My journey at IEL was the most wonderful teaching experience that I have gained so far. Through my time working with my head teacher, Karen, I have learned so much about Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TESL) and how to structure class activities and lecture time. Also, I have learned a great deal directly from my students. This journey was not just about learning how to teach or acquiring a set of static skills to give classes, but taught me how to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures. The diversity of the class and the fact that it was multilevel taught me many things about how to be a stronger TESL instructor.
Teaching a diverse class of students from Sudan, Butane, Nigeria, and Burma was a great experience because I learned about different cultures and realized how each person approaches learning differently. The class was for low beginners with different age ranges and a variety of English speaking levels. At the beginning, I was intimidated by a class with such a wide variety of ages, cultures and educational levels. For instance, some students were preliterate in their first language while other students had little background in English. The previous class that I taught was low beginner, also with a different range of age and English level and it was important to me to be patient and treat them appropriately.
Regarding the interpersonal aspect, I did not feel entirely confident that I could effectively teach this class because of the age difference. Some of the students were much older than me and had children and careers and I thought that it might make them uncomfortable with such a young teacher. However, after I put myself in front of the class and began teaching them, I found that age difference and varying English fluency levels were not as important as I had believed. The students were so respectful and even some of them treated me as if I was their daughter.
In this class, I made every attempt to incorporate what I have been learning in the MATESL program. I tried to arrive organized and prepared by planning my lessons ahead of time. I found this very beneficial because it kept me on track regarding setting goals and meeting learning objectives. Karen, the head teacher and I decided early on to alternate between student-centered and teacher-centered learning styles. For example, sometimes we incorporated activities where the teacher was in control, whether by sharing as a whole class or in groups. In these cases, the teacher acts as a facilitator, but it is clear that the teacher is leading in order to keep students on track and on task.
As Shank and Terrill (1995) point out “In multilevel adult English as a second language (ESL) classes, teachers are challenged to use a variety of materials, activities, and techniques to engage the interest of the learners” (para 1). Group work was a vital part of classroom work and allowed for slightly higher level English students to share their knowledge a little with low beginners. In doing these exercises, I realized how important classroom dynamics are to the learning experience. The teacher cannot be the one disseminating all of the information, also a lecture format does not work for all, they need hands on experience, making mistakes in the language and trying to problem solve activities and even directions for simple activities. Thus, as a first-time teacher I learned that peer-to-peer instruction and collaboration are key elements in the learning process and I will keep incorporating them into my classes in the future.
In conclusion, I was thrilled to have had the experiences I did with my class. However, moving forward, I would like to spend more time investigating and developing content for multilevel adult classes because I want to be prepared for grammar, speaking and listening activities that will truly impact their learning. Personally, teaching was a new role and level of responsibility, and I feel that I was able to meet and accept the challenges as they came. When I get back to my country, Saudi Arabia, I will continue teaching English and I will definitely utilize all that I have learned here. In Saudi, there are many foreign workers, so I may once again be teaching classes of students from diverse backgrounds and levels. Regarding this, what I would like to do early on in my classes is assess individual levels of competency in the language, and build group work accordingly (Shank & Terrill, 1995). For example, it is common to find people, who because of their exposure to English, are fairly good speakers, but their written command of the language is quite poor. All in all my experience was very positive, and in the future I hope to build upon what I have learned.