Not long ago I got a message from a colleague in which she wondered if I conducted a CPE course. Well, the answer was, “No, I don’t”, but it reminded me the whole story.
I’ve been teaching English for a considerable while, but I’ve been a super-duper internationally qualified professional (modest, aren’t I :-))) for a much shorter period of time.
Having graduated from a Teacher Training University, I seriously doubt I could claim even B2 level way-back in those times (the late 1990s). Actually, very few people could, including some of our professors. Frankly speaking, I didn’t care as I had no intention of working at school and there was no other possible way to work with the language. Fortunately, I changed my mind in a few years and got back to where I belonged.
Times had changed; one had to show some decent English provided they wanted to join the top L2 teaching community. I had to work on my English and I did so. Now it’s a kind of funny to remember doing exercisers from an FCE grammar book and feeling happy when the keys matched.
Gradually, I was getting better. I loved English and was determined to succeed, so, besides grammar, I started watching films and reading books. The latter was easier — being an obsessive reader, all I had to do was to switch to books in English.
In 2010 I got a job offer which caused crucial alterations in my views on teaching English and in my life in general. I joined the best language school in my hometown and was introduced to the world of a parallel universe, alternative methods and approaches, a revolutionary way of thinking. As for my current colleagues, well, working at school I was top echelon. In my new environment I was one of many and far from the best. I was 35. My previous professional achievements were of little value. I neither possessed any language certificates (only TKT, but that didn’t count) nor had studied abroad.
OK, I rolled up my sleeves and sank my teeth into new tasks. My self-esteem improved significantly after studying in Malvern House in London, where my advanced level had been confirmed, so I made up my mind to take CAE.
Obviously, I didn’t pay much attention to the exam preparation, proud as I was. I attended some group lessons, wrote a couple of essays and did a few tests. I expected a B as a minimum, but seriously counted for an A – I felt quite confident in terms of my speaking and writing skills (hey! I TAUGHT how to write essays, didn’t I?), and showed stable 90+% of correct answers in reading, listening and use of English. At home.
My result was 73, I got a C, since a В started with 75.
It was not just a cold shower. I was ruined. I broke into pieces. My devastation triggered my dormant inferiority complex which had been thoroughly tucked somewhere in the furthest corner of my consciousness.
It took time to get it over with. My hunch is it was the feeling of not being good enough that brought me to the decision to take CPE. Finally, I told my wounded pride to go to hell and got to work.
This time I took it differently, more efficiently. I bought several CPE books and a compilation of tests. I asked my colleague (CPE grade A, IELTS 9.9.9., no kidding, Olya, you’re the best!) to assess my writings and to train me for speaking.
How was it? Painstaking. I felt slow, deaf and stupid.
At first, I felt helpless doing reading – I could understand every single word in the text… and would choose the wrong options regardless. The same went to listening – I seemed to hear everything and still failed to tick the right boxes. Step by step I got used to the style and types of questions, started comprehending what exactly I had to see between the lines.
Never had I done Use of English without mistakes despite all my theoretical background.
I never managed to complete both writings within the time limit. Eventually, I focused on Part one, analyzed all the samples I could find and, in time, invented my own template and memorized a number of sophisticated phrases to juggle with.
I couldn’t keep speaking for 2 minutes in the appropriate style. My problem is that I’m not particularly descriptive in my mother tongue as well. I tend to use simple, even primitive and most straightforward vocabulary. Poor excuse, but words don’t come easy to me, full stop. Literally. Then, I had to make efforts to produce something even remotely similar to proficiency.
I felt stressed for a few months.
Plus 4 torturous weeks, waiting for the results. I didn’t give much thought to the writing part, but went on crucifying myself for the disastrous speaking – my partner had appeared to be more logical, more elaborate and more confident.
I got a B.
Reading — 230/230
Use of English — 226/230
Writing — 210/230
Listening — 206/230
Speaking — 209/230
Actually, there were only 2 of us who got a B that session, others ended up with a C, including my partner.
Did it make me blissfully happy? Not really. Though, I did have a sense of achievement, the satisfaction from a job well done.
And now — ta-da-da-dam! The whole point of my writing is in the conclusions I drew:
The first and of utmost importance – underestimation is nearly as detrimental as overestimation. I got too big-headed the first time and got several gray hairs for no reason the second.
Never set too high expectations, just do your best and hope for the better.
Never compare yourself with others. Monitor your progress and enjoy it.
Last, but not least. Do I regret going through the purgatory of exams? Never.
Having chosen exam training as the main occupation, I have to deal with all types of students: arrogant, self-confident, vain, insecure, shy, immature; hard-working and lazy. I know what to tell them. I know how to encourage or bring down to earth. I have something to share with them, something you can’t just read about or adopt from somebody else — my personal experience.
Do I want to conduct a CPE course? Well, definitely not now. Besides I’m involved in a number of projects, and our Russian ЕГЭ is one of them.
However, one day I might give it a try!