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How do new teachers feel?

I love a bit of gossip. Not the nasty fake kind but the real things that are juicy because they’re true. Sometimes there is gossip in the school and the students find out things, like if a teacher is new or leaving. So, we’re getting ahead of these rumours. Joanna is new, she’s a new teacher, she’s new! Fresh out the box, this is her first school! There. I said it, it’s there for you to read on the internet forever.

This week we’re speaking to our newest teacher, Joanna who has just completed her master’s degree in teaching. She is highly qualified, and she’s been applying all of her new teaching theories, methodologies and strategies she’s learned in the classroom. Let’s interview her.

Hey Joanna, thanks for agreeing to do the interview with me! First things first, let’s start with the heavy stuff. Why did you want to become an English teacher?

I have always felt that teaching was my calling. It made me feel so good when I was able to help my friends with their schoolwork. I knew I wanted to work in teaching, but I only decided to start teaching English as a foreign language in my adulthood. I noticed that my non-native speaker friends were really struggling with different aspects of English and they would often ask me for help. They liked the way I explained things and I would always look for ways to make it more effective. That’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

So, then how did you become an English teacher?

I did my undergraduate degree in French and Portuguese studies. As such, I needed to find language partners to help me learn their languages and in exchange I helped them with English. However, I felt that I could be doing a better job of teaching if I could take a course in this. I did my undergraduate at King’s College London and I discovered that they were offering a master’s degree in TESOL with CELTA included. I decided that this was a good course for me to develop professionally and feel more confident about my skills. When it came time to do my Master’s, the pandemic struck and all lessons took place online, including CELTA. This gave me the opportunity to get comfortable teaching online, but it meant I had no face to face experience. After my course, I came across the vacancy at UKCE on LinkedIn and sent in my CV, not hoping for much. I was pleasantly surprised when I was invited to an interview soon after. One thing led to another and now I am a permanent face-to-face teacher, and I love it.

Wow, that’s a big change from online to face to face! How did you feel before you taught your first class?

My first lesson with UKCE was a cover lesson of an A1 class. Before the lesson, I felt very nervous, even nauseous, because I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know if I was cut out for teaching in person. I was doubting my skills especially, since I had been told that the beginner’s class is one of the hardest classes to teach as they don’t speak any English. I had had experience teaching complete beginners online, but for that, I needed to use google images a lot and sometimes translation. I knew this would be much harder with a group of students of different languages. I was very scared of not being able to use the smart board or pronounce and remember the students’ names.

Sounds traumatic to be honest, how did you feel after you taught your first class?

Relieved and ecstatic! The lesson had been a complete success. Yes, I had trouble using the board and locating the pen all the time, but that just created a relaxed atmosphere. The students could see that I wasn’t perfect, and they didn’t need to be either. I felt like this was the place for me and I couldn’t wait for the next lesson. I had been given a detailed handover, so I knew what to expect from the students. However, I did not expect that the students’ levels would be so different. I had one student who really struggled with comprehension at the start of the lesson, so I needed to go more slowly to make sure that *all* the students understood. By the end of the lesson, she was the one correcting other students’ grammar. I was really proud of her progress in that lesson.

Do you feel the same now 3 weeks into teaching or has that feeling worn off?

Three weeks into teaching, the early mornings are taking their toll on me, but I am still very happy to be in class. I have learnt that just because something has been taught, it doesn’t mean that the students know it. Oftentimes students are absent on different days and they miss topics that the others master that day. This can be frustrating, so it is very important to continuously go over previous topics so that they are not forgotten and so that the others can catch up. This is quite different to teaching 1-2-1 online as I only needed to worry about the progress of 1 student and don’t need to keep track of everyone’s learning.

I quite like an early start, let’s fast forward to 2 years’ time. Do you think you'll feel the same?

I reckon I will always feel happy in the classroom because teaching is what I love doing. Maybe with more experience, I will be better able to handle if a lesson doesn’t go to plan. I will continue trying to make my lessons as exciting and as effective as I can.

Oh, that’s nice! A bit of conviction never hurt anybody! What's the best part about teaching for you?

At the moment, the best part about teaching is seeing the students really get what I am teaching. Seeing them use their language skills outside of the classroom or use something they learnt a long time ago is always so satisfying. It makes all the early mornings and crowded trains worth it.

I guess I have to ask then, what's the worst part about teaching for you?

Unfortunately, in the teaching profession, we have to do a lot of planning for our lessons outside of our normal hours. I spend hours preparing materials and thinking of fun activities we could do to make learning more interactive and exciting. Without doing this, it would be impossible to deliver a successful lesson. Unfortunately, these late-night hours spent preparing are not part of our paid hours. It’s just part of the job, but teachers who love their job will make this sacrifice for their students.

What can students do to make sure they get the best experience with you?

Just always be honest with me. Tell me what you need. Tell me when you don’t understand - don’t just nod and smile. My job is to teach the students, but I can’t read minds. Communication is so important. I always do an initial assessment and needs analysis of a new class or new student to make sure I know exactly what I need to do for them.

OK final question, even though it’s still early days, has anything unexpected or surprising happened in class?

Well, I discovered that some of my students had important jobs in their home countries like film directors and some of them had master’s degrees, others had many different homes all around England. It was really surprising. Also, when teaching the students vocabulary related to jobs, I learnt that my Turkish students had jobs at 7 years old! I was shocked. It just shows that our culture is not universal. There are other ways of living out there. That’s what I love about meeting people from different places. You don’t even know what you don’t know.

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