Letter to a novice English teacher

My dear,

If I could offer you any advice for your newly started career, I would tell you to be curious. More impressive and complex advice will be dispensed to you but I truly believe that curiosity embraces it all. First and foremost, be curious about your students. Get to know who they are, where they come from, why they need to study English and the reservations they might still cling to. Their beliefs are as powerful as yours. Ask them about their past, their present and their future; but listen attentively, don’t miss out on anything they say. Remember their names, their stories, their mistakes. Be curious about the mistakes they make. Investigate why certain errors persist while others disappear so fast. Keep track of their achievements and their challenges.

Be curious about your own practice and the decisions you make before, during and after a lesson. Try to find out why you privilege one activity over the other. Learn more about the cognitive process that you and your students might be going through and continue to experiment with different techniques, tasks, strategies and exercises. Let your curiosity lead you into other teachers’ rooms to observe, enquire, learn. Be curious about what they do and how they do certain things – allow their own experience to be part of your luggage and speed up your growth through other professionals’ eyes and practice.

Languages are curious things themselves. They are in constant transformation, adapting to a new society and an ever-changing history. Languages have the power to make people cry and let hope surface. A combination of words and structures may go as far as to grant someone a throne or lock others in jail. So, be curious about the subject matter you teach for it is a curious thing in itself already. Read books and theories about English and restlessly delve into the teaching and the learning of languages.

A good teacher is often a curious being in their nature. They will never cease to study and their thirst for knowledge will never be quenched. They will learn from a book as much as from their students. They will be modest enough to accept that learning is continuous, erratic and necessary. They will be curious about the people they look up to with the same intensity as they try to learn more about their peers. Curiosity propels teaching and learning but is a rare thing to find. It is hard to know if it is a gift or a skill; an innate talent or a developed taste. But what we do know is that without curiosity a teacher is doomed to do the same thing over and over again, under-valuing all the learning possibilities that surround them and finding assurance in the limitation of their comfort zone.

So, if I could offer you any advice for your newly started career, I would encourage you to be more curious than the average person and to trigger curiosity in all those around you – making learning continuous and bigger than life.

Vinicius Nobre

Vinicius Nobre (Vinnie) is the Academic Manager at Associação Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. He is also a CELTA and ICELT tutor, a Pearson Longman author and former president of BRAZ-TESOL. Email: vini.n@terra.com.br

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