Hello 2018! Back to business, and happy about that. Who said “If you like your job you won’t work a day in your life”? Hopefully, all of us. Teaching is an adventure, and as such, no time for relaxing.  But sometimes it’s great to have a breather, look back be amazed about all the things we have accomplished since we started.

Having new experiences makes us happier, more motivated, and definitely better teachers because we want to share our knowledge. Our experience in Tenerife gave us the chance to meet old friends and new faces, and the chance to imagine and actively work on new exciting collaborations in the near future.

Language is a living thing that evolves constantly, and so is teaching it. Techniques we learnt at university might be surpassed just a few years later, as the world changes and so do our tastes; everything speeds up and if we want to catch our students’ attention we have to play the game and be students first ourselves.

In this retreat, we learnt and shared new techniques with Romina Rossi of Yogaenti, a yoga teacher based in Tenerife who taught us how to teach English using the surrounding areas. Thanks to her, some of our participants enjoyed a spectacular yoga class by the sea.

Between a drink, a chat and excursions to see the island, we were welcomed by Live Arico, a dog sanctuary that organized a workshop for us and a few local students. Live Arico plays an important part in dogs’ adoption, both teaching dogs how to behave with humans (to facilitate their reintegration into families), and us humans how to behave with dogs.

The special workshop we did focused on the body language dogs use to communicate. We adopted the same principles to understanding our students’ stress levels too, and so learned when it is a good time to continue pushing to motivate them and when it is time to take a relaxing break. There is no doubt that using positive reinforcement is a win-win situation whether you are a furry friend or an EFL learner! The ideas that were bounced around in the session involved the pros and cons of using reward charts with younger learners (pro – they are motivated by the visibility of their good work, con – ‘cool kids’ don’t want to be the teachers pet!… Pro – they remain focused, con – the focus may not last that long depending on the time limits you have given them so the pace of the lesson is vital!) as well as how to get students to speak fluently instead of reciting in speaking exams (ideas included preparing key words and practising talking around the topic – who, what, why, when, how? – using a mind map to explore different angles, and doing a role play where they become the examiner and the teacher becomes the candidate – how does the teacher respond to the questions? Any useful vocabulary or ideas they can ‘borrow’?).

As we learnt from dogs, human beings also tend to avoid looking at the source of their distress (have you ever been so upset with someone you didn’t even want to look at them?). By paying attention to body language when our students are sitting, we can quickly read their primordial instincts and act accordingly, to bring back their stress levels to normal. Turn taking and spoken interaction are featured in many assessment criteria these days and so being natural not stressed are essential. Tricks like patting your head while you rub your stomach or singing their favourite Ed Sheeran song karaoke style can certainly bring laughter back into the room if tensions are getting too high  during an exam preparation class!

Dogs teach us to be patient, empathize with our students, and communicate using a language that is not just based on words. Dogs force us to consider ourselves as part of the team, and we are good teachers if we are able to create a bond that naturally motivates our students to follow us: not for the (ephemeral) reward, but because they believe us and know we are trying to help.

Finally, dogs remind us that some individuals are more responsive than others and we shouldn’t expect the same results from each of our students. Talents are hidden and all of us have aspects of our personality that are stronger than others. If we have students who are exceptionally good at English, it means we have also students exceptionally bad at it. There are many ways to deal with a bad student, and if one way doesn’t work then we keep looking for new ways, which is why it is so great to collaborate with others like we did on this retreat.

Here in the teaching profession, we help forge our students’ personalities and facilitate how they will behave in the future – whether speaking English for work or pleasure. If not creators, we are shapers, an important part of the development of our students’ personalities, and in the years to come we will no doubt bump into a former student, who will tell us I was inspired by you.

I would like to thank Live Arico for these important lessons. They organize international work experience if you want to get involved with their activities. You can also visit them to meet all of their over 200 dogs. Maybe you would even like to adopt one of them! If you want to sponsor a dog with special needs or support the organization you can donate by clicking here.