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June 30, 2004

What Does Teaching Children EFL/ESL Mean?

Sean Thompson
Principal E-kids Schools,
Editor, Atom English curriculum

It may seem an obvious question to most of us but I think it is still one worth examining in a little detail. We are here to teach, first and foremost. There may be some debate about what a "real" teacher is here in Japan based on what credentials a teacher may or may not have. In any case, it is necessary for anyone employed in any profession to continually re-evaluate and improve their skills in order to be their very best. As far as any of us need be concerned for the sake of this discussion, however, if you are in a classroom, you had better consider yourself a teacher. You are the adult charged with the class before you and therefore responsible for more than you may realize.

Teaching is many things but it is above all else a responsibility to those in our classrooms. In line with current trends in teaching methodology throughout the world, this responsibility starts with the "whole" child. The younger the child, the greater the responsibility to impart to them words and sentences as well as an understanding of how to participate in a classroom environment.

This includes consideration of such skills as how to share and participate with others as well as how to work both independently and as part of a group to create their own understanding of not only English, but of anything and everything around them. We, as teachers of language, must encourage our students' natural inquisitiveness about the wider world in order to best facilitate their growth with EFL in particular. This is as true for Junior High age students as it is for toddlers.

We must also encourage and support parents to help make our students' experience as rewarding and fulfilling as possible. We work together to build the bridges between the English world and our students' worlds outside of our classrooms. By doing so, we demonstrate to our students that English isn't merely a language of games and simple exercises but a part of that larger world that fascinates and awaits them. It is in this larger context that the language gains real meaning for the children in our classrooms.

By remaining aware of this we can encourage the "whole" child. This means taking into consideration all that is going on in the development of our students as individuals. We expect results in the lives of our students so we strive to teach in their "real worlds". We must use everyday language both in our instruction and in all interaction with our students to place English in a "real world" context where it belongs. This makes it much easier for our students to extract meaning from the language we provide for them.

By assuming this approach, whereby all students are seen as individual learners with specific needs, there can be no criticism over the possession of a slip of paper. By using your time to reflect upon your efforts, to learn what others are doing and continually raising the standard for yourself and your students, you rise above adversity and truly deserve the respect of your students and colleagues alike.

Know what your goals for your students are. Share them with your students and their parents. Make Homestudy a word your parents know and give them the tools with which to do it! Make yourself the expert that your member parents and their children can count on when they have questions about more than just learning a second-language. Classroom behaviour, sharing, cleaning up after oneself, conflict resolution, social skills, these are all things that children learn in your classroom. Be aware of the impact you have because whether you are aware of it or not, you will have an impact on the lives of those in your classrooms. Will it be a positive impact? That, is up to you.

Sean Thompson has been involved with teaching and managing EFL schools for children since arriving in Japan in 1997. Having graduated with his second degree in education for elementary levels, he has made teaching young learners his professional focus and, in his role as teacher trainer, has encouraged others to more fully develop their understanding of how children learn.

After managing at Britannica Japan's branch schools, he founded E-Kids school in Yokohama (2001) and started the Atom English curriculum to raise the educational standard for E-Kids' members.

The Atom English curriculum and Home Study Rewards program was created to make English a bigger part of your students' lives. Demonstrate to your students in every way that there is an English world they can participate in and enjoy. Set the standard high, and well into the future, with this comprehensive, fully supported and continually upgraded curriculum.

For more information see http://www.atomenglish.com or contact me at sean@ekids.co.jp

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