We’re back with another Meet the Teacher interview! This time we’ve met Clara Prado, an ESL teacher at Avenues – The World School – in São Paulo, Brazil. We’ve talked about Clara’s experience of learning English, advice she gives her students and the challenges faced by teachers and learners today.
Clara has worked as a language teacher, teacher trainer and pedagogy researcher for over 15 years. She has a doctorate in Applied Linguistics with research focused on integrating technology in the language classroom. She’s also a contributing author to the Interchange and Four Corners series.
Hi Clara! How did you get into teaching English?
It is a funny story. One day almost twenty years ago, I was walking around the neighborhood with a friend when we suddenly saw a language institute. He decided to go in and ask about English lessons for himself and I just went in for moral support. While we were talking to the receptionist about classes I asked, almost as a joke: “You are not looking for an English teacher by any chance, are you?” to which she replied: “Can you start this Thursday?”
I later found out that a teacher had just quit mid-semester and they were in dire need of a substitute. I interviewed for the job that same day and received my first copy of Interchange Teacher’s Edition to prepare for my first class. At the time, I had no idea that it would be the start of my career as a teacher, nor did I know that I would one day help write a new edition of that same book that helped me through my early teaching years.
How did you learn English yourself?
I started learning English formally when I was around 6 or 7. A new language institute opened up not far from where I lived and so I started attending classes twice a week, together with some neighborhood friends. I loved my English lessons and I took a special interest in music. I also learned a lot by interacting with foreign friends as I participated in several youth meetings around the world and a long term Exchange program to Australia. Learning a language is an ever-lasting process, as language evolves and my language needs have changed, demanding a constant need to update my repertoire.
Can you describe your personal teaching methodology?
I am a strong believer in the postmethod pedagogy proposed by Kumaravadivelu (2001). According to him, the choice of a methodology needs to take into consideration the particularities, practicalities and possibilities of a specific teaching and learning context. That means that, sometimes, I might need to come up with an activity that uses translation, while other situations will require a communicative approach. My context guides my choices in methodology and I try to keep an open mind about new teaching methods and methodologies as they might be useful someday. My classes are always changing, so I suppose that is my personal methodology, to be creative and innovative.
How does teaching make you feel?
Simply put, teaching feels like I’m in the right place. I was not the best student in school and I remember that I struggled to understand a lot of concepts (mostly involving Maths). Like many of us, I had very strict and traditional teachers that didn’t always understand my challenges in learning. However, at the same time, I also had wonderful teachers whose classes really touched me. Now that I am the teacher, I feel inspired by my students’ journeys and I do my best to come up with classes that motivate them to continue their life-long learning process. I feel the best thing I can do for my students is to show that I understand it’s hard, but we are in this together. In order to do that I frequently confer with my students one-on-one. I feel it helps me create a bond, but also find out more about their individual personality and learning needs.
What’s the best thing about teaching for you?
I have met such wonderful people throughout my career, both teachers and students. Teachers are a funny breed, different from other sane human beings. They feel inspired when given a challenge (even though they might complain a little, at first) and they almost always find a way to make it work. They are creative, innovative and enthusiastic about life. I learn with them constantly and get motivated to keep learning.
And there are also the students. There is nothing better in life than seeing a person realize their own potential and achieve something they worked for.
What professional challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome was more internal than anything else. It took me a very long time to accept that I was a language teacher. In the past, I let people’s perspective of what a career should be affect me and it was a while until I realized the true potential of my job. There was so much being said in society about what it means to be a teacher that sometimes it gets in the way of how we really feel. The method I felt was the best to overcome all the talking around me was to keep studying and keep learning, keep looking for innovative ways to practice my vocation.
What advice do you always give to your students?
I don’t know if this is a piece of advice, but it’s a truth I live by. Learning a language means you have to be comfortable with making mistakes, as it is a long process. The goal is not to be perfect, but to communicate with others. Speaking a language does not magically happen overnight. You will be speaking a little bit more every day, there is no end to learning.
What challenges do you think learners face today?
I believe the biggest challenge learners face today is the unknown. We have no way of predicting what will happen in 20, 50, 100 years from now, so how can you prepare yourself, or others? Well, you can’t. But what we can do is prepare the future generation by arming them with creativity, innovative thinking, strong social values, the ability to keep learning throughout their lives with the collaboration of others and, most importantly, to be resilient and to keep going.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2001): Toward a Postmethod Pedagogy, Tesol Quarterly
Feeling motivated by Clara’s story? We’ve talked to other teachers who all have different stories. Have a read through our interview with Piyanan Plengwittaya from Bangkok.