s face, and my students travel with me wherever I go without ever quarrelling about who gets the window seat. It also conveniently allows student and teacher to create their own timetable. Every teacher hones their craft to what suits their methods, and admittedly online teaching has its own challenges. Personally I mix “old school” with cyberspace, using a portable blackboard (the “real” type with “real” chalk) that fits neatly in my suitcase, to demonstrate confusing verb conjugations or words, and sometimes even play the tried and true standby for winding down a lesson, hangman. Nobody ever seems to get tired of it.

As I continue to hurtle through life, it’s comforting to know that teaching is something that sticks and providing I, myself, can pronounce “something” and “disheveled” without my teeth ricocheting off the computer screen, then I’m in for the long haul. Would I do it again? Absolutely, but personally I am pleased I waited at a time in my life when I felt it was right, which in my case was quite late. Also, I wouldn’t want to jump into teaching cold turkey at any age and taking a recognized ESL course for teachers is time and money well invested. There are probably “natural” teachers who can instruct without much initial preparation, but delivery and skills are learned qualities that need to be taught correctly at the beginning to avoid developing bad habits, with the latter being as prevalent in the aged as in youth.


Deciding if ESL Teaching is for you

But what does it take to be an ESL teacher? Apart from fully understanding the subject matter, it requires taking a sincere interest in the student and their background. If other world cultures are of interest, then ESL teaching is a fountainhead of information and provides abundant material to plan classes. Teaching often goes beyond the classroom with fun activities and dinner invitations from groups of students when new words and expressions flow abundantly and can be followed up in the next class with a review of what was learned, so they can use newly taught material confidently in public.

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The enthrallment of teaching can continue long after the last class has been taught with students wanting to share with their “old” teacher some of the developments in their lives through technology. It’s gratifying to know that in some small way, maybe there was a smidgen of benefit derived from what was taught in English class to produce citizens who provide their unique stamp on life.