What’s Your Story? – Learning a Language as an Adult by Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess
Katie Burgess

I had my share of language learning experience as a child. This is the time when you don’t question the grammar rules or their exceptions, when it’s perfectly okay to make mistakes, be corrected or a tad embarrassed in front of a whole class because you don’t really care.

Then you grow up… All of a sudden, you are conscious of making mistakes, you want to understand the logic behind every grammar rule and yes, and you will be mortified when making mistakes. Why? Because you are an adult, an educated person expressing yourself at a level of a young child and that is just disturbing: you have your ego protesting and screaming: hey, I am not stupid!

I have been learning Chinese and that is not an easy task. Set aside the tones – it’s  like learning to sing  – the wide variety of dialects, not to mention  the many words that sound alike, with different meanings, of course. So while you are trying to say I am a teacher you might be actually saying I am an old rat…

So naturally, most the time when I am mingling with the locals, trying to get the right breakfast on the street, I do feel like a small child – however, and not a smart one…

It all ended when Frank, a well-educated engineer started taking English classes, at a beginners level.

I sensed his frustration, because he really wanted to express himself but couldn’t. How could he? He had just started his journey of learning English at the age of 38.

And last week, after failing to get his message across, he just burst out: “I am stupid! I like 5-year-old!” And that’s when it hit me: I did understand his frustration because I have been feeling the same way.

(Image taken from  http://finance.yahoo.com)
(Image taken from http://finance.yahoo.com)

So I told him: “Yes, you are right: you do sound like a 5-year-old. But that’s okay! Because you are learning! It will get better, I promise. Then I told him: “I also am a 5-year-old… “– in Chinese…

He smiled and was grateful. I assured him: nobody thinks he is stupid, it’s only the beginning.

Frank also helped me, inadvertently. I no longer care if a local gives me that weird look,  or even laughs at my fragile attempt to express myself in Chinese. I just gently remind myself: “It’s okay. It will only get better!”

My journey to become an ESL teacher by Katie Burgess – What’s Your Story?

Katie Burgess
Katie Burgess

Next up on the What’s Your Story? Blog Challenge…Katie Burgess! She takes us on a trip from Hungary to the US to China – what a beautiful story about how she became a teacher.

Köszönöm, Katie!

I knew I was meant to be a teacher when at age seven I gathered my stuffed animals and my reluctant little brother into my room, having them sit in a circle around me, paying close attention to my small chalkboard, introducing them the world of numbers and letters.

My inspiration was my first grade teacher, Miss Varga who taught all 42 of us how to read and write. To me, as a small child it was such a remarkable experience that in a short time I could put meaning behind those characters, the letters which at first looked so intimidating, foreign and scary.

I admired her patience and wisdom. It seemed nothing less than a Miracle that I was introduced to the world of letters and numbers and I contributed it to her Power. Yes, to me, she had the Power of knowledge which she has passed on to us.

And I wanted that magical Power.

I come from Hungary, a small European country with a unique language. From 3rd grade we already studied French and continued with Russian from 5th grade on. I kept studying both because I was fascinated by languages and cultures entirely different from ours.

At university, I majored in French and Latin was mandatory for 2 years. I continued with Italian, just for fun, which seemed relatively easy after the two other romance languages. Then in my 2nd year of studies when I picked up applied linguistics as a minor we were asked to study English so that we could read related articles and that’s when I met English, for the first time.

Even though I had plenty of experience with languages, when I first bumped into the word enough, I became frustrated: how can you possibly write this word this way and then pronounce it in such an unexpected way?

I quit English shortly after enough– it’s too hard… doesn’t make any sense…can’t pronounce certain sounds…

Two years later I was in in the US, in Miss Chloe’s evening class, along with a number of other freshly arrived immigrants, having one common goal: to learn English because it’s a must in order to survive in the New World.

I respected Miss Chloe, our ESL teacher: her dedication to us, her everlasting patience when we have all struggled with the weird sounds and I knew, right there: I want to become an ESL teacher. I want to be there, in front of a class where everyone needs to learn English, for their career, their promotion, for their education, or simply to survive.

So I did learn English. Two years later I passed the TOEFL test, with flying colors and went on studying at University of Oregon.

When later my family and I relocated to my home country I started to teach English. And there was no stopping me, after that.

I continued my education at Cambridge University, eventually got my Masters and have been attending seminars and workshops to better myself.

In my almost 20 years of teaching I had the chance to teach Mexican immigrants’ children in the US, college students in Hungary and over the past 2 years I have been teaching in China.

I feel blessed to have those amazing and encouraging teachers early on and as a tribute to them, I do my very best to continue their paths and be as inspiring to my students as my teachers were to me.

What’s Your Story? Mona Arvinte Interacts from Iasi

Mona Arvinte and her little daughter
Mona Arvinte and her little daughter

Here is another story, number 55, all the way from Iasi, Romania and Mona Arvinte, an English language teacher who has written her beautiful story! Read on about how she found her way into teaching and interacting with other teachers. 

Thank you so much, Mona! Mulțumesc!

When I first saw Vicky’s post I wondered : “Do I have a story?”

Of course, we all have stories and we all like stories. Am I ready to share, to put it on paper? Hmm, that’s a totally different story. Let’s see.

My story is really simple.

I’ve been a teacher all my life. I’m not that old, though. 😀

So hard to look back. That’s a real challenge to me, I think.

I chose to be a teacher for all the wrong reasons, I guess. I didn’t like kids, I had no patience whatsoever, didn’t like assigning or checking homework either.

That has changed over the years now. I’ve come to realize it’s best to interact, share and change ideas.

If you asked me what I’d be doing in 5 or 10 years’ time, I wouldn’t know. Probably the same but who knows? Life’s full of surprises.

I became a teacher about 13 years ago. Back then I did not even know I wanted to be a teacher. It’s not like I’ve been dreaming to be a teacher all my life. Let’s just say I had to, not that I wanted to.

I come from a small town and there were few opportunities for teaching English at that time. I remember quite well the look on the kids’ faces when the head teacher introduced me to the class. To say the least English was totally strange to them and so was the teacher.

So I entered the classroom. They did not pay any attention to me, nor to my words. That left me in a corner, not knowing what to do next. I began by telling them who I was. Well, I was so naïve to think they might actually look up to me for the simple fact I was a teacher. But no, that didn’t work.

I had to do something and quick, so I tried to improvise something. I remembered my first English lesson. I was about four or five. We were having so much fun, my English teacher at that time did her best to keep us motivated by involving each and every one of us in many engaging activities. I am positive I owe a lot to my first English teacher as to my teaching style. She was a fine lady.

Teaching is about sharing. I used to think teaching is just a job like any other job, you just go into the classroom, do your job, take your books and get back home. I was wrong, I guess.

Over the years I realized these kids have feelings, too. They aren’t like little robots that will do whatever you ask them to do just because you want them to.

No! They care, they have feelings and they also have their own stories that they like sharing, too.

As to my professional development, I’ve started to attend training courses and webinars that you can easily find online. That’s a whole new world to me. I didn’t think that would have been possible in the past. Or at least that hadn’t come in use to me not until last year. And I’m very happy about it as I get to learn a lot. As a teacher you never stop learning. It’s a long journey.

I am currently teaching 5th to 8th graders. It’s not that easy, not all are good students but it’s something that I love doing. Teaching is an excellent job, very rewarding. It helps you stay young at heart. Not to mention holidays! 😉 Just kidding.

Plans for the future? Well, I kind of like to live in the present.

Start blogging? Have my own website page? Become an online teacher? All these trends are very appealing to me. I like trying new things all the time.

Definitely yes, if the time is right!

So this is it. My life, my story!

No time to think it through, I just do what I think it’s best for me and my students.

Time to turn the page to a new chapter, hopefully!

 

New Kid on the Block – Joanna Tsiolakis shares her story

Joanna Tsiolakis
Joanna Tsiolakis

Joanna Tsiolakis is a wonderful personality and educator I first met face-to-face in March and I am very fortunate to know her. Here Joanna shares her beautiful story for the What’s Your Story? blog challenge. Thank you ever so much, Joanna : ) 

 When I moved to Greece 21 years ago I was a bit lost to say the least.

The language and finding employment were a few of my stumbling blocks.  Of course, for everyone else the issue of ‘finding a job’ was easy.  “You’re a native speaker, so obviously you’ll teach English”, they said.  What was so obvious to them was not that clear-cut for me.  I did have all of the required English Language Certificates to teach, but what did I know about teaching?  Absolutely NOTHING!

And so, here starts my story.

I consider myself extremely lucky, or blessed if you will, to have worked for wonderful people who not only took a chance on me, but also showed me the way and encouraged me to improve myself and my teaching skills (of which I had none).  Thanks to them, (great heartfelt thanks to them!)  I have completed courses in English language teaching and Methodology and quite successfully if I may toot my own horn. Thanks to them, I have become a teacher I am proud of regardless of the fact that I didn’t go to University for English.   So, where was the problem?

Well, I am a very friendly and optimistic person by nature, so when I first started working at a Frontistirio I was very excited and ready to grab the bull by the horns; ready to start implementing what I had learned.  My first day was unforgettable, unfortunately though, not in a good way.  I was the “new kid on the block” and my colleagues weren’t ready to embrace me with open arms.  I distinctly remember the cold looks I got and the comments which revolved around the common, “So, do you have a degree in English or are you just a certificate holder?”  Which translates as, “Just because you’re a native speaker doesn’t mean you belong here.” “You know nothing about teaching.  You don’t have the fundamental educational background.” I can go on, but I think I’ve made my point.   Of course I lied and said that I do have a degree in English, because I was so overwhelmed by the negativity of these people that I was too afraid to tell them the truth. I think the worst thing was actually thinking that they may be right.

I remember one colleague in particular, we shared a Proficiency class.  This person purposefully didn’t share some very important information about the syllabus, (the part that “I” had to cover) which left me looking like a complete idiot in front of my class (as it was a student who brought it to my attention, in front of the entire class.  Yeah, can you believe it?), and a complete incompetent in front of my boss.   I mean, come on, who does something like that?

In all fairness, I don’t hold a grudge nor do I find fault in their attitudes.  They spent years studying to get their degree, worked hard for it and I come waltzing in, taking a position they thought I didn’t deserve just because I was a native speaker.

I don’t think and I never thought that because I am a native speaker I have something more/better to give to my kids apart from pronunciation and perhaps a better insight of the Canadian culture.

What I can say in all certainty is that it was attitudes like those that made me go further.   The monkey on my back that has, I guess, driven me to reach the goals I have set for myself.  So, perhaps I should be thanking them.

I do not want this to come across as me bashing those who have attitudes like that (really, I can understand your frustration), but I also can’t dismiss the dedication I have to being a better educator and all the hard work I’ve done / am doing to accomplish that.  NOT because I am a native speaker, but because I want to give the best I can to my kids.

I know I’m a good teacher because I love what I do.  I also know I can be a thousand times better because I love what I do.

So, yes.  My name is Joanna.  I am an English teacher who doesn’t have a degree in English.

Whew!  I feel like I’ve just come out of confession. 😉