Number one for English language teachers

Estonia: 'The world has come nearer to us'

Leena Punga educates us on life in a rural pocket of the Baltic state.

I teach students in a small country school. The number of students was 252 by the end of the school year. Teaching in a small school means working with students of different age groups. My students are between the ages of 10 and 18. I do not teach the youngest students in our school.

Students start learning English in form 3, at the age of 9. By that time they are supposed to be good enough at their mother tongue - Estonian. The choice of textbooks for teaching English is extensive. The teacher can choose between foreign or Estonian authors. The choice depends on the "wallet" of the school - the bigger it is, the wider the possibilities are.

We use textbooks by Estonian authors. There are many reasons for that. First of all, they are cheaper than all the other textbooks available. Secondly, the authors know the difficulties and problems that we, Estonians have or may have when learning English. So they pay more attention to these points. And from the point of view of my students - these textbooks usually give them more information about England and other English-speaking countries. Many foreign textbooks assist in learning English in general, but have very little or even no information about the countries where English is spoken as a first or second language.

The beginners start with listening exercises. They learn songs, games, rhymes by listening to authentic recordings. Short dialogues on everyday topics are an important part of their classes. After some time textbooks are introduced. And then comes one of the most difficult aspects of English- spelling. In Estonian we write and pronounce the same, but in English......

Our teachers invent different word games, crosswords, exercises to help their students to do better. Year by year new ways of learning and teaching are introduced. After 7 years of learning English( in form 9) the students can sit for an exam in English. Form 9 marks the end of the so called basic school which is compulsory for every citizen of Estonia. To receive the certificate, every student has to take exams in 3 subject -Estonian and maths are compulsory, one subject is optional. Those who feel comfortable with English, choose English.

School leavers (form 12) have to take 5 exams at the end of their 12th school year. They have to take an exam in Estonian, the other 4 exams are chosen by the students themselves. The only restriction here is that 3 of the 5 exams have to be national exams, compiled by the examination centre.

Years ago teachers themselves chose materials for the exam, nowadays the examination centre sends required materials for all the exams chosen by students.

Teachers of English usually have big working loads at schools. I had 28 classes per week last year( 2000/2001). It means 6 classes on 3 days and 5 classes on 2 days. The working conditions depend on schools. In towns the conditions are usually better. I have not worked in a school in town so my understanding of better conditions is based on the stories and descriptions of my acquaintances and their kids. But I think that in some aspects I work in much better conditions than many of my colleagues in bigger schools.

I have access to computers any time I wish. So do my students. We have participated in different projects with the help of the Internet. I have used free lessons from onestopenglish and other materials of interest from different sources. Our school is a member of My Europe projects. Almost all the grades have participated in different projects over the Internet.

The pay depends on the teacher's qualification. I graduated from the then Tallinn Pedagogical Institute in 1970. At that time that institute was the main institution that prepared young people for the teaching career. Nowadays there are some other possibilities as well. After graduating from a university one can take a one year course in educational psychology and teaching methodology and after successful completion of the course apply for the post. Unfortunately not enough young people are interested in working in schools and that's why the need for qualified teachers has been growing from year to year.

All Estonian teachers can apply for 5 different ranks, the 1st being the lowest and the 5th the highest. The higher the rank, the better the pay. The lowest rank is for the beginners, i.e. for those who start their teaching career. The 3rd one is the most common one. The 5th and the 4th rank are usually awarded to the teachers who besides working at school are actively engaged in different regional or state–wide activities, publish articles or books on different subjects connected with teaching in general or a certain subject or group of subjects.

The pay also depends on the number of students at school as the finances assigned for the school depend on the number of students at school. Besides, there are differences in pay between the teachers working in difficult conditions ( far away from the centres, on islands etc.) or teaching Estonian in schools for Russian-speaking children in the north-eastern part of the republic.

In general, our students are interested in learning English. Nowadays it is necessary to know foreign languages to get a better paid job either in the private or state sector. Many young people go either to work or study abroad, mainly English-speaking countries. Even if they aren't very active learners at school, after leaving school they take up English again. The world has come nearer to us and knowing, understanding and speaking English is necessary in our everyday life, although we seem to be very far away from the English–speaking world.

  • Share

Powered by Webstructure.NET

Access denied popup