16 February 2012

Teaching: like riding a bike?

Me (centre) with my ma and da, the last
time I tried to ride a bike, 2008
They say you never forget how to ride a bike once you've learned. Having spent my adolescence in rural Lincolnshire almost permanently glued to a saddle, but not riding again until my late twenties, I can vouch for this as a half-truth. Sure, I could still make it go, but I was as rusty as the handlebars: letting go to signal a left turn (never mind a right) made me nervous and wobbly, and my bum was numb for a good 24 hours after the ride.

I've been wondering lately whether teaching is one of those skills which, once learned, is never forgotten - or is it more of a 'use it or lose it' thing, like languages (by popular reputation, anyway)? I've been a trainer / mentor for over a year now and my only continued contact with English teaching is delivering joint primary classes with, and pronunciation workshops for, my mentees. And at the back of my mind I'm thinking: is this enough to keep my hand in? Am I going to be unemployable as a teacher when this project ends?

I'm enjoying lots of things about mentoring, but I never aspired to this. I started teaching because I love the English language in all its messy glory, I love trying to communicate ideas, and I love spending time with people from other countries who challenge my way of looking at the world. It still sometimes hurts, when people ask what I do, not to be able to answer, 'I'm a teacher', and the idea of the skills I spent seven years acquiring slowly draining out of my head, through my HAIR, is terrifying. Although maybe I should stop picturing it like that.

I know that my idea of what consitutes a lesson is becoming skewed. I arrived in Borneo with unfeasibly high expectations - 'let's try dogme!' rapidly became 'let's try pronouncing dog correctly!' - and things that horrified me at the start, like entire lessons spent inaccurately drilling ten unconnected words, no longer touch me (partly because I see them less often. I don't mean to say that my mentees are making no progress. But I'm still delighted, and whip out my phone to take pictures as proof, if I see productive pair or group work once a month). Is it only a matter of time before I internalise some of these bad habits? How can I make sure I don't forget how to do the job I love?

Connecting with other teachers via social media such as Twitter is extremely helpful. As is reading, and blogging, even if nobody reads what you write (like penning a vengeful letter to your ex, the therapy is just in getting it down). I've been thinking about volunteering for a while, and should probably stop making excuses and just find an unfortunate bunch of adults to coerce into sitting in an underventilated community hall with me whilst I remind myself how to present gerund vs infinitive. Any other ideas?

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