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The Real Poop

Ever wanted to dress a bunch of 10th graders in mariachi costumes and make them dance around the room singing the Casa de Mi Padre soundtrack?

Foreign language teachers are unique and dynamic. They do all the teachery stuff a normal teacher does (i.e., teaching), but with some added, zesty spice. The real difference isn't what they do, but how they do it. A math teacher, for example, can explain the concepts of addition, subtraction, and liquidation (the art of smoothie making) in terms of apples and oranges (which are delicious in smoothies, by the way). But a language teacher has to teach the subject matter in the subject matter. In other words, the best way to teach Japanese is in Japanese. Meanwhile your students are staring at you like you’re a roll of salami that just sprouted mold. What did you say? Huh? No comprendo enchilada.

Here is where the fun comes in for foreign language teachers. They roll up their sleeves, pop some peanuts in their mouths (great brain food), and invent new ways to teach and communicate. If you have a knack for thinking out of the box, it will be come in handy. In fact, Mom's complaints about all the mischief you got into as a kid will be put in a whole new light (do you prefer classy sax or rock 'n roll?). The sky's the limit when it comes to your creativity. It'll take everything you've got to teach your kids to read, write, listen, and speak in non-gobbledygook. Part of the challenge is making them see the big picture. Why should they learn to say "hello" in Mandarin? What difference does it make to learn about the country and culture of France (besides french fries and french kissing, of course)?

Get a boudoir.

There are a couple drawbacks to this job, but nothing good ole elbow geese (to keep your kids in pecking order), and a touch of independence can't fix. Unlike a regular "maestro" position, you might be the only Arabic teacher for a hundred miles. You'll be in charge of teaching kids from grades 1 to 12, and making a lesson plan for each of them. Ouch. Also, you might not get much professional support. The English teacher won't be able to give you fresh ideas on how to get your kids to converse in Arabic. You probably won't be able to hone your language skills either, unless the music teacher gets off on insulting you in German.

You may wonder, how is it that foreign language teachers actually teach? How do you teach Japanese in Japanese? There are generally two warring sides to any issue, and this case is no different. You'll be pleased to know, however, that neither side possesses nuclear warheads. Their weapons of mass destruction are limited to withering comments in ancient Bulgarian. One side says that learning a language is no different from learning any other behavior. If you were trying to decide between being an army colonel and a foreign language teacher, you might like this method. It's all about drills, memorization, and conditioning (and no, we aren't referring to push-ups or shampoo). The other side, however, claims that language developed because we, unlike your average possum, can think. In this method, students create their own original sentences so that they understand how the grammar functions in practice.

All of this controversy wouldn't be an issue except that foreign language learning hasn't been a huge success. Even people who major in a specific language in college usually only reach the minimum professional proficiency level (try saying that ten times fast). Most of those who took Spanish in high school remember very little (most commonly: "hola," "adios," and "Dónde está Antonio Banderas?"). Teachers and researchers come up with new methods of foreign language teaching all the time. Finding a method—old or new—that works for your students will be your biggest challenge as a teacher. You’ll have to constantly assess what you are doing, what is working, and whst you should change. In other words, whip out your sword, slash a "Z" into the wall, and ride off into the sunset (just make sure you're back by the time the bell rings in the morning).

In the end, to be a great teacher of a language, you need to be a great teacher, plain and simple. Easier said than done, but true just the same. Love your subject, communicate it well, and be inspirational. Eventually you'll find yourself toiling your nights away grading papers filled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and made-up words. At 4am, with one lesson plan to go, your bowl of stale popcorn and cold coffee are only going to take you so far. But if you really love your subject, and teaching, and teaching your subject, you can ace this baby. It's all about your students. There are always going to be some bad eggs in the batch, but hopefully they'll be few and far between. Watch out for the classic "tack on the teacher's chair" trick, just in case. Other students will shine, their imaginations will take flight, and they'll revel in the new sounds and new words. Like a baby who's grown tired of having that pacifier in his mouth and is ready to start talkin.'

Seems like he's got something to say.

Foreign language teachers aren't just teaching a new way of saying things. They're changing how their students see the world. Toss out the rose-colored glasses, people, because things just got a lot more interesting. Learning to respect other people, places, cultures, and languages is not only fun, it’s a crucial skill in our globalizing world. It'll give your students an edge in the competitive job market. Plus, your class is bound to be more interesting than the old history professor's across the hall. He doesn't have exploding piñatas, Israeli square dances, and sushi parties. (Hopefully, you don't have all of these in your class, as you may be teaching more than one language and are probably confusing your students.) In the off-season, you might even get to take some of your students on a cultural/language immersion trip. Italy, here we come!

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