It was a cold day in January, 2017. I was standing in front of a class of about twenty students from Panama who had come to Canada as part of the Panama Bilingue Program. I was trudging my way through my lesson, clicking through slide after slide of my rigorously-prepared Power Point presentation, when suddenly something happened that changed my outlook on teaching ESL forever: it started snowing.
First, one student’s eyes drifted away from the front of the class to look out the window; then, another student’s, then another’s, then another’s….
“What’s going on outside?” I asked, slightly annoyed that whatever was happening was distracting my students from the lesson I had put so much time and effort into preparing.
“It’s snowing outside!” said one student, excitedly.
Suddenly, it clicked. As you probably know, Panama is a country in Central America, and its climate can simply be described as “hot all year round.”
“Ohhhh, I see,” I said. “Wait. Is this your first time seeing snow?”
I stopped feeling annoyed, now that I realized what was happening. I asked them if they wanted to go outside to be in the snow and to take pictures. They did.
Everyone got up from their seats, put on their toques, winter jackets, and mittens, and we went outside. The group was abuzz with excitement and chatter–some English, some Spanish (it was supposed to be an English-Only class, but I let it slide for now).
We went outside, and the students were super excited and happy, my rigorously-prepared lesson temporarily forgotten.
We took a class picture in the snow, and it is still one of my favourite pictures from my teaching career because of the story behind it.
That moment made me realize a few things about teaching ESL:
- Why learn English in a stale, robotic way, going through slide after slide of Power Point? The students were still practicing their English, but now in a realistic, communicative setting. They used English to describe the snow, to compare and contrast Panama and Canada’s climates, and to ask a domestic student if he could take a picture of us in the snow.
- Sometimes, as a teacher, I need to learn to relax. I can get so caught up trying to get through the lesson that I forget to connect to the students as humans. Sometimes you need to go off script, and let your students go outside to see the snow.
- Intercultural exchange is a beautiful thing. As a Canadian, I felt super happy to be able to experience this truly Canadian moment of standing outside in the snow with my students. Also, it acted as a jumping-off point to discuss similarities and differences between Canada and Panama.
- Teaching is all about these serendipitous, unexpected moments. We can’t force magical moments like experiencing a first snow to happen, but they inevitably do happen from time to time. They catch us off guard, and, when they do, we should cherish them.
After a few minutes in the snow, the students started feeling too cold, so we went back inside. Once everyone settled in, I picked up where I left off in my lesson. The students paid attention, and seemed rejuvenated by the experience of seeing and feeling snow for the first time. So did I.
I can’t remember what I taught that day, but I definitely remember the experience of standing outside in the snow with my students. To me, that’s what teaching is all about.
Panama Climate https://www.climatestotravel.com/climate/panama