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Making Your Students Shareholders in the Class
Be a Helper and Teach with Passion, Says Joyce Mandell

Joyce Mandell contributed the following remarks in a recent discussion on the TESL-L listserv about how to get off on the right foot with a new class of ESL students. She has graciously agreed to share her comments in this article with the readers of the ESL MiniConference Online.

I really like what Kris Barker said about asking the students what they want, what they need, and what they would like to work on. Since her background is in psychiatry and medicine, it makes perfect sense that her focus would be on the patient. When someone comes in distressed or ill, we must ask the patient what he or she thinks is wrong, where it hurts, etc. The same thing hold true for an ESL class.

I teach large classes in a community college adult ed program, and the first sessions are really about letting students know who I am, what my philosophy is about personal responsibility for learning, and most important, making sure that students like each other and feel a part of each other's learning experience. It sounds so "New Age-ish", but it is so true. Students often come in thinking that the teacher will stand by the blackboard and take charge, and that they are completely empty vessels waiting to be filled up. I believe that the element of partnership is so vital to the student-teacher role in the adult classroom. Really getting students to talk to each other in small groups about their experience speaking this new language, and coming up with goals that they would like to stick to through the course of the language class makes a big difference in the way they approach the work.

When the students feel the class is theirs, their commitment is always greater. I love the concept of the teacher's role being the one who moves the obstacles to students' learning out of the way; the clearer of the path, the one who helps separate out the tangled strands of thread that impede comprehension. The student is really going to do the learning and needs to be in charge, and the teacher is the helper. I believe that if you teach with that kind of passion - and really believe it - students become infected with the same passion. As my other career was in theatre and cabaret, truth is of the essence. No matter how good your voice is or where you have studied acting, what moves an audience is the truth element of the work. The same goes for teaching - one must really believe in the activities they do in the classroom, enjoy them, rejoice with them. If you are uncomfortable or unconvinced, the audience will know and act accordingly.

Story by Joyce Mandell
New York City, USA

2002 ESL MiniConference Online