AN INFLUENTIAL TEACHER.
Nina MK, Ph.D.
Every so often, running along the streets of my town, I hear that unmistakable beautiful voice, that inimitable intonation. I stop in my tracks, look around, and say happily, “Hello Svetlana!” My EL teacher seems totally unchanged in spite of the decades which passed since I was her pupil. She came to us after graduating from St. Petersburg’s university when we were in second form, just beginning to study English. That first lesson, I believe, was the foundation of my own future career as a teacher.
• Svetlana spoke English to us, from that day on, always.
• Since we had no textbooks yet, she used to draw everything on the board, and she composed her own lesson plans for us.
• She taught us to come out and speak in front of the class.
• Whenever there was an event in our academic town with native English language speakers in attendance, she somehow managed to persuade them to come and spend time with us.
• She shared: when she went to the UK in a Teacher Excellence program, she brought souvenirs, pictures, records and lots of impressions to our class.
Every lesson was an adventure. She accepted any and all children, and coped with all the difficulties. There was no such thing as “an unteachable” pupil for her. She always did her best, and it seemed to me that she could teach anybody anything. Gradually, I understood why not all the pupils liked her: she was quite strict, and she did not suffer fools gladly. Looking back, I can see how well she orchestrated our lessons. For example, I was Miss Dictionary, so it fell to my lot to supply the names and definitions, the vocabulary of a topic when others were stumped. There was a boy who could hear and reproduce any sound flawlessly even when he did not know all the words, so he was the one who deciphered some songs from “My Fair Lady” record which Svetlana brought back from London. Let us remember that at the time, there were no discs, no Internet. We listened to an actual long-playing record, pausing, writing down words, and then going on.
In my third form, a new girl, an American, came to our school. She spoke no Russian, so our EL teacher put her next to me. That was probably the greatest way for primary school children to learn from each other, and to really activate our vocabularies. It also permanently destroyed any language barriers for us both. In senior school, while I was the best pupil of the year, I was vacillating between my future choices. Svetlana, as she later told me, spent a lot of evenings devising more and more complex tasks especially for me, so that I would not get bored at her lessons. In the spring of my last year, she asked my mother out for a stroll, and persuaded her that I should be allowed to try and enter Moscow University for higher education.
Which activities stand out in my memory, what and how do I still use in my work? The first thing I did when I started teaching at the university myself, was visit my former teacher’s lesson to see it with the new, professional eyes.
• Explain the new topic.
• Let pupils speak, activate the vocabulary at once.
• Pay attention to any problems, repeat the material if necessary.
• Never try to push forward if there is a lacuna in understanding.
• Read a text, allow pupils the time to think it over, suggest they write some sentences and retell it in their own words.
• Speaking on any subject.
• Role playing.
• Writing essays.
• Listening to native speech.
• All the children can be taught.
• Learn about a pupil’s individual interests.
• Integrate all kinds of activities into a lesson.
• Be sure to combine the receptive and the reproductive skills.
• Show pupils why the subject is useful in their future life.
Learning and sharing are a life-long process.
The beneficial result is, I believe, that gradually I became that teacher.