This is a guest post written by Girish Mulani, a fellow teacher and trainer based in Thailand. He’s going to tell us a bit about himself and his context, what a typical day looks like, what he enjoys and what he finds challenging about teaching.
مان گرِش آهيان. توهان سان ملي خوشي ٿي (Sindhi – my mother tongue)
मैं गिरीश हूँ। आपसे मिलकर अच्छा लगा। (Hindi – official language of my country)
હું ગિરીશ છું. તમને મળીને આનંદ થયો. (Gujarati – official language of my hometown)
मी गिरीश आहे. तुम्हाला भेटून आनंद झाला. (Marathi – official language of the town I grew up in)
ผมชื่อกิริช ยินดีที่ได้รู้จักครับ (Thai – my wife’s first language and new addition to my communication repertoire)
Hi. I’m Girish. Nice to meet you. (English – the language that connects us)
I am a freelance teacher trainer with the British Council, India team, and a co-founder of ‘EngVictus’, a language learning institute based in Bangkok. I did my CELTA (Certificate in Engish Language Teaching to Adults) in 2013 but started teaching professionally in 2015. Before that, I was an air steward with a couple of airlines for 10 years. Now, I let my dreams fly.
With British Council, as and when work opportunities arise, I conduct teacher training, design or adapt materials, collect quantitative and qualitative data from various contexts and sometimes facilitate IELTS training.
At ‘EngVictus’, I teach Thai adults workplace and exam-prep English. At the moment, I am involved with two one-on-one classes and one group (25 Thai Paralympians) class. The group course is unique, for me, because it is conducted completely asynchronously; I haven’t met the learners yet.
Due to limited exposure to English outside the classroom (EFL context), our one-on-one courses are bifurcated into two days of online sessions of 60 minutes each and three days of telephonic conversations of 15 minutes each. For the asynchronous group course, we participate in two activities per week involving all four skills. The idea is to keep them engaged with the language.
TYPICAL DAY (Pandemic times)
My day begins a night prior when I jot down my goals for tomorrow. Crossing them off, the next evening, when I have achieved them, gives a sense of satisfaction. It is a morale booster activity.
Yep, that’s my morning alarm going off. The roosters in my neighbourhood wait for my wake-up call. I wonder why I could never do that during my school years. Probably that gives you some perspective on how much I enjoyed my early education.
I start the day by practising Thai. I usually listen to and transcribe movie scenes or short stories. I ought to be able to catch the sounds and decode them in order to be able to produce them and eventually speak the language. The red marks you notice on the page are sounds that I wasn’t able to decode or decoded incorrectly. It is a humbling activity early in the morning. It shows how challenging listening to and learning a foreign language can be. By the end of this year, I intend to take the CU-TFL, a Thai language proficiency test, and I am aiming for ‘advanced’ 😉
Post that, I get on with preparing activities for the three courses I facilitate during the week. Because I don’t use course books much , I spend considerable time creating my own materials and/or curating ‘authentic’ materials from varied sources. It’s worth it because my learners can relate to the content, which is one of the key elements for nurturing intrinsic motivation1.
Early afternoon hours are for siestas (must have some Spanish blood running through me). It’s quite refreshing, I feel like I am gifted with two mornings.
My preparation continues. Next month, I am scheduled to start a new one-on-one course. The learner wants to learn English for digital marketing and public relations, later take the IELTS and go study abroad, which means, I ought to outline the course scope and flow. Previously, I would break down the course into grammar units, vocabulary and functional language, something that I learned during my pre-service and by following published course books. However, now, having embarked on the journey of learning a foreign language myself, and following Dr Gianfranco Conti’s EPI approach2, I organise the course in terms of the learner’s purpose of learning the language and the kind of performance required to meet these purposes. The starting point is the communicative purpose for which the language is being learned. The language and content are drawn from the learner’s need to do the real world communicative tasks.
As my learners are working adults, evenings are when I facilitate my online sessions. All my classes are flipped, so learners usually come prepared with some form of knowledge about the topic. In class, we clarify any doubts and spend time using the language.
Friday evenings are special because that is the day I bring my one-on-one class learners together on the same call, where each one gets a turn to pre-select content and write three questions he/she would like to discuss on the call. That person is also in-charge of the call and decides which question should be taken up first, who will answer in which order, and/or ask additional questions beyond the three pre-decided ones. I am just another participant on the call, and share my responses like others. My job is to ensure the discussion lasts for at least 30 minutes, to help when they ask me to, to highlight something interesting they might have missed and share my feedback post the call. From what I have gathered, learners enjoy these group calls, as they get to express themselves about topics/ideas/objects they are interested in (nothing is taboo), listen to other viewpoints and share theirs. Isn’t that what language is meant for?
I end my day by filling up the reflection sheet, jotting down my next day’s goals and crossing off the ones I achieved 😎 The cycle continues……..
Being a freelance teacher/trainer allows me a few liberties which I never had while working for other organisations. I take a nap during the day, sometimes teach from a beachfront cafe, take a holiday during the week and a few others. My father often accuses me of living a retired life.
I owe this to CELTA. Going though those dreadful post-lesson reflection sessions with my trainers taught me the value of reflection. I have tried to be honest and pursued reflection in the spirit of purity and perfection. It has been the sole determinant of my progress. From ‘I think the lesson went well.’ to ‘The lesson was useful for my learners because….’, has trained me to reflect on other aspects of my life too. It has afforded me the virtue of patience, and taught me to listen and observe rather than jump to give advice. In fact, Rachel recently wrote a comprehensive post about it. Worth a read 🤓
There is a famous quote of Maya Angelou’s, which I often cite:
‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As I spend more time listening to my learners, not just for errors but for underlying emotions and ideas too, it provides me opportunities to be in their shoes. One of my learners had shared an incident in response to my question, ‘What is your purpose of learning English?’. I remember vividly, he said he felt powerless and ashamed of himself when he was walking with his friend and the friend’s foreigner acquaintance. They were communicating in English and having a nice laugh (NOT at his expense). All he could do was pretend to comprehend and laugh at the cue of their laughter. At that moment, he had promised to empower himself and not to feel that way again. Listening to him narrate this incident, my emotions swayed from pity to motivation. It’s fascinating to realise you are part of your learner’s transformation journey, which leads me to my next point.
Part of a success story
Have you ever paid a visit or written to one of your past teachers because you wanted to extend gratitude for your success? If you have been thinking about it and haven’t done it yet, do it, because there is no wealth in the world that could match the sense of elation we teachers feel receiving those rare thank you notes/visits. I only started teaching a few years ago, so I am still a long way from those visits but I do receive occasional emails and messages from my past learners updating me about their achievements and thanking me for helping them reach their goals. Those are the days when my wife could ask for anything while I am floating on cloud nine.
Writing this post is a good example of how teaching has allowed me to connect with people from different parts of the world. I first interacted with Rachel last year during an international collaboration on Flipgrid. Reading her blogs, and a few others’, gives me some perspective of their worlds. Teaching is the common ground where we teachers let our worlds interact and the more we interact, the more we learn from each other.
CHALLENGES/ SIDE EFFECTS
To be honest, apart from being a non-native English teacher in a country where native teachers are revered, I don’t perceive my work as challenging. You could say that about almost anyone who enjoys and finds immense satisfaction in what they do for a living. Having said that, there are a few ‘side-effects’ of teaching (a language).
I have picked up this uncanny knack of identifying grammatical errors in my social conversations beyond the classroom. It’s like the teacher in me is on a constant patrol. It’s a horrible habit and thankfully it stops at identifying and not highlighting to the speaker.
Maybe, it’s just me, but I am way too emotionally involved in my learners’ progress. Their success is my jubilation and their struggles are my failures. Some people cry watching emotional movie scenes, I do too, but I have tears of joy even when I notice a learner being able to make a sentence or use a vocabulary they were struggling with in the past.
Fear of disappointment
Learners come to me because they realise the route to reach their next goal is through English. That means a lot is riding on the success of my intervention, which sometimes doesn’t let me sleep peacefully at night. It’s like ‘Uncle Ben’ from the ‘Spider Man’ series is chastising me, ‘Son, with great powers……’
Teaching the Paralympians asynchronously and not being able to help them is my biggest fear right now because participating in the Paralympics is their dream and they want to have the power to express themselves in English too. I recollect an incident narrated to me by their manager. Once, one of the players felt sick in the middle of the night in a hotel abroad but didn’t dare to call the hotel concierge due to the fear of incompetence of using the language.
I can’t let them down.
I would like to end this post with something I have recently discovered during my journey of learning Thai and on this fantastic course, Great Minds in Language Education (GMILE) organised by iTDi.pro:
‘success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between people in the classroom’Stevick, E. (1980) Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways, Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle
1 – https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2000_RyanDeci_SDT.pdf (Self-determination Theory: Ryan, R. & Deci, E.)
2 – https://gianfrancoconti.com/2020/01/09/my-approach-extensive-processing-instruction-e-p-i-an-important-clarification-in-response-to-many-queries/ (EPI – Extensive Processing Instruction; Conti, G.)