Over the years, spending time with thousands of new or budding teachers – I’ve thought and thought and thought about the major factors that make a “great teacher”. It’s not an easy thing to pin down, given that there are so many different teaching environments, so many different students and subjects. However, this story from my past speaks towards one that I feel is important and especially important in ESL / EFL teachers.
I was teaching grade 4, regular classroom of all second language students, in a portable, out in the hinterlands of the school yard. A demanding job, any grade 4 class – but especially this one. During recesses and lunch hour, I enjoyed the quiet time in my class while the students played outside or had lunch in the main building (unless I was on yard duty!). During this time, I collected my thoughts, recharged my battery and took one step back to jump ahead during the following classes.
However, if it was raining (which seemed all the time), the students stayed in the classroom during recess. It was a portable so it was loud! Plus the rain pounded down on the tin roof. My head would feel like it were bursting and those days without my “alone time”, really were trying.
One such day, I was sitting at my desk watching the students play a game which seemed to engross them. They behaved and cooperated well. It was ordered and fairly quiet. Heaven! But from my perch, I watched and studied the game they were playing, “zip-zap“. Lots of fun. Plus, my headache was less and recess inside didn’t seem so bad anymore.
But I got to thinking. This game is fun but could be much more fun if the students were using English! Meaning, instead of just “zapping” each other as the original game does – the zap was a letter of the alphabet or a category and the students instead of responding by “zapping” another student had to both zap them and reply in English.
So I got up out of my chair and started playing with the students. Sneaky me. I played and played both recesses but during the last recess I stopped the game and said, “This is boring.” I then convinced the students to try my version – and being Grade 4 students they bought it and a new “zip-zap” game was born. One where they were having fun and learning English – even during their recesses and lunch time!
I think back fondly on this adapted game. Since then I’ve designed many games, helped teachers use them effectively in their classrooms. But what I really look back fondly on is my own ability to adapt, adapt creatively. There was a classroom, there was the curriculum but it was up to me to see it as a canvass that we could create into something personal, beautiful, fun, happy.
And that’s the quality of a great teacher and what I especially love about teaching English. You can take the core objectives but wrap them up, deliver them with sparkling creativity. And when it comes together like “zip-zap”, it is truly satisfying. The creative teacher is the basis of the great teacher.
If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy reading my Teacher In The Trenches series of posts about my past teaching and tribulations.
Also published on Medium.
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