Thrown away in the crowd: Reflection on my first teaching job
Laxmi Prasad Ojha
Every teacher goes through some sort of difficulty at the beginning of his/her career. I was no exception. Although I still face numerous challenges in my class, the nature of problem has changed a lot. In this paper, drawing on my own experience of joining teaching as a career, I have recollected the struggle I had made in the beginning of my career assuming that many teachers around the world (or at least around the country) go through similar experiences. This is a story of how I felt nervous and helpless in the classroom in the beginning of my career as a teacher and how I gradually overcame those problems.
I started my teaching career when I had just appeared my B. Ed. final year examinations waiting for the results. I was not really in a mood to start a job yet but one of the teachers at my college told me that a well-known private school in town was looking for an English language teacher. He explained that they would welcome a fresh candidate with sound academic background. Having secured good marks and position throughout my student life, I thought I should give it a try. I contacted the principal of the school and after a couple of meetings with him, was offered to join the school as an English language teacher.
As the beginning teachers are typically less familiar with subject matter, teaching strategies, and teaching contexts and lack an adequate ways to plan and execute them (Richards and Farrell, 2010), they need a lot of support and cooperation from the institution and the coworkers. But many teachers report not receiving cooperation and support from the schools/colleges and coworkers at the beginning of their career in Nepal. I also experienced similar situation while I joined teaching profession in 2005. Although the Principal and coworkers of my school were very friendly, they did not have a culture of providing induction and orientation to the new teachers.
On the first day, the Principal told me that I had to teach six periods per day from class eight to ten. I was neither told about the teaching approach used in the school nor about the course books used. I was hardly introduced to a couple of teachers available in the Principal’s office and not a single sentence about the nature and level of students that I was supposed to deal with.
In the very first class, I was escorted to the senior most class of the school – class 10. My goodness! How to face the students of grade 10 in my first class – a question that panicked me more than anything else at that moment. I started getting nervous as I climbed the stairs following the Principal towards the classroom. The principal used two sentences (literally two!) to introduce me to the class – “Hello class, He is Laxmi sir and he will teach you English from today”. He left the class after this and I had to take the class form there. I was almost blank with no idea about how to begin a class. I was given the most challenging class on my first day as Mudzingwa, and Magudu (2013) claim “In most instances newly appointed teachers are given the most difficult tasks (p. 41)”.
Having come from a government-aided school (most of the people in Nepal, consider those educated in public schools to be weak and poor performers in the English language), I was not very confident to communicate in English in front of a group of students who had studied in an English medium school for over a decade. Anxiety overruled my knowledge and skills acquired over the last five years of time as a student of teacher education program (I. Ed and B. Ed). I managed to stand in front of the class, introduced myself and asked the students to introduce themselves in the first class. After the first class, the Principal repeated the routine job of introducing me to the rest of the classes throughout the days. The Dealing with students in the other classes was a bit easier later as I had already faced the most senior students! During my free hours, I managed to talk a little to a few teachers.
I started my formal lessons on the second day. I had no ideas how the class would be. It was a reading lesson. I knew the theories of pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading activities and had a plan to follow the same but, to my utmost surprise, I could hardly do a quarter of what I had planned to – another desperate move. I had worked hard and studied well in my B Ed level. I had done the courses like linguistics, ELT theories, methods and techniques, ELT materials, educational psychology, curriculum development, etc. These courses covered a vast content to inform would be teachers about all aspect of teaching English language. Therefore, I believed that I knew how to teach English to my students well. But, to my surprise, knowing the theories to teach well and actually delivering the lessons in a real classroom in front of students were completely different.
Having attended teacher education courses in college, I knew most of the theories and therefore, tried to use them while planning and delivering lessons but it was easier said than done. I could not think of the real tangible activities to teach language lessons. I knew the class should be student centered but could not think of a practical activity to make my class students centered. I had read about drill, group work, pair work, elicitation but could not think how I could design a task do use them. I knew that before asking students to read a text, a teacher should make them familiar with the text with some pre-reading activities but no practical and specific idea came into my mind. It did not take me long to realize that teaching was much more than presenting information in front an audience. It was an art and skill to be mastered gradually.
Then I started spending all my free time every day preparing and planning my lesson for the next day, but things would not work my way. I had a plan in my mind but I would do something else. Most of my activities were kind of response to my students’ queries or activities. I wondered time and again – Where is my plan?
I consulted some senior teachers; visited libraries to find books on practical techniques of teaching English language; discussed with my colleagues; and, more importantly, collected feedback from my students. I got some idea of the mistakes I was making. I realized that I was very ambitious to do too many things in a single class; did not address students who were weak and slow; stood at one point and never moved around; hardly conducted any warm up activities; seldom talked about anything else besides the textbook content, and spoke too fast for the students to catch me. I tried to find ways to solve each of these problems. I was fortunate to have my uncle as a well-known English teacher in my town. I often consulted him whenever I felt difficulty. Because of his long experience in teaching English, he would provide me with ideas and techniques related to my problem. I sometimes felt how he could know so many things and come up with a way to solve a problem so easily. Now I understand it was natural due to his experience.
During my classes later, I tried to identify and correct my weaknesses and kept on asking about my performance to my students indirectly. I tried to talk to both smart and slow students. I would try to find ways to solve the problems I encountered myself. This way, I felt more confident to perform diverse activities using new techniques. I could feel that my students liked it and also progressed in their studies. Gradually, this made me more confident. I remember trying to use a lot of ideas from David Cross, Jeremy Harmer and Penny Ur’s Book. Sometimes they worked; sometimes they did not. But one thing that I learned using these books was we should let the learners lead the class; it makes them both happy and successful.
I now think I was very young to be a teacher of grade 10 then (just turned twenty!) but at the same time it was one of the most important factors for the students to be comfortable with me. Perhaps, they found me similar to themselves in many ways (unlike many other elderly teachers). It was easier for them to communicate with me than with most of the other teachers.
Sometimes, I get reminded of the theories I had studied during my B Ed courses some 12 years ago under the heading Qualities of a Good Teacher – personal , social and professional qualities. I was practicing the good personal and social qualities unknowingly then. I am not quite sure either I was practicing good professional qualities or not but the efforts I made to learn the students, the content to deliver and the discussions with my own teachers and senior teachers around my place helped me learn what teaching is and how I can develop my teaching skills.
We have to understand that every successful person was a once a beginner and faced challenges in the beginning. As Ozturk (2008) argues everyone faces problems in the beginning of the career due to the lack of the practical skills needed to perform the assigned tasks. With the continuous effort and dedication we can develop effective teaching skills. It is also important for the administrators and senior teachers to realize that if they were not supported by other teachers in the beginning of their career, they would not be able to achieve the position they have at the moment.
Mudzingwa, K. & Magudu S. (2013). Idealism versus realism: Expectations and challenges of beginning teachers in three districts of Masvingo province, Zimbabwe. Journal of Studies in Social Sciences, 3 (1), 33 – 54.
Ozturk, M. (2008). Induction into teaching: adaption challenges of novice teachers. A graduate thesis, Middle East Technical University. Retrieved on 9th April, 2013, from http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/2609585/index.pdf
Richards, J. C. & Farrell T. S. C. (2010). Professional development for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(Laxmi Prasad Ojha teaches at Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, Nepal. Besides, he is an editor of Journal of NELTA and NELTA ELT Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)