My next guest blogger is Bujtás Barbara (aka Bujtás Barbi), who lives in the lovely resort town of Balatonfüred, on the shores of Lake Balaton, which is – despite what she says below – the biggest lake in Europe. When I read Barbi’s blog (http://rbie.blogspot.com), I was quite intrigued by her take on one-to-one teaching, so I asked her to tell me more about her work.
She’s done exactly that in, I think you’ll agree, an engaging and quirky way. Plus, as someone called Ken, I’ve always wanted a guest blog from someone called Barbi. 😛
Hi, I’m Bujtás Barbara from the really tiny town of Balatonfüred by the really tiny Lake Balaton in really tiny Hungary and I’m a really tiny teacher. I’m not even a real teacher (I don’t even work for a school, all the institutional stuff I do is that I teach tiny kiddies in a wee-little family daycare.)
Let alone my blog, which is another teeny-tiny one, not well structured, a real mess, sometimes in English, sometimes in Hungarian, brrrr. All the more surprising Ken’s invitation to be a guest blogger, he is definitely one of the great big ones :O Thank you, Ken.
The tiny, not so serious thing I do most of the time is teaching one-to-one. You might think is a ‘lightweight’ area, as there is no solid literature on the topic, hardly any books published. This is what nearly everyone (TEFL/TESL) does for at least a while but it seems like some sort of secret. It can’t be seen somehow. No tangible methodology except for business English. Am I right? It is out of the interests of big publishing houses, that’s why it seems to be such a neglected area one might say.
How come I’ve been focusing on one-to-one? Well, I had never wanted to be a teacher before I actually became one. (I actually wanted to be a jazz guitarist :D) I have never believed in school as such. (Large groups of randomly selected kids, all presented the same content using the very same approach, it still sounds weird to me, sorry.) Right after secondary school I didn’t even want to go to university, I hated all schools so much, not my one-to-one guitar lessons of course.
The whole TEFL thing started when a friend of mine wanted to learn English and asked me (someone with an English language exam certificate, level B2 or so) to teach him English. I said yes, I thought “Right, I have my old coursebooks, I know how to learn English, consequently I know how to teach it.” Yes? No. It turned out he did NOT learn in the same way I had. This made me curious and basically that’s why I wanted to go to teacher training college. During the three years of EFL teacher training I had one-to-one students, so it was indeed in-service training. No need to say all the methodology we learned was kind of aimed at groups of learners.
The first lecture of my Materials Design course (delivered by Poór Zoltán) started out with the statement: we teach students, not coursebooks. Sure, definitely. But how to teach so many of them? Needs analysis. Needs of which one of them, for goodness’ sake?
The more I worked and studied the clearer it became: no single method or coursebook was suitable for everyone. Having face-to-face one-to-one lessons you can’t just skip the personality, interests, attitudes of your students. This is the scheme that allows truly needs-based content and methodology. Learning is so personal, isn’t it? I was insecure, that was not mainstream at all. I took part in a workshop by Andrew Wright on storytelling. He used a wonderful metaphor: when you see a group photo, who is the first person to find? Yourself. Then why not use other “genres of photography” when teaching English? How about “portrait”?
It was difficult that time, I was trying to photocopy single pages or exercises from coursebooks that seemed relevant to my student, authentic material was not within easy reach. Customise materials, so to say. Around 2000-2001 or so I bumped into Scott Thurnbury’s Dogme ELT as I remember. Hoorray! That was the way! I didn’t have Internet access at the time plus I’m a non-nest. Although Dogme ELT was just the right solution, apparently Utopian back then.
I did work for schools however. A complete disaster I was. I’m no authority figure at the slightest (you know I am the one who is always followed by the security guy in shops). Kids’ silly jokes made me laugh, instead of stopping them from being distracted I got distracted myself 🙂 These schools are pretty artificial: students sitting with their backs to each other in silence (at least what they are supposed to be doing). Some teachers managed to “keep discipline”. I had the feeling that my students wanted to let off steam in my lessons after and before the 45 minutes with the “strict” ones.
It took shape: groups are not for me, especially in state schools. However one-to-one does not seem economical, to me it appeared to be the only efficient way of learning a language.
Roughly this is how and why ….
I have been a freelance EFL teacher for 12 years now. 90 % of my time I work on one-to-one basis, I have 7-12 lessons a day.
That often means the ‘human touch’ is somewhat deeper than the usual daily encounter, mind you, spending 45, 60, 90 minutes with the same person each time. I am lucky I can get to know the very best face of each of my students. That is the sweet part of one-to-one, also you are forced to be flexible and open. Of course you can’t expect the feeling of being a real leader (this is not to say that I don’t enjoy making a group move:), what you can expect here is that you’ll have to become a “student forever”. Eternity? 😀
Years ago there was a boy (13) I ‘taught’ for a couple of years. It was not teaching in the traditional sense, rather talking about things he was interested in, in English of course. Luckily he always managed to express what he wanted to.
He spoke good English (he used to spend most of his free time playing games on the computer, later programming, styling computer houses ). His focus was mainly the IT world and other craft projects. I was just listening to him, as I remember, asking him questions, things.
Later we kind of became friends, I was not teaching him any more, but he took me gliding, we went hiking, talked a lot. He went to the USA as an exchange student, we often talked on Skype, I read his Myspace blog etc.
Well, he has always been the kind of student who seems to me much more intelligent than I have ever been, ever would be. Even when he was ‘just’ a kid I really appreciated the guy he would become one day.
After some years I met this boy. It was amazing! Now I am still an EFL teacher, the setting has slightly changed however. Now I rely mostly on the Internet, I have a PLN, I do learn something daily, I may say my strong point is ICT in EFL. (Without the Internet personalized or semi-personalized one-to-one courses are the edge of unearthly-supernatural for me, being a non-native speaker of English.)
It was astonishing how we were still able to understand each other’s ideas. He is a student at a technical university, studying IT engineering I guess, he has lots of other projects as well.
It was shocking: we think in the same way about certain things . Hardly ever do I find such a like-minded person around me! And he was a schoolboy when I was already a teacher.
Thrilling. There comes the question: Would I ever have become a techy EFL teacher if I had not had the opportunity to talk to that boy back then in 2001 or so? Well, that time I was not especially enthusiastic about computers. Was it my flair for finding the sparkle in certain kids?
Now I think that gamer boy hugely contributed to what I have become in my profession, added a lot to the person I am now. Thank you, I feel fine!
Very true that teachers have immense influence on students future lives. But never forget it might be mutual 🙂 Just listen to them.
With web 2.0 my time has certainly come (being a student-centred-one-to-one-EFL-facilitator-assistant, that is). Thanks Bendegúz (the main character of the above story) for opening that ICT window for me.
And thanks all the others I’ve had the opportunity to learn from, I might not even be aware of all.
Barbi blogs at http://rbie.blogspot.com