Image by Joep Rooson
This last few weeks I've been struggling. A mini crisis of faith in myself as a teacher. It feels like all the doors are closed both to me and my learners. Whilst, as the title of this blog indicates, I do have moments that sparkle and shine I always end up going through times where I wonder if what I do for a living has any impact or long term worth.
Take my refugee group as an example. They have been here for a year now in this country trying to adapt to the culture, learn the language and get settled in. However, the job centre (where they receive government benefits) is now cutting them off from money periodically because they still haven't got jobs. This is one of the hardest job markets in the UK in a long time. Everything requires a piece of paper and that paper requires a high level of English. "No English, no job", as my learners said to me despondently last week.
They've never had any formal education before, never written their own language and never spoken any English before. They do have all sorts of skills from cleaning and cooking to plumbing and plastering and all sorts of dreams like becoming a nurse or a policeman. But English is the key to the door and they just can't learn it quick enough.
Or I can't teach it well enough which is where I'm at right now. When I first started teaching this level, the year before last, I threw myself into it with enthusiasm - learnt about phonics, the language experience approach, found new resources, used images, mimes, magnetic letters, mini whiteboards, arts and crafts etc.. There have been some wonderful moments where we've communicated about ideas way above their skill level. Just today they managed to explain that the education door was quite literally locked on the school classrooms and mosques in Burma. They were stopped from attending school because they were Muslims. The fact that they can communicate that to me is amazing ..... and deeply tragic. But it's not going to get them a job anytime soon!
They also told me today that they can only retain / learn 2 - 5 words in a session. We were looking at pronouns and one of them just stopped and looked at me and explained that he'd been learning English for over a year and still couldn't remember the difference between we and they.
The despondency in their eyes the last few weeks has broken my heart. They have hope for their kids but not themselves. I can see where the job centre is coming from... some of them have been in the country for nearly two years now. Why haven't they got a job? Why can't they speak English? I can also see where my learners are coming from. They're at the edge of giving up, I'm their teacher, they trusted me and yet they seem to be making no progress.
Where I'm coming from? Right now... I think the job centre and my learners have a point. I can fill the time with skills practice, games, activities etc... and put together lessons that we all enjoy. Yet.... they are retaining hardly any of that English. I feel like I've accomplished very little and I cannot see how to do it better. What I'd love is to be a fly on the wall of a class where the teacher is getting it right. Or watch a video. The few videos online of people teaching beginners have been tremendously helpful but there's not many out there. To teach this level successfully I'm beginning to think I need to massively increase my box of 'tools' because the amount of time required to recycle things is huge and if it's not done creatively or with enough variety the classes are not going to work well.
It would be easy to say it's impossible, too hard or unrealistic in the time scale but it lets me off the hook far too easily. The truth is I do not have what it takes and am struggling to know where to go from here :-(
As always very open to ideas, thoughts or you know someone to come do my job for me with a complete set of creative, varied and well structured lessons that will help my learners make progress that they can see and I can learn from ... .... ... anyone? ;-p