I was thinking about the people who have had an impact on me and on my teaching. I was thinking about how I could write an entire book about all those influences. So instead I’m going to focus on just four people who have had an impact; not necessarily the biggest nor the best impact. I’ve chosen them because of the different types of influence they have had and the different lessons they taught me as a result.
- I could write an entire book about the amazing teachers I had in high school: the interesting and entertaining lessons, the clear explanations of key concepts, the compassion and understanding. Instead, I want to focus on the first teacher who comes to mind when I think about the teachers who have had impact specifically on my own teaching. It was a teacher who made me feel stupid. A teacher who never found other ways to explain ideas that I didn’t understand. A teacher whose practice, I now recognise as the banking model described by Freire (1970), where the teacher benevolently provides the information and the student gratefully learns it. If I had a question, if I didn’t understand something, I was made to feel like it was my fault: the same explanation was repeated, as if the problem was deafness rather than a lack of understanding. The impact on my teaching is rather obvious: I strive to find different ways of explaining, and different ways for students to practise. I don’t let them think a lack of understanding is a reason for blame.
- At university, I met a teacher whose love and passion for their subject I don’t think have seen in anyone else. The first year of my course was a survey of the history of literature, a whistle stop tour that started with The Book of Genesis and finished with contemporary poetry. Each week a different lecturer spoke to the 300 first year students assembled in a vast lecture theatre on Monday mornings at 10am. Somewhere near the middle of the course, a lecturer spoke for an hour about the work on which they focussed their research. Their passion and interest on that Monday morning had such an impact on me that two years later I would persuade a fellow student to swap modules with me so that I could have a seat in that seminar, with that teacher, to study that text.
- When I started teaching, like many others, I found the job very difficult, very intense, and experienced a lot of pressure to get everything right. I wanted to have the right impact on my students. Fortunately, I had some very supportive colleagues who had been there themselves, both within my department and in other subject areas. I’m still in contact with some of these people now, and one of them had a huge impact on helping me to manage my stress levels. Though both practical help (sharing resources, plans, methods) and emotional support and friendship, their impact helped me become a better teacher and a more patient teacher.
- When I moved to Spain, someone was taking a chance on me. I didn’t speak Spanish, had never worked in ELT full-time and, at almost 30 and with a PGCE, I was not a typical TEFL novice. Yet the Director of Studies who hired me obviously saw some potential in me and hired me. What I brought to the table was recognised, and what I needed to learn was patiently taught. I felt the impact of being valued, supported and yet still challenged.
There are many other individuals about whom I could have written here, but these four have sat in my mind. They’ve taught me how not to teach, shown me the power of passion, demonstrated the necessity of supportive networks of peers, and let me feel comfortable with not knowing everything.