April 17, 2014, by Guest blog

Older students will sometimes treat you more as a friend than teacher

I sat today and listened to two presentations held in English in front of a class and (whether it was visible, I don’t know) I felt myself beam with pride. They’ve come so far since I first met them, and I will always feel glad that I played a part in their journey.
Indeed, for me, one of the most important connections to be made on the year abroad is the one between me and my students. When I applied to be an English Language Assistant (ELA), I had no idea that I would eventually be placed in a vocational school full of students older than me, and in some cases, even twice my age (my oldest student had just turned 50).

When I was told the ages of the students by my mentor teacher I was initially sceptical; sad, even. I wondered what on earth they were going to think of the 20 (now 21) year old waltzing in and correcting their English, in effect telling them that they were wrong. I didn’t anticipate being especially popular, let’s put it that way, and I worried that I’d miss out on the teaching experience everyone else would have.

However, over time I’ve learnt that being an ELA is a valuable thing. While it can be frustrating to be neither a real member of staff nor a student, this limbo is advantageous in terms of getting the students to connect with you. I cannot give them grades, which takes the pressure off when they speak English to me. All they have to worry about is building their confidence, not about how I may be evaluating their performance. Equally, I’ve found that the students tend to be much more open to communicating problems, questions or concerns with me than they are with the ‘real’ teachers.

There’s a trust aspect between us which I think is invaluable when it comes to language learning. They know I’m not going to make fun of them if they make a mistake, and equally they know that the topics I discuss with them (given that I work in a woodwork-based school) are not things that I have any particular knowledge about. Both sides have a weakness in that respect, which I feel strengthens the connection; there’s no superiority.
If you’re worried about teaching older pupils, I can tell you that I wouldn’t have had my year abroad any other way. It’s been wonderful to get to know students who’ve already had some life experience. An important thing you find out about being an ELA is that older students will sometimes treat you more as a friend than teacher. Don’t worry, just watch how they progress when they do!

Posted in Making connections