What makes adult students stick around

21 02 2016

academiaThose of us who teach adults in groups know all too well anxious adult learners are and how easily they can give up and seek other language learning experiences. When the reasons for giving up are not personal, they are sometimes attributed to the methodology adopted or the heterogeneity of the group. A recent personal experience has gotten me thinking about adults’ anxiety and what motivates them to embark on a learning experience and, most importantly, stick to it.

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From professional photography and smartphone cameras to ed-tech and challenges in ELT

28 10 2014



I’ve just returned from a National Geographic Learning conference for ELT leaders in Latin America, where I had the honor to participate in a panel on the use of technology and the main challenges faced by ELT institutes in the 21st century.  It was a very exciting presentation followed by  highly thought-provoking questions, and it was facilitated by Hugh Dellar and delivered by six leaders from different Latin American countries – Ana Sylvia Ramires, Instituto Guatemalteco Americano; Lenise Butler, Unversidad del Valle de Mexico; Luz Ribia Rey, Centro Colombo-Americano, Bogota; Maria Tereza Tejeda Gonzalez, Tecnologico de Monterrey; Vinicius Nobre, Cultura Inglesa, São Paulo; and myself.



Nat Geo panel


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Who or what should teachers be committed to?

10 03 2013

Blog post 14 wordle

Teaching is not a mission; it is a profession, and like any other, it requires a certain set of knowledge, competencies, skills, and behaviors. In this post, I would like to zero in on one of such dispositions or behaviors – commitment. After all, who or what should a teacher be committed to?

First of all, in the case of a teacher who is not self-employed and works for an educational institution, commitment to this institution should be expected. Abiding by its rules and regulations and embracing its philosophical and pedagogical principles are reasonable requirements. Of course, in a progressive, learning institution, such rules, regulations, and principles need to be constantly negotiated with the teaching staff, who need to feel comfortable to question them and suggest advancements. Once negotiated and defined, however, rules, regulations, and principles must be adhered to.

Other stakeholders besides the institution also need to be considered. For those who teach children and teenagers, there is also the need for the committed professional to keep students’ parents informed of what goes on in class. Parent-school partnerships need to be strong to guarantee the holistic and effective education of our young ones. An unusual behavior in an English class may be the result of a bigger problem also affecting other classes at school. Coordinated actions to deal with such problems are more efficacious. In an ELT Institute that students attend in addition to their regular school, this is harder to do because it is impossible to establish this close relationship with all schools. Thus, the close contact with parents is even more essential in cases that need special attention.

An effective educator also needs to be committed to the profession, for example, by being a member of teaching associations and developing a professional learning network. Being committed to the profession also means engaging in formal or informal continuous professional development, as discussed in an earlier post this year, a topic also thoroughly explored by my blogging colleagues in the beginning of the New Year.  In the case of EFL teachers, besides the need to keep abreast of latest developments in education in general and ELT methodology in particular, they also need to be lifelong learners of their subject-matter: English. Native or non-native, effective and committed EFL teachers should read extensively in English, in a variety of genres; keep up with new idiomatic expressions and slang, as well as specialized vocabulary if they are engaged in ESP; be updated with regard to the songs, movies, sit coms, etc. their students are interested in so as to use them as cultural and linguistic reference in class. In short, we need to be constantly aware of the English around us and how it changes with time in order to be effective teachers of English.

Nonetheless, as important as the dimensions of commitment above may be, in my opinion, the greatest commitment of a true educator should be with the STUDENTS and their LEARNING. I would even argue that a commitment with the students and their learning may sometimes even justify lack of commitment in the other aspects described above.  “My institution adheres to the ‘English-only’ principle but I feel my students will benefit from translation in this class” is an example of a “breakable” commitment. “ I won’ t be able to attend the local Braz-TESOL one-day seminar on Friday because I haven’t prepared my Saturday lesson well enough so that my students will fully benefit from it”  is another noble decision that implies “ breaking”  a commitment. “I know this teenager misbehaved and I should tell his parents, but I think I will gain his trust if I try to deal with it myself first” is yet a third instance in which not adhering to a commitment is justifiable.

A teacher who is truly committed to students is one that puts students’ learning and interests above everything else. It’s a teacher who knows that the continuity of the work started with students during the term/semester or school year is essential and does their best to comply with the commitment they’ve made.

teacher helping student

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Fortunately, I know many teachers whose primary commitment is with their students, and here are some characteristics they have in common:

  • They choose materials that meet the learners’ needs, not theirs. It’s tempting to choose textbooks and other materials that are intellectually stimulating to us, but we should assess whether they are appropriate for the group of learners they are intended to.
  • They plan the lesson with the learners in mind, taking into account their specific interests, dispositions and difficulties. It’s also tempting to use texts, songs, movies, TV shows, etc. that we like, but it’s best to opt for the ones the students like.
  • They make an effort to mark students’ exercises/assessments on time so as to provide immediate feedback and minimize their anxiety.
  • They make it a point to know all the students’ names as early as possible in the term.
  •  They pay attention to their students and notice when something is wrong, or when they’ve had a haircut, for example.
  •  They feel rewarded by students’ successes and frustrated by their failures, and in the latter case, they reflect upon what they could have done differently to prevent such failures. It’s not that they always blame themselves; it’s just that they take responsibility.
  • They never see even the most disturbing and difficult students as enemies. They understand that such behaviors may stem from difficulties in other dimensions of these students’ lives and feel stimulated to help.
  • They want their students to be successful in their use of the L2 and want to help them become more autonomous learners.
  • They provide opportunities for students to keep in touch with them and practice the language outside the classroom, by way of classroom blogs, Facebook pages, and the like. For these teachers, answering a students’ query by e-mail is not a hassle, but a pleasure.
  • They really believe that everyone can learn and provide conditions for this to happen, including individualized attention.
  • They try hard not to allow their personal problems or needs affect their classes. Even when they have to miss work, they find ways to minimize the effects of their absence on students by: providing a detailed lesson plan for the substitute teacher; whenever possible, choosing a day in which their absence will jeopardize students’  learning the least; if choosing the date is not possible, rearranging the content so that the most challenging aspects will be dealt with on a day they will be present.

I’m not suggesting here that a teacher should be so dedicated to students that they can’t have a life or should always forego their own personal needs and interests.  It’s just that you can’t call yourself a REAL teacher if you are not committed, first and foremost, to your students and their learning.

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