Sunday, May 1, 2011

Interview with an English teacher

I was surprised to receive a call last Wednesday. I was chosen for an 
interview to be presented for a Master's class in UP.

UP oblation. Symbol of academic excellence

Interviewer: Do you use English strictly in the class or you do code switching? Why or why not?
Me: I always go to class with the intention of speaking English strictly for the entire period. I believe that best way to learn a language is to experience it firsthand.  I want my students to have the same outlook, and emphasize same on the first day of class.
The use of English exclusively or of code switching depends on the kind of students the class has. There are some classes where majority of the members don’t have much difficulty in understanding the instructions given purely in the language. In this case, I use English strictly. In some classes, however, where most members would often say, “Ha? Sorry, liwat bi ma’am”, I usually repeat what I have said, speaking slowly. When I look at them and see confusion the second time I said the same thing, then, there  is not much of a choice but to replace some vocabulary with its closest equivalent in the dialect, or sometimes, paraphrase. Whenever possible, I use English strictly.
Int: What language competence do you most develop among your students?
Me: I focus more on the development of the writing skills as it is my subject matter. I, of course, integrate the other areas of the language. It is impossible for one area to stand alone.

Int: What does this competence mean to your students?
Me: Some students appreciate it but some forced themselves to be interested. For those interested, they would always tell me that acquiring the skill can give them an edge when they apply for jobs in the future. As I have noticed, those who develop appreciation show higher degree of achievement than those who are not purely interested.  For some, it is an opportunity to enhance their ability to play with the written words, some discover their hidden talent to create good compositions, but some eventually learn the rules but can’t make pieces as interesting as to those who like it in the first place. I guess it’s safe to say that there are a lot of students who think developing the skill in writing is just part of the curriculum and not as a tool in achieving further.
School life. Students at break time!

Int: How do you help your students achieve this competence in your teaching method?
Me: I usually begin the new topic with a short review of the previous learning, emphasizing the relevance of the previous to the next. Generally, I like to make use of the demonstration method, where I solicit ideas from them to be written on the board. After having enough information, we go through the process of eliminating irrelevant ideas. For example in making an effective topic sentence, I try to give my example first based on their given ideas. It is then their turn to connect pieces of information to create an idea. After about three or four examples, the lecture explaining the rules will follow.
When the task is too difficult for the individual class member, I usually make use of the cooperative method where they choose a partner to accomplish the given activity.  
Personally, since most of my students are not perfectly independent, I make sure they don’t hesitate to ask questions. While brainstorming for the task, I usually go around from one group to another giving my opinion on the topics they show. This I think, coupled with praises and some short recap of the rules, will most likely result in good performances for the tasks.

Int: What learning activities do your students engage with in order to develop this competence?
Me: I make use of timed freewriting to gather ideas they have in mind without looking at their seatmate’s work. After this, I give them time to exchange paper for the other person to point what they think is the most interesting idea.  After they have “the most interesting idea”, it is time to formulate an outline to be able to develop the idea smoothly.
Other activities I engage my students in are the classroom-based interview, descriptive writing, cause and effect writing, and quoting or paraphrasing an author’s words. In most cases, I provide some visual aids like pictures or magazine articles.

Int: How do you assess whether they achieved this competence?
Me: I usually make a checklist or rubric for the class activity. Before the task or homework is given, I make sure they understand the expected outcome. I assess their achievement by grading their work according to the assigned points in the checklist/rubric.
When I return the paper, I usually give comments or clarify the rules not followed.

I: How do your students know if they achieved this competence? If not, why they have not achieved it?
Me: I make sure I breakdown the points of the paper based on the checklist. As much as possible, I make use of the editing symbols for correction, so when my students have their paper back, they usually think the more symbols, the lower the score. The lower the score in one area, the more they need improvement there. My students think this is the simplest way to determine their weak and strong points.
Picture anyone? All smiles during the class break.

Int: What are their common problems in learning the subject?
Me: The students have problems with vocabulary and grammar.
I have one student who wrote, “There are many sands in our community”, when sand is non-count.  Another wrote, “Our town is very welcoming to terrorist” when she meant, tourists.
The most common problem is the subject-verb agreement, the usage of has, have, had, and do, does, and did.
There is also a bigger issue with the tenses of the verb. (They said there are only three tenses that exist.) Some don’t even know the difference between “active and passive voices”.
Sad to say, there are students who still have difficulty spelling the words.  

Int: What motivates your students to learn?
Me: Most students will likely to perform better if you give compliments. I usually do this with those having low self-confidence.
For those who perform well in class, I usually persuade them to do more challenging topics. I assess the work, focusing more on the technicality, and of course, praises. Students who always excel in class are motivated by not having the perfect score at all times.
Slow or fast learner, they are motivated to learn when given examples or asked to compose something realistic. I usually give examples using a class member’s name or situation( of course, taking into consideration the sensitivity of the issue.) The funnier the example, the more relaxed they are, which in turn, the better and faster they learn and retain information.
Presentation day: My student explaining his

Int: As a teacher, what are your difficulties encountered in teaching English as a subject?
Me: As a writing teacher, the biggest challenge for me is to squeeze ideas from students. Most of my students are not wide readers, and this results to poor background in vocabulary, style, and even basic knowledge. I always find myself telling them to at least find some books of their interest and start reading.
Second, many students are poor in grammar. This usually leads to difficulty understanding the written ideas. Many take grammar for granted, thinking that being able to follow twang can cover it up.
Third difficulty is the inability of the students to pronounce or spell words correctly. Many are used to attending English classes speaking the language with the “Filipino accent” or spelling words like in SMS.
Lastly, with their weakness in vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar, many hesitate to speak for the fear of being laughed at. 


  1. oh, UP. Do you attend lectures there? How can i possibly enroll? I also want to take my master's in English. Can you send me some info? tnx. appreciate it.

  2. Hi! Thanks for dropping by! I sent the info to your email. Hope it helps.