I started my first professional teaching job at the age of 22. I taught English as a Second Language at a private language school. I was armed with a Master’s degree, a three-month teaching practicum, and some informal teaching experience. In other words, I was completely unprepared.
My students were wealthy international students who came to the US for one or two months to study English while exploring the city and American culture. They went to a lot of clubs and enjoyed freedom that they would not have at home. Many of them were about my age; some were considerably older.
I taught an older doctor from Egypt who was very serious about his grammar studies. I had a Bulgarian judo master with a stutter. I taught a teenager from Mexico who wore black lipstick, and a young German woman who wanted to practice swearing-in English, and couldn’t understand why I was upset when she swore in class. During the world cup, I had a group of Brazilian students who came to class dressed in their national flag, and skipped class for several days to watch soccer in a Brazilian bar. I had one class that had only four students: Maria, Jose, Jesus and a priest. We all attended the priest’s first mass in English. (I was so proud!) I learned something about teaching from each of these students.
The student that made the biggest impact on me was a young Russian student. He was fun-loving, rebellious, self-important and stubborn. He challenged me in class constantly. During the first exam in my class, he blatantly cheated. He looked directly at me, smiled, looked at his neighbor’s paper, copied the answer, looked back at me, and then at his neighbor’s paper, copied another answer. It was a direct challenge, and I had no idea what to do.
After a night of tossing and turning, I went to the class the next day with the exams. I told the whole class that someone in the class had cheated, and I threw away all of the exams. I gave them a second test. They all quietly took the second exam. My Russian student did not cheat this time. His attitude changed; he had a new respect for me.
Teachers have expectations about the students in their classes, and their motivations for taking the course. Likewise, students have their own expectations from their classes and teachers. Both must meet in the middle.
Note: The title is a quote by Lord Edward Cecil