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The Challenges of Teaching the New Generation

As part of our guest blog series, Ismail Berra discusses his experience in Phom Phen teaching young learners.

I need some emotional support. Are you free to talk? A teacher, who is also a friend, approached my desk and asked me this. For nearly 45 minutes to an hour, she spoke nonstop about how the class is boring and the students aren't interacting or caring about a single word she says. I asked her to share her lesson plan with me and see what's going on. I also inquired about her rapport with them on the first day. Essentially, we discussed all the intricacies of teaching. From my perspective, she seemed perfect. Everything was spot on, and she even had plenty of free tasks for the kids to engage in conversation and produce language. So, what could be wrong?

The issue seemed to be related to gaming, or rather, the gamification of her lesson plan. In the good old days, about six years ago when life was "normal," a teacher would create a lesson plan using methods such as PPP, TBL, TTT, and include a few free tasks to make it conversational, and that was it. Nowadays, you need to be familiar with games, card games, PS5 games, anime, and even K-drama. You need to find a way to incorporate all of that into your lessons to reach this ultra-shy, introverted, and antisocial generation, especially considering what they've been through with COVID-19.

I once had to teach an advanced IELTS class consisting mostly of military personnel, business men, and women. The youngest student was 26 years old, and my lessons didn't involve any games. I got straight to the point with a couple of interactive speaking tasks, and I've never felt so good about a class. Everyone was satisfied. At the end of the term, I made sure to provide my students with a questionnaire with a few questions, such as how they felt about the course, things they liked or didn't like, and what they think the teacher should do to improve their teaching skills. Most of the answers I received were along the lines of "the course was good, but only if the teacher gave us more mock tests" or "I liked the course, but the teacher should assign homework." During class, everyone would respond, ask relevant questions, and even offer suggestions or advice to their partners. That was my five-hour class on Saturdays. Then, on Monday mornings, I had to deal with a completely different mindset, even though it was still an IELTS prep course.

Dealing with the current generation, aged 15 to even 20 years old, feels like dealing with drug addicts, specifically dopamine addicts. The first thing they do upon waking up is scroll through a hundred reels, experiencing a hundred different emotions within the first three minutes of their day. Then, they respond to 10 or 20 sarcastic memes sent by their "besties," and only after that do they think about breakfast. And yet, you expect them to pay full attention in class for an hour and a half.

This can break down any teacher, and the unfortunate thing is that most teacher training courses like CELTA, TEFL, TESOL, TKT, etc., are not 100% enough. Essentially, whatever you learn in those courses will give you the fundamentals. It'll give you the right start into teaching, but then if you don't update yourself and de independent research or receive structured training every once in a while, may it be webinars, workshops, self-paced courses, you will not achieve your full potential. I recall during my CELTA course; my trainer told an 11-year-experienced teacher that all those years before this intensive course were nullified. I still don't know how to feel about that. Some institutions even state in their job requirements that they prefer candidates with at least two years of teaching experience "post-CELTA." And I'm sure you've seen the "at least 2 years of teaching" if you want to apply for a DELTA, because these courses are guidelines, a topic sentence to a paragraph only you will write, and it takes a few years to shape it and write it the appropriate way. At the end of the day, it's just you, a number of students, and a lesson plan that probably few if no one will see, and that's where real teaching lies.

Finally, my friend conducted several independent research studies, like any other teacher does, and had to drastically change her approach and find her own way to adapt and teach in a modern way. A modern way that no one will train you for or provide a course on, unless you practice, make your mistakes and have the moral obligation to create it yourself.


Ismail Berra is a 29-year-old Moroccan currently teaching in Southeast Asia, specifically in Cambodia. He obtained his BA in English literature in 2017 and completed his CELTA training in Izmir, Turkey, in 2019. Afterward, he worked as a Young Learner (YL) teacher in the same city. Following his return to Morocco, he spent a year working with young learners in Mohammedia before embarking on his Asian journey. Over the past two years, Ismail has held various roles, including English language teacher, moderator for the General English program, and IELTS trainer. Additionally, he has served as a debate coach and public speaking instructor for university students in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ismail's approach to education is heavily influenced by Paulo Reglus Neves Freire, and he is widely recognized for his unwavering candor in educational matters.


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