The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Classroom confirmation

When I first moved from teaching to publishing, I was struck by how out of touch lots of the people I was working with were with what actually goes on in a classroom. So since I’ve been freelance, I’ve made an effort to stay in touch. Since I’ve been in Bristol, I’ve been teaching odd classes at Bristol University - EAP for foreign students. Through the academic year, it mostly provides an excuse to get away from my desk and to mingle with some colleagues (something you really miss as a lone freelancer), but in the summer, I do a more intensive stint on the university’s pre-sessional courses.

In the past I’ve taught full-time on the 5-week course and found it just brought flooding back to me all the reasons why I gave up teaching in the first-place (the long hours, endless marking and preparation, and the stress of constantly feeling under-prepared). So this year I did half-time and was able to really enjoy getting to know my class, of mostly Chinese students about to start on Masters courses.

More importantly I was able to get a feel for their language strengths and weaknesses. There were materials available to teach, but inevitably I reverted to form and spent a lot of time writing my own materials to use. It was such a luxury to have real students making real mistakes and asking real questions to work from and then to try to create materials and activities directly in response. I say ‘luxury’ because most of my time is spent creating materials based on my general knowledge of EFL, past experience or learner corpus evidence, and I often get the sneaking suspicion that somehow I’m missing something. So it was nice to find myself picking up on language points in class which I’ve been working on for a current project and to explore some of my ideas with real students. And I’m pleased to say that although they brought up a few points I hadn’t thought of, I found most of my ideas to be on the right track. Nice to be reassured.