Teacher spotlight: Jacqueline Brooks
Kings Brighton student Yoshi Ortiz Leal interviews English teacher Jacqueline Brooks, to find out her teaching tips and challenges, and advice for learners.
Hi Jacqui. How long have you been a teacher, and what did you do before?
I used to be a lawyer for many years, for about fifteen years. I worked in London for a while, and I started doing this about three years ago.
That's a big change. Why did you do it?
I wanted a change, and I found my previous work quite stressful. I spent an awful lot of time reading documents and not talking to people so I thought it would be nice to do something where you talk to people more.
How was the process of becoming a teacher?
That was surprisingly tough. I did an intensive one-month training course to get my TESOL certificate. That is probably the hardest I have ever had to work! It was very intensive and included actually teaching from a very early stage, and a lot of reading and writing essays.
What is your typical schedule like?
I usually teach from about 11 o'clock until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Quite often, I do extra classes on top of that. With a brief lunch break.
What do you think is the best way to teach English?
I think you have to be well prepared. To make sure to change your lesson according to the students in your class and to identify what their needs are. To encourage them to improve in the areas where they're a bit weak and to get them talking. Speaking is very important. But, they need to be able to do everything: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It varies with the different students and the level.
Do you change your lessons each week to accommodate the new students?
You change them depending on age and also depending on their level. There's quite a wide range of levels, even within a class, so you have to tailor it so that they understand. New students take a while to actually tune in and to even understand you. So, you have to slow down slightly.
What's a challenge you have faced in the classroom?
From a teacher's point of view, having different levels in a class is quite difficult. Also, it's hard if our students are very quiet and don't participate very much. That is harder in a way than if they're quite noisy and talk a lot! This is because in teaching English the way we do, we like students to participate as much as possible in the class. We feel that that helps them to develop and to improve their English.
Have you had any problems with students?
Not many thankfully. It’s very rare, but the odd time I've had students who have gone to sleep in the lesson! Other than that I haven't really had any problems.
Have there been any challenges in teaching people from different cultures?
There are some challenges. You have to be aware of the different cultures. In this school we get students from all over the world and it’s very important to be aware of possible problems. I mean, many conflicts are going on in the world and you have to bear that in mind.
In the UK we have very strong views on our values. On equality, discrimination and the rights of women, and things like that. But that isn't the case in all countries. So you have to be culturally aware. We do express our views and try to promote British democratic values, but we don't want to make the students feel uncomfortable. We try to make them understand our point of view and at the same time respect the views in their countries.
What ages do you usually teach?
Most are in their 20s and 30s.
Is there a difference between the older students and the younger ones?
Yes, there is a difference. The older students are quite often better behaved in the class, but not always! They tend to work very hard and be very serious. They have goals they want to achieve.
On the other hand, maybe they've been out of school for a long time, so they've maybe lost some of the abilities to study. I do notice when we get the 16 and 17 year-olds that are still in school, that they're very used to learning. I think that does make a difference and is an advantage for them.
What levels do you teach?
I've taught levels 3, 4 and 5. I've done a little bit of beginners but not very much. I haven't done much in levels 6 and 7 although I'm doing that more and more.
I also teach IELTS, which I really do enjoy. It's very challenging for the students. I have also, because of my legal background, taught some legal English for students interested in law or are training to be lawyers.
How do you manage to keep the students engaged?
I try to show them videos that are relevant to the class. Try to get them to talk to the other students in the class and mix that up as much as possible. That's very important and it can be challenging but we do have access to a wide range of materials so we are very lucky.
Why do you think students need to learn English?
English is the international language now. If they want to work in other places, they will need English. Even in their own countries they will be communicating with people in other countries.
English is essential, not only for their work but also socially, for watching films and everything like that. As well, for anyone who wants to travel, knowing English means you can travel to any country and not have difficulties communicating.
Is there an added advantage to knowing different languages?
Yes, I think there is. If you go to another country, it is important to try to learn at least some of their language. They will respect you more, and you can get to know the people more. I can speak French quite well, a little bit of German, a tiny bit of Spanish. I think you get a lot more out of visiting a country if you can speak their language. It’s a very important part of their culture and when you travel you want to see as much as other cultures as you can.
Do you have any tips for students?
It's very important for students to realise that they are not going to only learn English in the classroom. They learn when they go around the town. They need to communicate with other people as much as they can outside of school. It’s all part of the learning experience.
Learning a language is multi-sensory. It’s not like learning history, sitting down and learning facts. There’s much more to it than that which is why it’s very important to learn it very actively.
The other thing I would say is, it's really important to practice your speaking. Don't worry about making mistakes. I know that for me I'm reluctant to speak French because I'm worried about making grammar mistakes. I think that's the wrong way to go. It's much better just to speak as much as you can and make mistakes and then you will gradually improve.
Just enjoy learning the language. Keep practicing and don't be disheartened. Carry on and you will improve!