Posted by: alcrabat | 22 March 2010

Thoughts of a New Teacher

By: Erica McBride,  1st Year ALC Teacher

I have been working as an ESL/EFL teacher for nearly three whole years now, and I still continue to learn more with each passing day.  I cut my proverbial teaching teeth on a mass of adult students in Jakarta, Indonesia for a little over a year-and-a-half.  Once I was done there, I sought to go somewhere equally, if not more exciting.  When I saw an advertisement at ALC Rabat, I did a little research on not only the school but also the country of Morocco and quickly decided it would indubitably fit the bill.

Admittedly, I was more interested in what the country of Morocco might offer versus what I might hope to gain from my new students here.  That is why I must say when I taught my initial session here, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of students I encountered.  Unlike in Indonesia, where my students typically only spoke Bahasa Indonesia and perhaps their usually more intricate indigenous regional dialects, students here (and seemingly people here in general) have a notable command of at least two languages.  This even puts us Americans to shame, as most of us (though certainly not all) native to the country speak only English.  I was floored when I came here and encountered true multi-linguists, some of whom are nearly half my age.

The first person I met who possessed the talent of being able to switch from one language to another was one of ALC’s very own Moroccan staff members, an employee within the administrative ranks.  Out of his very own mouth, I heard this worldly gentleman tell me and another awestruck coworker how he not only speaks Arabic, French and English, but also possesses knowledge of the Spanish, German and Dutch tongues as well.  The strangest bit of jealousy washed over me at his revelation, though it could not hamper my amazement.  The ability to effortlessly switch between six different languages is one the average American probably could care less about honing, much less having at all.  Then again, your typical ESL teacher who lives abroad is usually not the average American.  That being said, I find myself enamored with Moroccans for this reason.  Though the need to even learn another language originally sprung forth as a residual of the historical evil many countries would deem colonialism, this skill of being able to communicate in languages other than one’s own is not one a person can buy with all the money in the world.

Speaking from the perspective of one who has always found learning about other cultures interesting, what I find to be the most difficult aspect of acquiring a new language, specifically, is not so much as even having access to someone who may use the language or finding audio-visual/reading materials one could use for the self-study of a language.  The truly frustrating part of it is not being able to understand how to learn another language – a gift which seems to be cultivated within the average Moroccan during childhood when he begins learning Arabic and French and which further can enable him in effectively learning other languages in the future.  It is this quality within my pupils which has made teaching Moroccan students enjoyable for me.  It not only makes my job easier (as some students make the connections between the similarities between English and French very quickly), it helps me as a French student myself.

As much as I relish teaching a plethora of bright Moroccan students week in and out, there exists something which makes teaching, at moments, aggravating and, in extreme cases, downright loathsome.  Something I have observed that thoroughly frustrates me as a teacher here is the acceptance of cheating.  I have been told constantly by natives and foreigners alike it is a norm within the educational system, and I am inclined to accept this word as truth.  After all, I have not only seen with my own eyes students engaging in dishonest behavior but have also had them profess out of their own mouths this is “just the way things are in Morocco”.  I state these words with a voice clear of haughtiness and a mind free of contempt.  After all, I am but a foreigner in this country.  Things have been going on this way well before I arrived and I am sure will continue as such well after I depart to my next destination.  Additionally, I have not come to issue any moral judgment on the educational system of this country, or that of any other country for that matter.  Part of what makes traveling to other countries as an ESL/EFL teacher is having the opportunity to see how things are done in another land.

Still, I digress.  While I have not necessarily come here to make paragons of integrity of my students, I am here to help us – them as well as myself – grow as people.  Within the microcosm that is our classroom, I am always hopeful we can all continue to develop through not merely the acquisition of language (or, on my end, the instruction of it) but, more so, from the processes it takes to reach the goal.  This includes things like a student coming to class consistently (in order to build tenacity); having his homework prepared and in hand (as means of cultivating personal accountability and responsibility); participating in class assignments and discussions (accepting one’s God-given personality and thoughts  and expressing them while building tolerance for the personalities of others); and listening to the teacher (consequently, learning not only how to but why we should respect authority).  While I must say I sometimes fall short in showing my students how and why they are to, should and must do these things, I do honestly try to approach each of my classes with this attitude – to not only teach them English but life lessons, even if they are older than me.

I think the biggest lesson I’ve tried to teach my students here is to be mature enough to accept any success or failure they may receive as a direction reflection of the time they put into (or lack thereof) fulfilling their educational obligations.  While I am a teacher, I am most certainly a human being first, meaning that even I have to work to be objective with my students.  This becomes difficult when I encounter students who are phenomenally zealous about learning and doing whatever it takes to excel in their studies.  I cannot help but want to see them succeed.  Additionally, I have encountered the phenomenally lazy student who seemingly does not think before he opens his mouth to pose a question about the lesson, as he feels it is the duty of the teacher to “help” him.  The problem here is that this student views ‘’help’’ as having the teacher give him the answers, not realizing it is really the teacher’s job just to make him realize what he already knows or needs to learn through his own efforts.  I have been fortunate enough to encounter students from both groups, and both have helped me to grow as a teacher, to hone my own abilities as an educator.  I am utterly thankful to the students of ALC for putting me through this crucible.

At my last school in Indonesia, I was voted the favorite teacher amongst the foreign teaching staff, and while I am sure this accolade certainly helped me gain a spot amongst the instructors at ALC Rabat, it has been of no concern to me since becoming a teacher in Rabat.  In Morocco, my main goal has been to be the example I want my students to be.  I want my students to be people of integrity, people who are not afraid to take risks and to admit to their mistakes.  What I want most of all, though, is for my students to be people who walk into situations and lay themselves bare, to show their own strengths and paucities and not make excuses for what they have done or don’t know nor to blame someone else for this.  This is why I become so vexed by students who insist on cheating.  As I have already said, I see the classroom as an analogy for life.  Thus, students who opt to try progressing to the next level using dishonest means or half-assed efforts will probably do the same outside of the classroom setting.  I cannot speak for other teachers but when I see a student doing this, it is initially pity, not anger, which overcomes me, pity for my pupil – pity for him and the how he will feel when he gets the failing grade as a reward for his group efforts.  If there is anything I can teach the students of ALC, it is, whether you all believe it or not, your teachers want to see you succeed… but we want more to see you acting honestly.  This way, you and your teacher can revel in your accomplishments with a well-deserved feeling of pride.  More so, for those who think it would be embarrassing to earn a low grade on your own instead of potentially gaining a higher one through cheating, believe me, your teacher would still be proud of your integrity.  I know I would!


  1. Thank you for this excellent article, Erica. It will no doubt send even our advanced students to the dictionary from time to time. Good practice.

  2. One of the best articles I have ever read ! you have every right to question the way we do things. Cheating is everywhere! and that is one of the things that are still holding us back . Thank you

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