13 set 2019 The secret handshake
Year: 1999. Group: Basic 1. Place: Uberaba, MG – Brasil. Seventeen-year-old Ana Carolina stepped into a classroom for the first time. Young, restless, feeling entitled by her recently acquired C2 diploma and, most importantly: raw. Fluent, for sure. After one year of isolation from all Portuguese speakers in a cultural exchange program before cell phones or the Internet were even available, the mountaneer dialect flowed as if it were her own. Scared, she left the students in class in order to catch a breath and drink some water, action that she repeated many times after that (hoping no one was watching). Her hands were cold and she wasn’t sure she would be able to finish the class without shedding a tear.
Fastfoward to 2019, Brasília. The coordinator and teacher trainer with an M.A. in Applied Linguistics looks back in amusement at the scaredy seventeen year old who bears little to no resemblance to her current self. The journey was long, exhausting, and extremely gratifying. Countless students have come and gone, each of them teaching her a lesson and leaving more than they took. She now stands tall and shares na empathetic secret handshake with those who still know what a mimeo looks like and miss the smell of freshly printed copies. Their secret handshake reveals years of grammar drills, irregular verb lists, listening and repeating. CLIL is the new trend and schools have replaced the two-class a week model for five to ten-hours bilingual programs. They watch the tech-savy newcomers with admiration and concern. Are they ready? Will they cry? Will they quit mid-semestrer to launch their startups?
It is true that C2s are harder to come around these days. Teachers come young, just as raw, and less proficient. Demand from bilingual programs is higher than ever and, in order not to lose students, language schools that boomed in the 90s are offering courses that are shorter and less focused on accuracy. B2 is the new advanced. Function over form, I agree. But what about the teachers? Who will form our future English teachers? Did school owners get too greedy? Did schools bite the hand that fed them? Will the ELT community have to rethink teacher training to include language classes as well?
Then, again, I can’t help but think, proficiency aside, of how different these new teachers could really be from my own seventeen-year old self. So, I retrace the steps I took in those same shoes, take a deep breath, prepare the next training session and rest assured knowing that they will be just fine.