By P. Battsetseg, Winner of Best Journal Article, 2006 Summer English Olympics. She has been teaching English and Russian for more than 12 years. She teaches at the secondary school of Dashbalabar Soum in Dornod Aimag.
Mongolians are naturally shy and lack confidence. This is because of our traditions and customs. At an earlier time, many families followed the unwritten law: “The oldest one teaches and the others follow.” Times are changing, but in the countryside, where people keep their traditions more than in the city, children usually feel the lack of confidence the most. Encouraging our students to make them more confident in learning foreign languages is one of our main obligations as teachers.
I lack confidence, too. The first person who encouraged me a lot was Bayarsaikhan, a country manager from Peace Corps. He interviewed many teachers from my school who wanted to learn English by working with the Peace Corp volunteer, and he chose me. Later, I heard that he told our governor and director, “This lady is going to be a good English teacher.” I was surprised because I didn’t know English well, and he hadn’t met me before. He had only seen me for a few minutes.
I worked very hard to make his words come true. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I have had many foreign teachers: Chris Hoffmeister and Thomas Lindbloom from the Peace Corps, Roger Kohen and David Lambert from ESPI, and Sarah Hardin and Gillian Parker from English Language Institute. From each of them I have gotten a lot of hope, encouragement and support during our short seminars. Thanks to all of them! Every time I succeed I understand that it was 50 % the result of all my teachers’ encouragement and 50% the result of my hard work. That is why I think that encouragement is the most important aspect of our teaching.
First, we can encourage the students by grades. Besides test grades, we can also have grades that measure student interaction and improvement. We kill the students’ initiative by just assessing achievement. How many of our students are not enabled to study well only because they are constantly discouraged by low grades?
Second, we can have personal interviews with students. They might have some problems in their learning style or in their own families. I knew one student whose parents didn’t want him to learn English. “Do you speak in English with your sheep,” they taunted him. I had to persuade him that English is necessary even in the countryside. Almost all herdsmen have a solar panel, an antenna, and a TV. The instruction manuals for those things are often written in English.
During our interviews with the students, we need to give them hope before we tell them what they need to work hard on. In other words, give 80% compliments and 20% suggestions.
The third thing I suggest, besides being a good, skilled teacher and providing well organized lessons, is to be very kind to our students and to listen to them. We teachers used to think that we must talk and that the students must listen to us. Let’s imagine that two teachers were walking along the school corridor to their classrooms. One of them was smiling and answering every student’s greeting, sometimes patting a student on the shoulder and talking friendly to each one. The second teacher was not hearing the students’ greetings and her face looked angry. Who will our students prefer to greet the next time and to have a good relationship with? Of course, it is with the first teacher. Encouraging students by paying attention to them and being ready to listen to their wishes makes them love and respect us and our subject, too.
Finally, I’d like to ask, “How many of us have the ability and language skills necessary to encourage our students during the lesson?” We don’t need many long sentences. Our eyes, body movement, and facial expressions are good enough. Also, English has the richest vocabulary for saying, “Good!” For example, we can use Wow! Excellent! Perfect! Wonderful! Fantastic! Extremely good! and so on. Additionally, small prizes, applause, and allowing students to read English books, to listen to their favorite English music, or to watch a movie in English are all good ways to encourage. By all of these we can show our love to our students. We shouldn’t forget to see beyond their studies.
By the way, every time I am in the city, I visit Bayarsaikhan and inform him that I am doing well. He is always glad to hear this, but he doesn’t suspect that he was the “light in the darkness” for me. So let’s be a “light” for every one of our students!