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My Dream Job and Reality

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The job of an English language teacher in a state secondary school is an exciting opportunity to learn while teaching, and to enjoy listening to the insights of young people. When I started teaching I knew that teaching would not make me rich, but doing the job I loved was enough to make me feel really fulfilled. I had big ideals and a lot of ideas on my mind.

As a conference geek I enjoyed listening to some renowned presenters and I was absorbing the tips and ideas that could enhance my teaching. I loved creating my own materials by using some news or magazine articles, video clips, or some other resources on the Internet.

After a few years of exploring some teaching approaches which might be more effective for my teenage students, I was eager to share my experience, ideas and reflections with my colleagues. I also thought that simply watching how other teachers do their jobs in the classroom would be very useful for all of us.

I encouraged my colleagues to be more adventurous and try to use some new learner-centred approaches, but there was a series of classic “that would not work with our students”, responses. My colleagues were not so motivated and they were willing only to slot into existing programmes and methods, they were resistant to any kind of change.

As I was keen on experimenting with new methods I regularly asked my students for feedback (firstly anonymous and later on non-anonymous). My weaker students objected to my insisting on speaking mostly English in classes. In my view, L1 should be used only when it is really necessary: when explaining the grammar points comparing the English grammar with the students’ mother tongue grammar, or doing some translation exercises, when giving instructions to beginners, explaining some difficult words or directions in order to manage the time more efficiently. However, my weaker students found the traditional teacher-centred approach (where teachers massively overuse L1 in their classes) easier and more understandable.

On the other hand, my intermediate level students (who were exposed to a lot of English outside of the classroom) were really glad to have an opportunity to speak a lot of English in the classes and thus improve their grammar and pronunciation. I also loved to help them find the useful sites on the Internet in order to practise the language on their own. These self-reliant students usually succeeded in acquiring the more advanced levels and they were successful at the University entrance exams or pre-employment English tests.

The issue of using L1 in the classroom has always seemed as a really complicated one to me. I’ve been pondering the issue for years and trying to create some interesting tasks in order to make my weaker students more interested and engaged.

While struggling to introduce a new approach to teaching where students discuss various topics they are interested in and that are relevant to their learning, with a focus on interaction and learners’ autonomy, I did not have any support at my school. The most difficult of all was that nobody really cared about my ideas, my innovations, my striving to improve the students’ learning.

There were some other things that seemed paradoxical to me and very difficult to cope with:

  • You know what is best for your students and you are doing a very good job (encourage your students to speak English in class, challenge them with some interesting activities and projects, give them a continuous formative assessment and feedback…), but you cannot be as good as those teachers who use short cuts and some more efficient ways (who stick strictly to coursebooks and prepare their students for tests as this seems an easier way to get good results and get a higher score in the customers’ satisfaction survey).
  • You are interested in improving your teaching and you spend a lot of time and money on books and your continuing professional development (but you are not a good teacher as you refuse to do some assignments like translating and interpreting for the school without being paid for it).
  • You realize living your dream career is more about the bureaucracy (tons of formal lesson plans and other useless administrative work) and less about doing what you love; and, everything matters much more than what goes on in class.

I think that some teachers who advocate a new approach to teaching in their schools may relate to the story I described in the post. I also feel that you can imagine the difficulties teachers face in a post-communist country in South-East Europe in the period of transition. In my country with a weak economy and an outdated educational system, teachers are overloaded with work and constantly faced with the problem of being made redundant.

Despite the very exploitative educational system, there are some English language teachers who love their job so much that they find it impossible to work against their beliefs and opinions what is really good and professional. They also strongly feel that teachers must encourage one another to advocate better professional development, and to press for improved conditions and for change.


About ljiljana havran

English language teacher (General & Aviation English), passionate about learning and teaching. Curious, adventurous, a lifelong learner. Love: good books, music, lots of dance.

7 responses »

  1. “Massive overuse of L1” is hugely common here in Japan, too, with the mistaken beliefs that 1) Learners need everything translated all of the time. 2) Lexical-level translation is the majority of the university entrance tests. I think it’s just a case of not wanting to cause a disturbance.

    In a developed country with lots of multinational companies the general level of English seems to be stuck. I would think about fixing something that’s broke, but the education ministry don’t.

    I hope things get better, soon. Don’t forget that some people have similar situations and are there for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Marc.

      These two years of blogging (and being on Twitter, too) have helped me a lot to see the things more globally and to cope with a current state of affairs in ELT here.

      I understand that the change must come from the top. I just can’t believe that so many teachers are not willing to question anything or to critique the authority; also, most teachers are so slow to transform their teaching approaches. They complacently take part in the ‘using grammar-syllabus coursebooks & preparing students for tests farce’, they still believe in learning styles/brain gyms myths…

      I’m dreaming about a much better educational system, and I hope things get better, soon.

      Thanks for your support, it means a lot to me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • No worries, Ljiljana. It takes a lot of arguing to get through the learning styles and brain gym fallacies, sadly. They have money because they are selling products; the logically thought out opposition isn’t selling anything, has no flashy brochures and therefore doesn’t seem as trustworthy because it isn’t mass produced.

        I fear it’s a slow-drip process rather than a tidal wave.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ljiljana,

    I have just spent a most enjoyable half hour reading and reflecting on your last couple of posts. I loved “Love is a Fallacy”, too! I see that you’ve changed the blog theme since I was here last – I like this one. Not much that distracts the eye, so the articles take center stage. The learning resources bank and ELT journals sections are a great idea as well – I don’t think you had those before?

    Hope you have a great weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Vedrana,

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to read my latest posts and commenting. I’m also glad you liked my new blog theme and my handy sites idea (I haven’t had the learning resources bank and ELT journals section before). I agree with you that this blog theme is more reader-friendly, without distracting colours…

    Thanks so much for your support. 🙂
    I’m looking forward to your new blog posts.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Ljiljana,
    Thanks for sharing this – it’s not always easy to be the only person who wants to do things a certain way, so well done for your perseverance.
    It’ s not just in south-east Europe that this is a problem – it’s something from all over the world. I don’t know of any secondary school classroom in the UK which is mainly in the L2 either, thought they must exist. I think my teachers tried it a little in my French and German classes, but most of my memories of the lessons are connected to English conversations!
    I hope that you can continue in your dream of teaching the way you know it will help the students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sandy,
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and for your kind words. 🙂
      I know that using mainly L1 in secondary school classrooms is not a problem only in south-east Europe. I found it daunting to make a balanced use of students’ mother tongue in mixed level classes (as i always felt there were dangers of overuse). I think that a bigger problem worldwide is teaching so much grammar and coursebooks and preparing students for tests, as it causes a lack of confidence or fear of making mistakes. There is also a limited opportunity for practising speaking, as students are mostly focused on tests and exams, and therefore unwillingness or resistance to speaking in a foreign tongue.
      In my latest post I’ve tried to explain that I really enjoy my new teacher-librarian role, and that learning with my students makes me really happy.



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