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Our teachers - Michelle Ponnen

Briefly introduce yourselfSanchia Slater

My name is Michelle and I work at the Wits Language School as an EPD course facilitator. I do a little of everything; I teach, grade enormous amounts of homework, develop material, observe teachers and ensure quality control. I have been teaching for 10 years.

How did you decide on the teaching profession? Have you always wanted to be a teacher?

That’s a great question! No! I had never conceptualised that one day I would be a teacher or an educator; I had in fact spent years running away from this very career.  Teaching is apparently in my genes: my father was a teacher, my sister currently teaches at a high school, and I just wanted to be different. I chose to pursue my academic studies in Psychology believing that this would allow me to impact my environment, to bring about positive change and hopefully change someone’s life. Little did I realise I could achieve the same outcome by teaching.  Shortly after completing my degree, I decided to take a gap year and travel. I was drawn to teaching English as a second language in Taiwan. It was here that my journey towards a career began, unbeknown to me. And I have been teaching ever since then!

What is your teaching philosophy and classroom management style?

Language is more than words; rather it’s a tool with which you can communicate and express yourself.  With the right words you can express any emotion, communicate with speakers of other languages and literally join the world, despite the wide range of languages. I like to make learning fun and enjoyable so I try to incorporate a lot of games and activities. I prefer to facilitate and encourage active participation in all my classes. There are no stupid questions in my class, there are only questions.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What do you dislike the most about teaching? Why?

What I enjoy about teaching is that every class is a new adventure filled with new challenges waiting to be conquered! Teaching is not about lecturing at people nor is it boring and mind numbing but rather it is a constant cycle of learning and adaptation. I am always astounded by the sheer amount of creativity, flexibility, dedication and integrity that is demanded by the job.  Well, what I dislike about teaching is fairly obvious – grading homework….no, just joking! Written work and feedback on this is an extremely important conversation between student and teacher and forms a vital part of the learning process.

What do you think is a common misconception your students have about you or teachers in general?

Teachers know all the answers! I think in any classroom, the teacher and the students learn together.  Another common misconception is that learning only involves attending class and that the teacher will determine how well you as a student will do.  This is wrong! You learn when you put what you have learnt into practice; you can do this by reading, listening, writing and speaking more often in English. Learning is a very interactive process so you have to get involved and take charge of your learning.

What do you think makes you unique as a teacher?

Hmm... This is a difficult question. I think my sense of humour and approach to learning. I like to have fun in my classes. I try to encourage learners to utilise learning strategies and practice as often as possible in whatever way they feel comfortable.

Do you have any words of advice for students embarking on English for Professional Development (EPD) courses?

Studying is a big commitment, you have to attend class faithfully, do your homework religiously and practise regularly!

I like this quote from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  

Take charge of your learning!

Do you have a motto, saying or quote that you think sums up the teaching experience for you as an educator?

I have two quotes, one for teachers and one for students. As a teacher you can empower and uplift your students through language and as a student you can move mountains with knowledge!

"If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room." Anita Roddick.

"Give me somewhere to stand and I will move the earth." Archimedes