12 jun 2015 What Has Teaching Ever Taught You?
It is something of a cliché that the best teachers always learn from their students. It has become a cliché, though, because it is true, or at least it should be true. For example, some of the things I have learned this week include
- why there isn’t one standard voltage for all of Brazil from a retired electrical engineer,
- how to do a cool magic trick from an amateur magician
- I realised that I like fantasy books, but hate fantasy films, while I love whodunits on the screen, but find them boring as a form a literature.
But these are all one-0ffs. There are other things I have learned that have taken me whole career, so far, to develop,
When I first arrived in Brazil I knew no Portuguese at all. I have been lucky to have found a number of different sources to learn some of the language, but undoubtedly one of the main forms, at least at the beginning, was in my English classes. I am not talking about teachers who directly, and shamelessly, ask their students how they say such and such in Portuguese. Instead, I picked up a lot from the mistakes my students constantly made.
For example, I noticed very early on that a common mistake was when students said ‘I am living here for 10 years’. I realised that if all my students were saying this it was probably because of some negative language transference. In future classes I was always on the look out ofr patterns of common errors in English so I could incorporate them into my own Portuguese.
Apparently, as a teenager I wasn’t the most patient of people, especially when it came to people who didn’t know what I knew. The phrase ‘he doesn’t suffer fools gladly’ could almost have been created just for me.
I can lay no claim to being the most patient person in the world now, but I have come to realise that not knowing something is great. It just provides you with an opportunity to learn something.
I now work for myself as a freelance teacher, trainer and materials writer. This means I have had to develop skills more commonly associated with running a business than controlling a classroom. I still need to work on my negotiation skills, but I am improving all the time with experience. There is a chance that I would have worked for myself if I had never become a teacher, but we’ll never know.
I quickly learned to read upside down when I became a teacher. While monitoring writing exercises it was much easier to read the wrong way up than interrupt the students to see what had been written.
Think reading upside down is no biggie? To be honest, it isn’t. I was able to master it pretty quickly. It took me a lot longer, though, to master my party piece which is being able to write upside down. Since I started teaching a lot of private classes I have found it makes things slightly more efficient if I can write something on a piece of paper and have my students read it as I write. As they usually haven’t mastered the art of reading upside down, this meant I have developed the skill of writing upside down and back-to-front. The sad thing is that my handwriting is often more legible this way than when I write in the more traditional manner.
And what about you, my reader? What has teaching ever taught you?
P.S. In preparing for this blog I learned about the Yellowstone supervolcano.