It was my parents who opened my eyes to the world of teaching and learning; they were both high school teachers in Poland, where we lived. They both had a gift for building a real rapport with their students and they taught me that good relationships are the key to successful teaching. Without their good example, I would have never become a teacher and never experienced the joy that the job brings.
After completing my master’s degree in English, aged 25, I was ready to explore the world. I knew that in order to be an open-minded, knowledgeable and globally aware teacher, I needed to experience the beauty and culture of other countries.
I ended up settling in a country with a very different educational system from Poland: Norway. Being an English teacher in Poland and being an English teacher in Norway are two very different things. I was really unprepared for the differences, and my first year was a real eye-opener: not only did I have to change my mentality, but I also had to change my whole attitude and approach to teaching.
From the start, I was thrown in at the deep end and left to sink or float on my own. With a strong desire to ensure my pupils became truly global learners, I rolled up my sleeves and started reading and watching blogs on modern education. I replaced traditional course books and worksheets with interactive content and mobile devices. I put myself in the shoes of my students and imagined what a perfect English classroom should look like. By the end of my first year, I had completely transformed my teaching.
'Connections all over the world'
It’s now hard to imagine teaching in a way that doesn’t allow my pupils to connect with peers from all over the world and participate in discussions on a variety of real-world issues. It’s this connections-based learning and pedagogical use of technology that makes the learning relevant. They understand that English isn’t just a language to learn, but a tool for their vocation as well.
Growing up in Poland, I was never given a choice or a voice when it came to my own learning; this is something I strive to give my pupils. Norwegian schools treat students as partners who should have a say and should participate actively in the process of their own education. Students air their views freely, evaluate their teachers and have much bigger freedom in the selection of learning material. The Norwegian educational system gives me freedom to select topics and methods of learning, which allows both my students and myself to be engaged, interested and active in every lesson.
In the past 10 years, I have worked with all types of pupils. From those with additional learning needs, to unmotivated students, to extremely high-achievers. What I’ve learned from every one of them is that teaching is all about great communication. If teachers develop and nurture positive and good student-teacher relationships, then the pupils will be happy to attend their lessons and learn as much as possible.
Barbara Anna Zielonka is an English teacher at Nannestad High School in Norway