GOD BLESS THE TEACHER
Now being somewhere near the top of a high mountain the name of which Is the teaching career I feel contented, happy and inspired. My experience of being a teacher of English for 36 years, first as a school teacher, then as a lecturer at the University, has taught me how to teach using my own style that helps to create learning conditions in the classroom. It helps to be loving, strong and giving to all who rely upon me, to encourage and praise.
1971, August, just the beginning. It was “a must” during the years of stagnation to go and work at the place, a remote one, as a rule, after graduating from the university. No matter whether you wished or could leave your native city, the place of birth for three years, graduates had to work in the profession they had got at the University in a small village, somewhere at the back of beyond. The authorities of the university decided where you had to go. With me it was the same.
A small town on the Volga far from civilization, friends, relatives. A tiny place in one of the numerous autonomous republics of the former USSR. A new school, a young teacher, 28 hours of English per week. Noisy pupils, lack of professional experience, feeling frightened and homesick all the time. The textbooks we used were overloaded ideologically and contained dull texts about social labour, orders of Komsomol and “Lenin readings” at school (Do you understand what it means? We read and analyzed Lenin’s written works, discussed them and made them part and parcel of our lives).
It was very difficult to start a teaching career far from home , in a small town with a huge paper factory in the middle of it which produced high quality paper and nasty smell all the time. It was a very difficult period in my life (and not only in mine): lack of the most necessary things, the “iron wall’ that separated us from the outer world. We were just trying to survive. Very few teachers were eager to do something in order to change the situation though everybody understood it had to be changed.
It was next to impossible to motivate pupils, make them interested and involved while learning English. Besides we were not trained how to teach English while studying at the University. English methodology was given to us in the form of boring lectures with too much theory which we failed to help us in real classroom situations.
It was August, 1971. We had packed everything we could and left for the place of our destination. We were young, enthusiastic and full of pleasant anticipations. But as soon as we arrived we understood that things were not as nice as we had planned them to be.
My husband (a doctor) and I had to live in a cellar of a hospital ( where he worked as a surgeon) in the room not far from the casualty ward. I remember once a patient was brought in drunk as a lord. His ear had been eaten by a pig while he was sleeping like a log somewhere in the pigsty. As soon as he came to himself he started shouting at his wife that she had let the pig do it to him. It was just an ordinary thing. People drank much trying to forget about everyday problems: empty shops, endless queues for everything including oranges, tights and toilet paper and communist slogans instead of sausage and cheese. We could spend 12 or 15 hours in queues or sometimes spent the night at the door of the shop.
There in the cellar where we lived the ceiling was black with mosquitoes and toads were jumping on the floor. I was writing lesson plans on the lap sitting on the old dental chair.
I remember a tiny room where we later lodged with my husband and daughter (she was a year and a half then), a Russian oven where I had to cook meals (being a city dweller I had no idea how to do it), flocks of cockroaches all over the place. Those were the first months of my teaching career: very depressing and disappointing on the one hand, but giving experience and endurance on the other.
Later when I returned to my native city in the very heart of Russia on the Volga I continued working at school. Kuibyshev was “a closed” city at that time, a great military giant where all industry expanded on armament and the veil of secrecy made that iron castle a thoroughly guarded and protected shell. We were not allowed to go abroad, to listen to radio broadcasting in English or to read British newspapers with the exception of “The Morning Star”. We, teachers of English, were like mice in a trap. Later one of the colleagues said at the conference in Moscow state University that for dozens of years English had been taught as a dead language in Russia.
That feeling of isolation from the outer world, on the one hand, and the burning desire to establish a tiny link with that mysterious and attractive country called Great Britain, on the other, made the teachers of English in Russia inventive and very creative. We had done a great thing at that time and created our own methodology with firm theoretical background based on Psychology, Pedagogy, Linguistics. It helped to teach English very profoundly. We had no authentic audio tapes but the best Russian teachers of English recorded them for us. We worked hard and achieved great results. Later when we were allowed to go abroad we were often asked by native speakers of English how we had managed to learn to speak English so well.
In 1973 I began working at Teachers’ Training Institute, at the faculty of foreign languages. It was a very important period in my teaching career when in amazingly short time I absorbed the experience my senior colleagues had generously shared with me. I understood that methods of teaching English as a foreign language, various techniques the teacher had at her disposal, the communicative skills she possessed were very important in the teaching career. And only this summer after I had read the book “The Courage to Teach” by Parker J.Palmer which M.Rinvolucri had presented to me for, I understood that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique, that teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students to learn a great deal or to keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions.” Reading this book written by a very talented teacher I felt those were my thoughts and ideas published on the pages of the book. It seemed as if we had been discussing the views on teaching with P.Palmer and had a lot in common.
But at that time (1973-78) I was shy, quiet and very uncertain. Being an orphan I had to adjust to the outer world, to understand its rules and laws, but the genes I had inherited from my parents who were both teachers helped me to become strong, independent and colourful and admirable at the same time. Positive changes in Russia made it possible to travel to the English-speaking countries, to attend conferences in Australia, New Zealand, to organize educational trips of students to London, Sydney.
In 1978 I was invited to work at Samara State University, at the English department. A new and very exciting period in my teaching career began. In 1989 I defended me thesis in methods of teaching English. It was connected with organization and conduct of role plays at English lessons. My successful way into the very heart of the teaching career began. I hurried to exchange ideas with colleagues all over the world, to absorb and implement as much as possible, to share the experience generously with colleagues and students.
I’m sure that in order to communicate successfully we must be equipped with various techniques, not to be scared to express ourselves, to get confidence to speak in front of others, that is to have presentation skills. Both for teachers and students it is important to understand body language, to read a face, to use space, to recognize the roles the people play.
The graduates of our faculty work not only as teachers, interpreters and translators, but at joint ventures, hotels, etc. So from the very beginning I try to teach them English as an effective means of communication. Drama techniques used at the lessons (moving pictures, puppets on a string, sketches, music, rock operas, etc.) help students feel free in different situations, to express their emotions, in a word, to communicate successfully.
At lectures, at seminars and workshops in Methods of Teaching English I tell them again and again that the demand for teachers of English in Russia is great now. And they are in the focus of public opinion. Teachers should be well-equipped with methods and techniques of teaching English, should know how to create learning conditions, that is how to teach English effectively.
Being able to stay calm when dealing with problems, mobilizing reserves of mental and physical energy when the need arises – many of the qualities that make a person a “winner” – are developed with the help of C.Stanislavski system that can be successfully used in teaching English. And it was proved on February 25, 2004, when I defended my doctorate thesis in using Russian Theatre Techniques in teaching English.
Now I am professor at Samara State University, the head of the City English – Speaking Club, the head of “Yes-Club” – professional association of teachers of English.
I’ve got a husband, two adult children (a son and a daughter), three grandchildren.
Soon I hope to open the English language center in Samara (“Global English”) in which we are planning to teach English to people of all ages and to train teachers of English.
Time flies. I am in middle fifties now. Still my plans go far. Many of them are to be realized in near future. I am happy. “I touch the future. I teach.”