My first classroom based teaching job was teaching elementary level students in an academy for a year, my grammar did improve a bit over the course of that year. I then did my CELTA, again my grammar improved a fair bit, however well I tried to hide my lack of grammar knowledge (I somehow swindled only doing two assessed classes that involved teaching grammar) my tutor did pick up on it, and I was told it was the reason for being given a ‘pass B’ instead of a ‘pass A’. From there, I’ve taught high school for two years in a system where not only am I not expected to, but I am discouraged from explicitly teaching grammar. That is the job of the Korean teachers, and they do a mighty fine job of it, my god they know some incredible grammar rules I would never have even been able to guess existed! I’m now coming towards the end of my M.A TESOL, which has focused much more on methodology and issues in teaching ESL/EFL than outright grammar, as (in my opinion) we shouldn’t need an M.A course to teach us grammar.
Over the course of my education I have never been taught why we structure the English language the way we do and my career, meanwhile, has happened to allow me to hide my grammarphobia. The problem is that the longer I’ve hidden it the more fearful of it I’ve become! A teacher of one month not knowing his grammar, no big deal! A teacher of over 3 years, that is embarrassing! Now, at this point I should probably state that, despite my lack of knowledge, I’ve always tried to be as professional as I can, I will never guess a reason if a student asks me, and I will never just not give them an answer. I always reply with the same answer, “come and see me in the morning, you research it, I’ll research it, and we’ll see if we come up with the same answer.” It definitely does have some negative effects on my teaching though, for example I’m fearful of open and outright error correction, I always try to structure it in a way that avoids me having to explain complex grammar structures as I don’t want to deal with that embarrassment in front of my forty 16 year old students of having absolutely no idea why we use what might be a common structure!
So why have I decided to publicly embarrass myself by openly admitting my grammarphobia? Well, there are a number of reasons, first of all, I think grammar is important, it is something students want to be taught, need to be taught and that I absolutely want to be confident teaching them. If we are professional English language teachers we should be able to confidently explain more than just the common structures of the language. Secondly, I don’t think I’m alone, in fact, I know I’m not alone. I have met many other professionals in the EFL/ESL industry who have the same feelings towards grammar as I have. Thirdly, I’m considering changing jobs in the next year or so, well I’m considering moving countries actually. When and if I do I want to be as confident as possible in every aspect of my teaching, including grammar. But the main reason I’ve chosen to admit this now is that I have a one month holiday coming up, in which time I will have no studying towards my M.A TESOL to do, no lessons to plan, no syllabus to write and probably no blogging to do! I will have a lot of time sat on various planes, busses cars and trains though, so I want to use that time productively, I want to improve my grammar.
This brings me to the point of this blog; I would like to know how you improved your grammar knowledge? I’m sure most native teachers, when they enter the industry, have relatively poor knowledge, so how did you go about improving yours? What tips would you give me? As native speakers are there efficient ways of improving our knowledge? Do you think it’s important for us, as English language teachers, to have a good knowledge of English grammar? Can we call ourselves professionals if we don’t?
We have one month to turn this grammarphobic teacher into a grammar genius! I’m ready and willing to take on any advice you have!
I should’ve added – it took me years to get confident with the basics and I’m still not comfortable with new grammar, or able to go into in-depth explanations of complex grammar. I’m confident with stuff I’ve taught before, but that’s about it.
I think if you can go through grammar in detail and explain every single thing that comes up in a lesson you’re either wrong, or are in serious need of a decent hobby!