IMPACT ON TEACHERS
Teachers and trainers involved in ALLEGRO have come to the project from a wide variety of teaching backgrounds. They have shared a willingness to try something new and a commitment to the project, which has gone far beyond their usual professional responsibilities.
Many have worked with groups of learners with whom they had little or no previous experience and where little existing professional advice is available.
They have listened to professionals from other fields [for example social care, mental health, nursery and special needs education] and been open to learning from them.
They have needed to set aside existing misconceptions about groups of learners, who have included prisoners, people tackling drug addiction and young people with criminal records
In some cases, they have been willing to work in unusual and challenging environments, which has required the ability to overcome practical problems, patience and, at times, considerable courage.
They have been creative in finding new approaches to language learning, in order to overcome the problems our learning groups presented, in terms of both existing attitudes and disabilities.
Some have volunteered to work with ALLEGRO in addition to an already heavy teaching commitment and have willingly given extra time for liaison and planning.
Those who are not themselves language teachers have also been willing to
work cooperatively with representatives from the field of languages and often to learn a language themselves, alongside their clients.
The impact their experiences have had on them is illustrated by the examples below.
Teachers were often impressed by the effect meeting our learners had on them.
I have learned as much from the people I have been teaching as they have learned from me.
This was said by a very experienced university language teacher, who had been teaching a group of adults with long-term mental health issues. It was the second ALLEGRO activity in which she took part. She volunteered to do so, although the first had been the most difficult group this partner worked with.
The experience reminded me of how rewarding it can be to work with motivated adults in reciprocal respect and collaboration.
This was said by a young university teacher who usually teaches undergraduates. The group she had been teaching were adult prisoners, many with long histories of crime. This was her first experience of working in a prison but the education manager commented that the respect and warmth which existed between her and the learners was exceptional.
Many teachers felt they had grown professionally as the result of the experience and they were often willing to share what they had learned with others.
A young teacher, with limited teaching experience, enthusiastically tried out new
approaches, such as using realia, games and songs. She devised a workshop approach to overcome the great diversity of existing knowledge of English, age and social background in the group. This was very demanding in terms of preparation time. She encouraged more experienced teachers with a very traditional approach to teaching to share her ideas and to use the materials she had created.
As a teacher, I feel that I have greatly benefited from this experience of working with very mixed groups. I have learnt to be more innovative and organised. I have definitely gained in terms of confidence.
Teachers often changed their ideas about what was possible or desirable in terms of language teaching. The teacher who taught Spanish to nursery teachers also became involved in working with their young pupils. She wrote:
My initial concerns of presenting a foreign language to pre-school children were unfounded and now I believe that under suitable conditions pre-school children can benefit by early exposure to foreign languages.
Teachers used their experience in ALLEGRO in other areas. A music specialist teacher said:
I can use this [a programme of multi-national songs devised for a group of adults with learning disabilities] with the primary school children I work with. I never thought of combining music and languages before.
In some cases the language learning was mutual. Carina, a young Spanish student taking part in work experience at Schottener Rea, took over responsibility for teaching a small group of learners. She has written, The group is good for me too. It gives me the chance to improve my German, because we learn togther
The teachers who have worked for ALLEGRO have been at the heart of what we have done and crucial to the success of the project. What has been surprising has been how often they have commented on the considerable impact on themselves as teachers and as people. This may be because working with our learners demands much, and therefore the rewards are also great.