Post-CELTA professional development: The great TEFL lie

Well… here we go again with the seventh part of this series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. We’ll continue where I left off in the first six posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In the previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, how to approach lesson planning, how to make sure your first teaching job experience isn’t a bad one, some advice on how to get through your first observed lesson, a discussion on the multifaceted layers of a good lesson and some thoughts on how we can move beyond methods.

To be honest, I never imagined this series would go on as long as it has, and the fact that it has is mainly thanks to my ‘co-conspirator’ Phil Wade, who, in his third and most provocative guest post so far, looks at ‘the great TEFL lie’. This post might not be to everyone’s taste, but I do hope you’ll give it a read…

Student “Sir?”.
Teacher “Yes, Smith.”
Student “Sir, can I ask a question please?”
Teacher “Permission granted, Smith.”
Student “Oh, thank you, sir. Sir, what knowledge are you going to bestow on us today, sir?”
Teacher “Ah… Well, we are going to look at conditionals.”
Students “Oh, thank you, sir.”
Student “Sir… May I ask another question?”
Teacher “Yes, Smith.”
Student “May I lower my arm please?”
Teacher “Of, course.”
Student “Oh, thank you, sir.”

This may be a little exaggerated but it helps highlight the ‘good language learner’ we are trained to teach and expect to teach. We plan lessons with these wonderfully motivated, quick learning and never troublesome students in mind. We expect perfectly leveled classes of similar ages, backgrounds and interests. Not to mention personalities, learning styles, understanding of TEFL methods and books.

'students 10' by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

‘students 10′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

So, what will happen if you have to teach students who don’t fit this ideal dream? I have heard teachers complain about having one or two older students, younger students, higher students, lower students etc etc. Why? Because it makes things a little bit harder and presents them with a situation which they probably don’t have the tools to deal with.

Now, warning ahead!

Do not read on if you are easily upset.

Last warning!

OK.

Are you ready?

Here it comes… We warned you.

Based on 15 years in TEFL, I can honestly say that the ‘TEFL student’ is a very very small minority. The majority of students learning English in the world are not at private language schools learning from CELTA grads using TEFL books. They are in primary and high schools, they are in after-school clubs, they are in universities, they are in adult education or they are taking private lessons with local teachers.

These classes are often mixed abilities. There are many mixed ages, different backgrounds, a range of interests, medium, low or non-existence motivation and even students who have absolutely no use for English and never will have.

Scared?

The vast majority of my teaching has fallen into this kind of category.

On top of that, you probably won’t have or be able to get coursebooks. You might not even have handouts, books or be allowed copies.

How would you teach a group of 45 A1-C1 18-37 year old people for 2 hours every evening when your boss has said to “do whatever they ask for”?

This is the reality. There is no point complaining. It is what it is. We are spoiled really. We have such an easy life in language schools as there are so many structures in place to make us stress free. This is why it is good to step out of this safe zone, slowly perhaps at first.

To be a real English teacher, as a senior teacher once told me, you need to be able to handle anything that is thrown at you at the drop of a hat and survive. I don’t suggest you jump straight in but try to to stretch yourself. Otherwise, when fate strikes, like the photocopier gets broken one day or the WIFI doesn’t work you’ll fall to pieces, as some do.

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: Beyond methods

Welcome back, dear friends, to the sixth part of my ever-expanding series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. We’ll continue where I left off in the first five posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, how to approach lesson planning, how to make sure your first teaching job experience isn’t a bad one,  some advice on how to get through your first observed lesson, as well a discussion on the multifaceted layers of a good lesson. Today we continue with another great guest post from Phil Wade, who this time looks at how we can move beyond methods…

When I started out in TEFL we had to read about methodology and learning, then put into practice what we had learned. As the early grammar translation and audio-lingual ways were greatly criticized as being ‘old’, we were pushed towards the famous TEFL method which is just a mish-mash of all the trends put into one. Later, I learned to critique all the methods and to create my own mish-mash under the banner ‘eclecticism’. ‘Principled eclecticism’ was translated as ‘a good mish-mash’ while an unsuccessful one was just that, a mess. Finding that perfect blend proved difficult as I approached it like making a new recipe on paper when I should have started by experimenting and then writing the recipe.

So, fast forward a few years and I then found out that all methods were dead and that I was free to do whatever. This made me question the previous learning. After all, why study lots of things if you are just going to throw them away? I am fine with developing your own way for each situation, but only IF you have the tools. At a post-MA level with 10 years experience, you probably do, but saying this to a new CELTA grad is asking for trouble.

Or is it?

Fans of Bruce Lee know about nature and doing what fits and this is what I feel I do now. My lessons are quite similar to new non-CELTA teachers on the surface as they are very conversation-based and natural. There are no clunks and obvious gear change transitions that I had after my CELTA. I do what works. This is true for new teachers too. they prepare lessons around their clients and students and do what those people want and like.

'Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni' by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics

‘Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni’ by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics

So, the questions I ask myself are 1) what is the quickest and most effective route to this ‘post-method’ approach, and 2) what tools do you need to create your own method for each situations?

CELTA grads are often told they will learn on the job, this often means using books and learning from them. Each book is built from a certain method or approach and so that will rub off on you. Slavishly following a book for a year may get the job done but it won’t help you create your own method or way.

Perhaps the best option is for CELTA grads to just keep going. I mean, on my CELTA, we had to adapt pages of books. Some worked… some didn’t. If you start keep a diary of your teaching and have pages about each skill, pages for ‘methods’ and pages for favorite activities, etc., you will develop a progressive self-development approach. I always planned lessons quite stringently for at least 7 years after my CELTA. I generally binned each one and started fresh for the next as I was never happy with each one and always wanted to change things. Unconsciously, I developed my own method as certain things would keep cropping up in my plans. When I was asked to write an essay about my method, I realized I did have one.

Back to the diary…

Make a section for each type of class you teach. Write in anything. You could have a column for successes and one for failures. Page references to book activities you like, pictures you used, anything. When you get to the bottom of a page, make a summary or a conclusion and start a new page. In this way, you are researching and developing and honing a way or method or approach. Books will become tools and not your method. This can be done by any teacher at any stage but I think post-CELTA works best.

So many many times in my early career, I just ‘did’ activities from books. This would often just be me following a procedure form a book or worksheet and reading out instructions. This was not my method or really me teaching. why? I had no confidence. A few years later, I just stopped reading teachers notes and looked at resources and decided how to use them. For me, this kept my creative juices flowing. the more uses I could think of, the better.

If you agree with the post-method idea then I suggest you start building your own method as soon as you can. When you can say “I find doing…and…and…then…” works best for me, you are on the right track but don’t just make it about set activities, you need a main structure to start with and then branch out. think of a tree with no leaves. As you develop your way, you add on bits and branch out. Using the previous example of the new compared to the seasoned teacher as an example, from the outside, the student may just see a nice tree but the new teacher has just followed someone else’s way or stuck a few things together. Whereas the one further down the professional path has created a solid foundation with countless branches and leaves which he or she can employ effectively.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Theory | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

TeachingEnglish featured blog of the month for January, 2015

I’m delighted to say that a post from this blog has won the award for the British Council TeachingEnglishFeatured blog of the month’ for January, 2015.

This is the third time now that my Teach them English blog has won this award, but it’s still special. Particular thanks go to Paul Mains from Language Trainers Online for co-authoring the post with me.

Many thanks to all those who voted for me on the TeachingEnglish Facebook page!

blog post of the monthThe post in question was one of the most popular ever on the blog and offered a range of songs to help teachers deal with the different conditional forms. Huge thanks also go to all those involved in maintaining this most useful of Facebook pages. It has a really nice mixture of content and does a lot to support bloggers like me in finding a wider audience for our writing.

Posted in Classic posts, The life of an english teacher | Tagged | Leave a comment

4 songs for dealing with tricky conditional structures

Last month was a fairly busy month here on Teach them English and many, many of you popped by to say hello. Indeed, January saw one of this blog’s most popular posts ever; ‘4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals.’ So popular did this post prove to be that I’ve decided to revisit the topic with this follow up post.

That first post offered one song for each of the four recognized conditional forms (admittedly, it didn’t touch on mixed conditionals), so this time round I’ll be upping the stakes a little and focusing on the more tricky aspects of this most awkward of grammar points.

Here we go, then, with part two of the ‘teaching conditionals through songs’ series!

1. Woulda, coulda, shoulda… (AKA ‘Would have, could have, should have’)

The grammar point:

Use songs to teach tricky conditional structures.

Use songs to teach tricky conditional structures. ‘students 11′ by @yearinthelifeof on #ELTpics

The third conditional is every teacher’s nightmare to teach, as it involves  three auxiliary verbs, and is thus incredibly difficult for language learners.

This conditional focuses on situations that are impossible to change because they’ve already happened; despite what we may wish, we cannot change the past.

The form: We construct the third conditional like this: if + had + past participle, would + have + past participle. (“would” and “have” are often contracted, i.e. ‘I would’ve’. The ‘would’ can also be replaced by other modals mentioned)

“If I had seen him today, I could have told her.”

“If she had studied, she wouldn’t have failed that exam.”

 

A classic example in song:

You’ll be hard pressed to find more famous (or better) lyrics than these:

‘I should have changed that stupid lock,
I should have made you leave your key,
If I had known for just one second you’d be back to bother me’

‘I will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor

Making the most of it

For pre-lesson homework, why not ask learners to find song lyrics that use the “would have, could have, or should have” third conditional constructions. If possible, play these songs to the class and identify the third conditional examples together.

Need another song?

This song by Taylor Swift is a good one…

She sings about her regrets in a relationship; the chorus uses the third conditional several times. It is also good to show the contracted version of the modal in the third conditional. The lyrics show how “should have” is reduced to “should’ve”. As I said, this is an important contraction, and is worth pointing out to learners.

2. If I Could Turn Back Time…

The grammar point:

The second conditional is formed with the following equation: If + simple past, would + base verb. (Note: “would” is often shortened to a contraction, such as I’d or she’d.)

  • If I had a million dollars, I would buy you a house.
  • If conditional constructions weren’t so complicated, our lives would be easier.

A big part of the problem that learners have with the second conditional, which is used to talk about hypothetical or impossible situations, is that conceptually it seems to overlap with the third conditional and yet is similar in construction to the first conditional. Both are totally hypothetical and really not going to happen (like the third conditional) yet both are imagining a possibility that can’t be ruled out (like the first conditional). We see particular problems with certain phrases, such as ‘If I Could Turn Back Time…’ Why not use the power of song to solve this confusion?

A classic example in song:

I’m not really a big fan of her music, but it can be a good idea to use Cher to explain second conditional if clauses!

‘If I could turn back time
If I could find a way
I’d take back those words that hurt you and you’d stay’

‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ by Cher

Making the most of it

Use the song as a launching point for a conversation class or quick writing assignment to ask students about regret. Ask, “If you could change something you did in the past, what would it be?”

Need another song?

This song by the Barenaked Ladies is a good one…

Along with the desire to turn back time, the question of what we would do if we won a lot of money is the classic second conditional dilemma. Ask, “What would the singer of the song buy or do if he had a million dollars?” There are lots of examples in the video, including: a house, a car (K-Car), a tree-fort (with a fridge), a fur coat (not a real one), an exotic pet (llama or emu), John Merrick’s remains, crazy elephant bones, your love, expensive ketchups, art, and a monkey!

Your turn!

What songs do you suggest for dealing with these tricky grammar points?

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: The many levels of a good lesson

Welcome back once again to the fifth part of my series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. I’ll continue where I left off in the first four posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, how to approach lesson planning, how to make sure your first teaching job experience isn’t a bad one, as well as some advice on how to get through your first observed lesson. Today we move on with a guest post from Phil Wade, who looks at the multifaceted layers of a good lesson…

When you start off your teaching practice (TP) on the CELTA, it’s all about achieving your objectives. Once you get your certificate, you are out on your own and still probably use the ‘did I do everything I outlined I wanted to?’ benchmark. This is fine for a beginner teacher, but you need to go deeper as your career develops. If you think of it like an onion, then CELTA life is about the surface and then you slowly peel away layers to uncover more about teaching and what constitutes a ‘good’ lesson.

One thing you often here in private language schools is ‘if the students are happy then it was a good lesson’. This is fine when they pay and you have to deliver what they want and like but outside that environment, things are different. I spent many years in a language school and I thought my lessons were good as I planned several objectives, did them and got good feedback but I began to question and ask if there was more to it. Well, yes there is.

I have seen examples of teachers being very friendly and jokey with students in order to get good feedback. It worked but became a crutch and after some time, the teachers just relied on it. I know of others who still do exactly the same as on the CELTA. They have got used to the safety of the method and as they say “most of the time it works”. Now, I’m fine with that but, for me, we should develop and part of that means asking questions. Education is all about problems and solutions. Your BA or MA thesis probably had a hypothesis which was based on a question you had. Each question leads to a search for answers and a discovery that takes you deeper into teaching.

students5

Being mindful in lessons and post-lesson reflection are keys to understanding your teaching progess. ‘Students 5′ by @yearinthelifeof on #ELTPics

Being mindful in lessons and post-lesson reflection are keys to understanding what is, or went on in the lesson, and making questions about why things happened or why they didn’t. For instance, maybe students were unresponsive. Why? Or perhaps a group activity didn’t work. Why?At the new teacher level, you’re probably too busy just going through activities and rushing to get things done. At a higher level, less is more and each lesson is an opportunity to find questions and then to test a hypothesis. If we take the unresponsive student as an example: make notes about what happened; try to figure out why and then create a hypothesis or reason that you can test or check next time. Once you clarify the real issue, you can start making solutions and test them. After that, you’ll come to some realization about your students, you, your activity or some other aspect. You may realize that your students weren’t participating enough because of their clashing personalities or just lack of confidence. This means that even though they might have ‘done’ the activity, it failed. From then on, you will probably focus more on groupings and assess that section.

If we take this analysis further, you could assess every section. Thus, the lesson becomes assessed segment after assessed segment instead of just 1 lesson. this attention to detail is what comes with years of CPD. Even when you think a lesson went well, it could have been better. An excellent teacher always wants to improve so will take activities and lessons to pieces, play with them and rebuilt them into different ways.

Another point to bear in mind I think is objectives themselves. I hear time and time again “I did” or “we did”. This sounds like teachers rushing through and ticking off objectives. These are probably things like ‘complete….write….learn…discuss…’ and are quite vague and shallow. They also treat the class like a factory where people come in, do something, then leave. If you really know your students and understand what they need, a really good teacher would shape lessons around them as people. For instance, if students are shy then saying “I’ve prepared some things to help you overcome your shyness speaking English so you can feel more confident”. If those students then demonstrate reduced levels of shyness and even rate themselves as lower at the end, that was a very good lesson and one which will probably affect them for a long time.

In conclusion, your path is your choice. It is easy to see the CELTA way as enough but if you really want to go deeper, you need to start getting your hands dirty. Don’t beat yourself up too much though as one lesson can bring up countless questions and avenues for self development and there has to be a limit to how hard you are on yourself and the quality of your lessons.

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: 10 techniques for dealing with your first observed lesson

Welcome back, finally, to the fifth part of my series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. I’ll continue where I left off in the first four posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, how to approach lesson planning, and how to make sure your first teaching experience isn’t a bad one. Today, I’m moving on to lesson observations, with some advice on how to get through your first such experience.

One of the most traumatic events that you’ll experience early on in your teaching career is your first observation. Whatever I tell you today, I’m sure you’ll still feel nervous about someone coming into class and watching you teach for the first time. Nevertheless, observations should always be seen as a positive thing, as the purpose of any observation session should be to help you develop as a teacher. Of course, I realize that we live in the real world and that isn’t always the case, but there are several steps we can take to make sure that our first observations turn out well regardless of the particular situation or the person observing. With this in mind, here are my tips on getting through your first observed lesson.

1) Be clear what your aim is

What are your learners going to be able to do by the end of the class that they can’t do at the beginning? If you can’t say for sure where the lesson is going and why it is going there, it’s probably best not to do this lesson under observed conditions! Be as specific as possible, because this will help you when you come to writing your plan.

2) Don’t set out to teach the greatest lesson ever taught

Trust me, your observer isn’t expecting you to revolutionize the teaching profession in this lesson! What they want to see is that you are able to organize and plan a lesson that takes your learners a little bit further in their journey towards learning English. Whatever you do, don’t deliver and all singing all dancing spectacular; simply plan for a solid lesson with a clear and reachable objectives. Going over the top and trying to do too many things, or trying to be overly innovative will probably lead to disaster, so don’t!

3) Divide your lesson into short periods of time

This might seem obvious, but doing this will enable you to keep your class going at a nice steady pace. Try to be a little bit flexible, but don’t let any part of the lesson last longer than about 20 minutes. Make sure that you vary the patterns of interaction, such as teacher to learner and learner to learner. This will make sure that the class isn’t too repetitive and boring. Make a note of all this on your lesson plan. That leads me to…

students16

Make your plan more detailed than it would normally be. ‘Students 16′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

4) Write down a fairly detailed plan

As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series, one aspect of your teaching that you will have to compromise on is the amount of time you spent planning. Nevertheless, this is no normal lesson, so put more time into planning this than you would into other lessons. This will not only help you to feel more confident, it would also show your server a number of important things. Firstly, it will show that you are organized and prepared. Secondly, it will enable the observer to give better feedback on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

5) Use teaching materials in a specific way that’s new to you

Perhaps you are not big on using real life objects in class, or maybe you don’t like drawing pictures on the board. I would still advise that you do something like this during an observed lesson. You may find that you are doing it better than you think you do; if not, then this is a good opportunity for the observer to give you advice on how to develop such skills.

Think carefully about how you can incorporate things such as photographs, objects, or drawing pictures on the board. This will show your observer that you have given extra thought to the lesson. Don’t worry if they don’t work wonderfully well; you are here to learn from this experience. If you do decide to do more board drawing than you would normally, for example, ask the observer to focus on this aspect of the lesson and give specific feedback.

6) Video yourself doing a trial run

You’ll probably feel a bit weird going through the motions of the lesson on your own with a video camera running, but doing so might really help you when you do the real lesson. There are several things you can look out for when watching the video of yourself:

  • How fast is your teacher talk?
  • Are your examples obvious enough to get your point across?
  • Could you use visuals to help you get a learner’s to understand?
  • How can you use body language to help your learners understand?

Two common errors that new teachers make when they’re first observed is to minimize silence in the class bike over talking, and by sticking to the lesson plan so strictly that they didn’t give the learners the chance to understand the material. Recording yourself will give you a good idea of whether or not you are likely to commit these errors.

7) Plan for error correction

Consider your plan for the lesson and try to predict what you learn is unlikely to have problems with. When these problems happen, how will you react? Practice giving responses to such problems. What kind of body language would you use to indicate the errors? To what extent would you further lee correct mistakes? It’s a very good idea to give some thought to this before the lesson.

8) Be proactive and meet the observer before the lesson

Any truly great observer will arrange a pre-observation discussion with you in which you explain how do you imagine the lesson will go ahead. If the observer doesn’t arrange such a meeting, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are bad observer, but you might want to go ahead and ask for a short meeting anyway.

Regard this meeting as an important part of the process and as an opportunity to show that you are a conscientious teacher who values this opportunity to develop. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how you are approaching the lesson, but also be ready to say that you want to try to ensure own way even if alternatives are suggested.

9) Meet again after the lesson

Approach the observer and ask if they are prepared to share their notes with you. As with what I’ve suggested above, really good observers will do this naturally as part of the observation cycle, but if this isn’t suggested, go ahead and ask! The whole ethos of lesson observation should always be two facilitate development in the observed teacher, so if you are not privy to the notes of the observer, the observation hasn’t really served its true purpose.

10) What should you do if the observation is unannounced?

I have a fairly low opinion of institutions that have a policy of conducting surprise observations. To me, it suggests that they automatically assume their teachers are unprepared and are unprofessional in the way they approach teaching. Nevertheless, I know that this approach is used in many places, so it’s probably good for me to suggest something for those of you who may be faced with an impromptu observation.

So, what should you do? My advice is to play them at their own game. How can you do this? Well, have one lesson meticulously planned that you keep tucked away until that moment when the observer arrives unannounced in your classroom. When that happens, pull out your materials and plan and act as if that was the lesson you were going to do all along. Please don’t think of this as cheating: the school or the observer is at least in part trying to catch you out; all you are doing is showing that you have a carefully planned lesson ready for them to see. If you want a nice, easily adaptable example of such a lesson, I recommend the one that I have written about here.

Anything to add?

I accept this isn’t an exhaustive list, but this post is starting to get quite long and I’ve already given you plenty to think about, so it seems like a good place to stop! If you have anything you’d like to add, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Opinion, The life of an english teacher | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: the 5 keys to avoiding a bad first year as a teacher

Welcome back to the fourth installment of my series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. I’ll continue where I left off in the first three posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, and how to approach lesson planning. Today, I’m moving on to the subject of job finding; I’ll specifically look at how to make sure your first teaching experience isn’t a bad one.

At the start of my career, to be totally honest, I got lucky. Basically, I received two job offers within hours of having finished the CELTA course. So, it was a tossup between two very different jobs. The first position was in a university preparatory program; the salary was good, but it meant I would get have to get up at 6:00 AM every morning. The second job was with a language school; the hours were more flexible and better suited my habit for lying in in the morning. Also, it seemed quite relaxed and teaching looked like it occurred in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

So, which did I choose? Let’s just say, I was lucky to choose the former and reject the latter. I subsequently worked with people who had worked in said language school; their horror stories made me realize just how fortunate I had been. With this in mind, in today’s post I’m going to try to give you the benefit of my experience in how to spot the telltale signs of an employer you don’t want to work for.

Take time to make sure you have found the right job to begin your career with!

Take time to make sure you have found the right job to begin your career with!

1. Do your research

Back when I got my first job, there was no such thing as social media. There was, however, the Internet and someone had taken the time to set up as a website describing the conditions at the language school I nearly worked at (sadly, the website no longer exists). The quick bit of research I did proved invaluable. Back in the early years of the 21st century we saw the emergence of web sites such as Dave’s ESL Cafe (warning: approach with extreme caution!) and it became possible to discuss potential employers with other teachers.

Nowadays, it’s much easier to find out about language schools and the like, and I can’t overstate the value of doing so. My advice would be to start doing this even before you’ve contacted the employer to set up an interview. If you then have a successful interview and are offered a job, inform your potential employee that you’re going to ask around to get more information. Try not to sound threatening when you do this, rather do so in a way that suggests you want to work for this person and that knowing more about the school will benefit both parties. If this meets with anger or resistance, I’d say that’s a sign that there’s something wrong, or that you’ll find out something that they don’t want you to know.

2. A job offered too quickly is a very bad thing

OK, let’s face it, you’ve just passed the CELTA and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Honestly, what kind of employer wouldn’t want you on their team? Now seems like a very good time to congratulate you on all of your hard work: the CELTA was one of the toughest months of my life, so I really do appreciate how hard you’ve worked in finishing this course successfully. Nevertheless, be wary of any job offer that is made too quickly.

At the end of any interview, think to yourself, ‘Would I employ me based on the interview I have just had?’ Sadly, a major criterion for employing you may be your passport, rather than your potential to be a good teacher. Other overly important criteria might be your western sounding name and even the color of your skin. Scenarios such as ‘I see you’ve just finish a CELTA, can you teach a class starting an hour from now?’ ought to be avoided at all costs. A basic rule of thumb is this: if you got the job much too easily, it almost certainly isn’t worth having.

3. The bigger the organization, the better the job

OK, this is an extreme generalization, but one still worth considering when looking for your first job. This comes down to the economic principle of supply and demand. The fact is, there are hundreds of millions of people wanting to learn English around the world, and a lot of really dodgy business people who have caught on to this fact. The quickest way to make a lot of money is just stick someone who looks the part in front of a group of eager learners, regardless of their ability to teach. Sadly, this tends to be the case more often in than not in the smaller, independent language schools where it’s easiest to land your first job.

A general rule of thumb here, therefore, is to avoid such schools and go for bigger chains when starting out. Such jobs will be harder to get, but if you are accepted then the chances are that the job will be worth having and will be much more rewarding.

4. Check your contract rigorously

The first contracts I was asked to sign were only written in Turkish. What’s more, the law of the land stated that any contract written in English would not be upheld in a Turkish Court of law and was therefore not worth the paper it was printed on! Nevertheless, I took the time to have the details explained to me by someone I trusted. As with the other points and making today, I can’t stress the importance of this enough.

If you notice anything that seems unreasonable, take the time to discuss this with your potential employer. Also, beware of signing anything that is extremely vague, as such vagueness can and will be exploited. The most common problems you’ll face and which you should look out for are the number of hours you will be expected to teach and the times you’ll be expected to teach them. If in doubt, ask for clarification and don’t sign until you get it.

5. If possible, work with a recruiter

Working with a recruiter is not always the best option, and there are downsides to finding a job in this way, but they will offer something of a safety net when you’re starting out. An important point to remember is that a recruiter is also working for a business that has a reputation to consider. If they deal with unscrupulous schools, this will inevitably come back to bite them at a later date. Another point to think about is that in many situations there is a probation period for new teachers, which basically means that the recruiter doesn’t get paid until a few months after the teacher has started work. If things go bad, that recruiter loses out.

My advice would definitely be to consider finding a job through a recruiter at the start of your career. If you get a job in this way, do what you can to cultivate this relationship. As I said, it doesn’t look good for them if they set you up with a terrible job, but they can also help you find an alternative place of employment if things go wrong for other reasons.

Do you have anything to add?

These are the five basic steps I suggest you all take when looking for your first job. If anyone out there has any other advice or disagrees with what I’ve said, please leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the post.

Learn to create professional lesson plans with OnTESOL’s 250-hour TESOL Diploma. This online program is recognized by TESL Canada upon completion of a separate 20-hour Practicum.

Posted in Opinion, The life of an english teacher, Theory | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: approaches to lesson planning

This is the third in a new series of posts for the start of 2015 in which I’ll offer simple solutions to the most common problems for newly qualified language teachers. In my first post, I looked at how time will place a lot of constraints on you as a teacher and offered some advice on making the most of what time you do have. In my second post, I looked at what’s in store for you as a newly qualified teacher in terms of professional development and what you can do to make the most of what will be available to you. Today I’m moving on to lesson planning!

I’m teaching what is best (!) described as ‘Level 3 Book 1  Unit 1 Input 1’ from my school’s coursebook of choice next time I’m in class, so like all good teachers I’m taking a look at what that will entail beforehand by thumbing through the various pages that make up this parcel of learning. My teacher’s copy has seen a bit of action and, I’m happy to say, is heavily annotated with several layers of teacher’s notes (some mine, some belonging to a previous owner). This makes me happy for a couple of reasons.

  • Firstly, I’m glad to find that other people adopt this as their primary method of planning for class.
  • Secondly, these notes always make for fascinating reading, as you get to see the various ways that other teachers have approached coursebook tasks in their planning.

Lesson planning is vital, no matter how many years you’ve been in the job. As your career develops, you may find that the way you approach planning changes, but you won’t find many good teachers who don’t plan in advance in some way or another.

In my early days as a teacher I was a big planner, making huge, detailed plans of everything that could happen in the classroom. I’ve relaxed my approach significantly since those early days, but I still go into every lesson knowing what I want to achieve and where it will take the learners.

In today’s post, I’ll begin with a couple of fairly standard ways of planning your lesson. If you’re just starting out as a teacher, I recommend following these styles for a bit. In the second part of the post, I’ll offer some alternatives for when you start to feel a bit more comfortable and confident. I’ll round off with a kind of checklist that will help keep you on the right track.

PART ONE: Two standard formats for planning a lesson

For those of you who’re still coming to terms with planning, or who have slackened off a little more than they would have liked, here are a couple of ways to approach lesson preparation.

A) A six-point format to planning

Content

  • What is the concept, skill or the subject matter of the lesson? What is the main focus around which you’re building the lesson?

Prior knowledge

  • What do students need to have done before they can learn what you’re presenting in this lesson?

Instructions

  • Can you clearly describe what the learners are going to do during the lesson?

Materials and equipment

  • What do you need for the lesson, in terms of handouts, different coloured pens, projector, etc?

Evaluation

  • How do you plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson?

Self assessment

  • How did you do? What might you have done better? What will you do next?

If approaching planning like this seems too abstract, and it well might, alternatively you could tackle it in a more linear way.

B) An eight-point format to planning

Introduction

  • Start with a short activity to help learners focus on the main purpose of the lesson.

Purpose

  • This is the objective of the lesson. Why on Earth are you actually doing all this?

Input

  • What vocabulary, skills or concepts do the learners need to be able to do the lesson?

Show ‘em

  • Demonstrate what the final product will be, what will the learners have by the end?

Follow me

  • Guide your learners through the stages necessary to complete activity in question.

Check understanding

  • How are you going to confirm that the learners are clear about what you and they are trying to achieve during the stages of the lesson?

Independent practice

  • Will the learners actually get a chance to practice whatever it is themselves?

Closure

  • How are you going to wrap things up? How can you reflect on what has been learned?

 

Perfect aspect

‘Perfect aspect’ by @sandymillin from #ELTPics

PART TWO: Alternatives

There may be many good reasons for not writing a standard ‘aims plus procedure’ plan. Planning is essentially a thinking skill, i.e. imagining the lesson before it happens – and anything that helps you think more clearly and effectively can be useful. Remember, a plan is not a route-map of what must happen in class, it should serve merely as your informed setting-up of certain possibilities within a lesson. Here are a few ideas for alternative plans:

OK, the two strategies I suggested above are what I would call the traditional styles to lesson planning… and they’re probably the kind of plans you made during your initial training course. However, as you progress through your teaching career, you’ll probably find that there are many good reasons to move away from such formal patterns of planning. We should always remember, even in the early days of our teaching career, that lesson planning is essentially a thinking skill; in other words, it’s the physical embodiment of your ‘map’ from the beginning to the end of what will happen in your class. It isn’t something that you have to stick to, its just something that frames possibilities of what can occur. A lesson plan should always be viewed as something that lets you think more clearly and effectively, not as something that you absolutely have to stick two at all costs. With this in mind I’m now going to suggest a few alternative methods all of sketching out what you can do with the class.

Number 1: the flow chart approach

Some people find that writing out parts of a lesson in the ways I suggest earler it simply doesn’t work for them and that they need a more visual representation of the way a lesson can develop. If you are one of these people, perhaps drawing a flow chart will serve you better. Why not try writing out your procedure in sketch boxes rather than in a traditional linear ‘from the top to bottom’ fashion? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using this system if it works for you! This approach enables you to show a variety of different possible activities and routes through a lesson by drawing arrows between different boxes that represent different options at each stage. I highly recommend trying this out; it might not work for you, but for some people this will really prove to be an efficient and effective way of adding flexibility to the way they design lessons.

Number 2: close your eyes and visualize the lesson

Another approach I’d like you to try when you have more experience and are feeling more confident is to not write down your lesson plan at all. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t review the material you’re going to teach, or that you shouldn’t actually plan a lesson, but rather than writing it down in the ways I suggested above, close your eyes and imagine your way through the lesson. For each stage of your lesson, think about the different possibilities and the different ways that the lesson could then go. What different activities could you do at this point, or what kind of action might your learners initiate that would make you deviate from the plan that you had?

Number 3: look at the critical learning moments

What are the main things you hope your learners are going to get from this class? Are they going to learn new vocabulary, for example? Decide what you think the critical learning moment is in this activity, i.e. what is the one thing that will have the biggest impact on their success while doing this activity? For instance, will it be using a dictionary, or using the words in a sentence? Keep these questions in mind and focus most of your planning around the kind of challenges your learners will see that these points. Ask yourself which instructions, explanations, and feedback you’re going to give during these critical learning moments.

Number 4: plan for spontaneity

This approach can be summarized as ‘planning for skills work’ and ‘not planning for grammar and vocabulary’! I’d recommend trying this style once you feel confident that you understand grammar and have experience of presenting new vocabulary in a variety of ways. Often learners will appreciate a structured approach to reading and listening lessons, but will also enjoy a slightly more ‘off the cuff’ approach to grammar and lexis. Naturally, you can still present grammar and vocab in a structured way, but learners may like it when you display an ability to deal with language as and when it comes up.

Number 5: involve your learners in planning

This is an approach that works well when you have a good relationship with a class, especially with adult learners or other groups that seem to particularly want to have some control of their learning. Allow a certain amount of time during the course of a week (or a course, or any suitable period of time) to negotiate and plan with learners. Try to go beyond asking simple questions such as ‘What will we do this week?’ and take the time to look through the course materials and make some genuine decisions together. You’ll probably find that a lot of learners will love the fact that you’re including them in decision-making.

Number 6: the unplugged approach

This is definitely not a style of planning that I would recommend to a new teacher when they’re just starting out, but at some point you may feel brave enough to adopt the ‘unplugged approach’ and use fewer materials in your classes, perhaps even not use a course book at all and go with the flow! This doesn’t mean going into a lesson completely unprepared, rather think of this as going into class and responding directly to the needs of your learners on that particular day. A lot of teachers are surprised when they first try this out as they come out of the lesson feeling that they have taught particularly well. This is probably because they have had to listen and respond to the learners far more than they usually what. Learn more about unplugged teaching in this post.

PART THREE: Mistakes I still make (and the questions I ask to stop them happening)

Even after many years of teaching I find it very healthy to consider all of the steps in part one when planning. There are a few things I still need to remind myself of on a regular basis.

Objective

  • Is my objective clear? Come on Adam, what’s the point? What will they do… and why? You can read more about writing clear objectives in this post.

Prior knowledge

  • Have I checked that they have the skills or knowledge that they need to perform what I’ll be asking of them?

Materials and resources

  • Does that handout that I’ve photocopied really fit the lesson? Does the quick fix photocopy really suit the lesson? You can read my thoughts on preparing worksheets in this post.

Instructions

  • Am I explaining the activities clearly or am I just adding to the confusion? Are the instructions in the book way above the language level of the learners?

I have a clear way of keeping track of what I do as well as being able to retain my reflections for later referral, by creating a course lesson plan book. If you’d like a copy of my easy to use documents, you can download them by clicking here and here. I put in my lesson plan book the following:

1. Class timetable
2. Extra paper for notes
3. Calendar
4. Student list
5. Homework log
6. Weekly lesson plan (X16 or X8 for 16- or 8-week courses)
7. Vocabulary lists for each unit
8. Teaching program for each unit

If you have any advice you’d like to share or any interesting anecdotes, I’d be delighted if you’d add a comment below.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, The life of an english teacher | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals

When we think about all of the grammar points that we have to teach, what would you say is the one that you dread most?

Now, I’m sure there are those among you who’ll say it’s the passive voice, while there are others out there who’ll swear it’s modal verbs. However, I’m willing to be that most of you are just like me in always having to draw a deep breath when the time comes to deal with the many weird and wonderful conditional sentences.

Let’s face it, the challenges of dealing with the form of each of the four main conditionals is nightmare enough (something is, something will be, something would be, something would have been), never mind getting on to the somewhat subtle differences in function from one conditional to the next (I attempt to deal with some of the trickiest things in the follow up to this post).

After many years of trawling through conditionals-focused grammar lessons, I’ve come up with quite a list of ways not to go about it! These aren’t the focus of today’s post, though. One extremely painless, fun and motivating way of ‘doing’ conditionals is through music. For this post, I’m delighted to be joined by Paul Mains from Language Trainers Online. Here are some suggested songs for presenting each of the four conditionals, one suggestion from me and one from Paul for each type (no, we’re not dealing with mixed conditionals today, sorry!).

Paul’s Zero Conditional: ‘Rain’ by The Beatles

The Beatles are one of my favorite bands for teaching English, as they sing slowly and clearly, and produce catchy melodies that students will remember (and regardless — they’re The Beatles!). The song Rain, in particular, is great for teaching the zero conditional, which describes general truths and scientific facts. (Note: if you’re wondering what they sing in the last line of the song, it’s simply “If the rain comes they run and hide their heads” played in reverse.)

Adam’s Zero Conditional: ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears

She may no longer be the queen of pop, but dear Britney still has many uses in the language classroom, and exemplifying the zero conditional is one of them!

The form: We construct the zero conditional like this: if + simple present, simple present

“If we heat water, it boils.”

“When a tree crashes to the ground, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it?”

Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

  • Every time I try to fly / I fall
  • Every time I see you in my dreams / I see your face

Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

  • If the rain comes / they run and hide their heads
  • When the sun shines / they slip into the shade

Adam’s First Conditional: ‘Time after Time’ by Cyndi Lauper

This is probably one of the most iconic tunes of the 80s, with unforgettable lyrics that make it perfect for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that have a decent chance of occurring.

Paul’s First Conditional: ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ by Simply Red

An emblematic song of the 80s, the bluesy tune of If You Don’t Know Me By Now is catchy and memorable. And it has a conditional form in its very title, so it should be clear why it’s ideal for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that are likely to happen. It’s also good for teaching some idiomatic expressions of time, such as “by now” and “never ever”.

The form: We form the first conditional like this: if + simple present, will + main verb. (the notion of futurity can also be expressed using ‘be going to’)

“If it rains, I won’t go shopping.”

“If the train comes late, we’re going to miss our connection.”

Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

  • If you’re lost / You can look and you will find me

Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

  •  If you don’t know me by now / You will never ever know me

If you’re enjoying this post, you might also want to take a look at my follow up; 4 songs for dealing with tricky conditional structures.

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Post-CELTA professional development: what teacher education awaits you in the first five years?

This is the second in a new series of posts for the start of 2015 in which I’ll offer simple solutions to the most common problems for newly qualified language teachers. In my first post, I looked at how time will place a lot of constraints on you as a teacher and offered some advice on making the most of what time you do have. In today’s post, I’ll look at what’s in store for you as a newly qualified teacher in terms of professional development and what you can do to make the most of what will be available to you.

Let me start by telling you about the start of my career…

As a native speaker with little to no grasp of how English worked, I struggled valiantly through my four-week certificate course and then, inexplicably, landed a job on my final day of the course. Who said this was going to be difficult job? Seriously, though, my first interview was a success mainly because the main interviewer had a good feeling about me and partly because I somehow managed to answer a question about the use of the present perfect. I’d landed a job in a fairly prestigious university in Istanbul. My career had begun!

My first task was to ‘come back next week, ready for your induction.’ The following week was a nice gentle introduction to the job, full of great training sessions by some of my new colleagues. This was exciting and I felt like part of the team. At the end of the week I was handed a set of course books and told to spend the following couple of weeks getting myself ready for classes.

Get ready I did, in a manner. I studied the book, trying to get an idea of what tasks were about and figure out the grammar rules of my native tongue from those fairly unhelpful little boxes you get on the pages of the book, next to the question, ‘What is the man in the picture doing?’ I attended pre-semester parties and drank as ‘too much’ as everyone else. I went to meetings where things were discussed that didn’t make much sense to me. Then, on the Friday before classes on Monday, the book I’d been trying to make sense of was taken from me and a different one given in its place. Time to start getting ready again with new book!

And so on to class…

Things could have been worse in that first semester, I suppose. I got a lot of good ideas by listening to people in meetings, great support from some colleagues (though definitely not all, I should add). The photocopier became my best friend, although I doubt my learners in those early classes would agree! I hit the books hard! I got myself a copy of the same grammar books the kids were using for self study and I got two dictionaries to look at how words were exemplified and what they were telling the reader about vocabulary. These tactics weren’t quick fixes, but they were effective: I doubt I’d still be teaching if I hadn’t put in so much ground work early on.

13 months into my new career I was observed for the first time. 18 months after first setting foot into class as a teacher I attended an ELT conference: this was an important step, I can tell you. Along the way there were in-service training sessions, lots of reading and then the DELTA in my fourth year as a teacher. Now, a decade on from that, I look back on these times fondly, but with words of semi-caution for those of you embarking on a career as an English teacher: if you want to develop your career, a lot of what happens will be down to you.

Let’s now move to the centerpiece of today’s post and look at where your teacher education is going to come from in the first five years of your career, While doing so, please look back at my description of my first few years and see how it was for me in my early days.

If you like the infographic, there are a range of download and share options here. Please feel free to use it as you wish.

We’ll now use the rest of today’s post looking at the how. I’ll give you a few quick tips of how to get the most out of the opportunities available to you. Because this post is already starting to spiral out of control (nearly 3000 words if you make it to the end), I’m going to concentrate on what I term ‘The big three’…

1 The DIY approach

If you want to become a good teacher, a lot of it is going to be entirely down to you. Fortunately, there are a great many experts in our profession who have written books on this. To help you along the way, here are nine titles I strongly recommend that you read, either before your certificate course or in the first year of teaching. Let me start the DIY section of the post with the nine books I particularly recommend you read:

1. The one book you absolutely need to get started:

How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer

This is the one: if you do no other reading before embarking on your certificate course, make sure you read this. This book is simply the complete manual of teaching English as a foreign language.

If you’re a native English speaker who’s worried about coming to terms with the grammar of the language this book will be a life saver, as it takes a practical approach, concentrating on examples of teaching and teaching practice rather than on detailed analysis of learning theory. Don’t start your teaching career without this!

2. The other book you absolutely need to get started:

...and learn teaching I did!

…and learn teaching I did!

Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener

This is the other one! Together with Jeremy Harmer’s book, Learning Teaching is the essential guide for your first years as a language teacher and will remain an invaluable resource for your continuing career.

Again, the really practical approach makes it a perfect introduction to teaching English as a foreign or second language.

3. The book to stop you panicking about not knowing English grammar:

Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott

Let’s face it… we need to talk about grammar! If, like me, you’re a native speaker, the chances are you know next to nothing about the mechanics of your native tongue. The beauty of Grammar for English Language Teachers is that it is designed to help trainee teachers develop their knowledge of English grammar systems.

It encourages teachers to appreciate factors that affect grammatical choices, as well as evaluating the kinds of ‘rules of thumb‘ that you’ll see presented to learners in course materials. The consolidation exercises provide an opportunity for you to test these rules against real language use and to evaluate classroom and reference materials. If you’re stressed by the prospect of having to teach grammar, but this book!

4. The go-to-guide for all things Grammar

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

One thing I can guarantee you is that you will be asked questions about grammar that you can’t immediately answer… a state of being that will probably continue for many years! That’s where Practical English Usage comes to the rescue!

This classic reference guide succinctly – and comprehensively – addresses all of the problem points in the English language as encountered by learners and us as teachers. It gives information and advice that is practical, clear, reliable, and easy to find. Don’t leave home without it.

* For more advice on teaching grammar, check out my list of favorite grammar books.

5. The reference guide to teacher training courses

A Course in English Language Teaching by Penny Ur

What do you need to know about language teaching and what will you encounter on a four-week certificate course? If you want a text that will act as an easy to read and easy going book reference guide discussing the various methods of teaching English, this is the book for you.

While this is ideal for your initial teacher training, it will remain a useful reference for when you become a fully-fledged teacher. The book combines theory and practice, with each unit containing tasks that encourage reflection and discussion, plus action tasks such as classroom observation and practice.

6. The orientation to the four-week training course

The CELTA Course Trainee Book by Scott Thornbury and Peter Watkins

While the purpose of this post is primarily to list the books you should be reading after undertaking your four-week certificate course, I hope the message is also coming through that you should get cracking in advance and not wait until you’ve started teaching!

The course itself may probably represent the most difficult month of your life, so reading this title – which wasn’t available when I did my course, unfortunately – will enable you to orient yourself in advance and know exactly what to expect when you get started. A word of caution: reading this won’t enable you to take the course easily; you’ll still have a huge mountain to climb. Nevertheless, this is an extremely useful primer.

7. The comprehensive introduction to how to teach listening

Teaching Listening Comprehension by Penny Ur

Listening isn’t something you’ll necessarily have given much thought in your non-language teacher phase of life… so be prepared for a bit of a shock when you have to teach listening in the classroom.

Luckily, the wonderful Penny Ur is here to help us with this fantastic text in which she defines the characteristics of real-life listening, analyses the problems encountered by language learners, and discusses the considerations involved in planning successful classroom listening practice. The book also contains loads of example tasks to give you plenty of ideas about how to deal with listening in class.

8. The comprehensive introduction to how to teach reading

Developing Reading Skills: A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehension Exercises by Francoise Grellet

Reading isn’t something… aagghh, just see the above paragraph and replace the word ‘listening’ with ‘reading’! Developing Reading Skills is the kind of book that you’ll want to keep close at hand whenever you’re planning a reading lesson.

This is a comprehensive reference handbook offers a wide range of sample reading comprehension exercises which will enable you to incorporate meaningful reading into your lessons. I was using this book years after my certificate course when I did the DELTA and still refer to it on a fairly regular basis.

9. The ‘slow burner’

Discover English by Rod Bolitho

Get your thinking caps on and be ready to be in this for the long haul. This is one of the first books I bought in the run up to doing the CELTA course, although it took a while for its usefulness to sink in.

Not the immediate go-to-guide that you’ll get with most of the titles I’ve mentioned here, Discover English operates as a language-awareness workbook which highlights and explores selected areas of grammar and vocabulary. The exercises are designed to confront myths and preconceived ideas, and to explore common areas of difficulty, while commentaries offer support to all users, especially English teachers. Think of this as a course for you to take to learn about the language: trust me; you’ll almost certainly need it!

Other great sources of DIY development

Here’s a couple of great suggestions from Susannah (many thanks for these, copied from the comments):

Something I’ve found really helpful in my development is to access free short online study courses. I’ve just completed one called “Understanding Language and Teaching” run by the British Council/Uni of Southampton via the www.futurelearn.com website and I’m currently doing one called “Teaching Adult Learners” via www.open2study.com. The courses are free and are a great way of interacting with other teachers around the world.

2 Your course book

It’s incredible just how big a part the course book will play in your development as a teacher. The basic message is this: Keep asking questions of your prescribed course materials so that you learn all you can from them!

The ever excellent Lizzie Pinard (I strongly recommend her blog BTW) has saved me a job and come up with a great list of points:

‘Instead of dismissing your course book out of hand and assuming that you know better (hey, you might – but not necessarily!), take a closer look at the pages you are due to teach next. Consider the aims it is trying to fulfill and the sequence of activities it is using to do this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose of this sequence of tasks?
  • How does each activity bring the learners a step closer to meeting that aim?
  • What theories of language, teaching and learning does it embody?

(You could look in the Teachers Resource Book, if you have access to it, to explore this further. However, remember: publishers’ claims and actual content may not necessarily be equivalent…)

Now consider your learners and context:

  • What are their specific needs and learning styles? What is their/your context?
  • What are your joint long-term goals?
  • What do you know and believe regarding theories of language, teaching, learning and acquisition?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this sequence meet my learners’ needs and match their learning styles? Is it suited to their context?
  • Is this sequence in tune with what I believe about language, teaching, learning and acquisition?
  • How can I adapt this sequence and exploit these activities to best help my learners, bearing in mind these specific needs/learning styles/contextual issues and my pedagogical beliefs? How can I exploit this sequence fully?
  • Do I need to add (expand or extend), delete (subtract or abridge), simplify, reorder or replace anything? If I make these changes, how it will affect the sequence and learning goals of the material?

Read more of Lizzie’s ideas on the importance of course books here.

3 Induction course

Although this will appear to make up an incredibly brief part of your time as a teacher, this will form a disproportionately large part of your early teacher education. Take this opportunity to not only pick up tips on what to do in class, but to also the culture of the teaching environment. The following five areas of teacher development are things you can directly work on in your first few weeks. Remember: learn as much from outside your induction sessions as you do when in them!

Get to know the staff and identify key people

You will make first contact with the people who will make your life easier or make your life hell. These are the people to go to for assistance: the secretary who takes calls and knows where supplies like printer paper and white board markers are; the tea man, who seems to know everything before everyone else and has the key to everything, literally; your colleagues who always are there with advice and assistance, as well as those who won’t offer any help.

Get to know these people quickly and offer your own assistance as and when possible to establish good relationships.

Identify important places and resources

Never underestimate the value of knowing your way around. It’s important to get out, talk to people, and learn the layout of the school, if for no other reason than learners may be asking you for this information. You should know where cafeterias, the library or learning resource centers are. Doing so will help you grow in confidence and feel like you belong!

Learn about organizational culture

Each workplace has its own norms, rules, and expectations. Learning about the culture of your new school because understanding a workplace’s culture may bis almost as important as having the skills to do the job.

Look around and ask yourself questions: How important is it to be on time? What do most people wear to work? What is the email etiquette of the school? How long do people take for lunch? What kind of things are celebrated here and how? Are employee birthdays, for example, celebrated by everyone? Is there an annual school party? Finding the answer to questions like this will help you understand the expectations for behavior at this school.

Get to know your learners

When semester or courses start and learners start attending classes, begin immediately memorizing their names. You should learn not only learner names, however, but also something about each learner as an individual, such as a career goal, a hobby, an interesting personal story. Knowing something about each learner helps in getting to know him or her and, incidentally, remembering those pesky names!

Establish ‘your’ class routine

As part of these critical first weeks, you should also establish a class routine that works for you and your learners, which helps a class run more smoothly. What can help you is to establish procedures for entering late, for turning in late work, where papers and books are located, and what learners should do with personal items such as electronic equipment during class, for instance. Set up routines for explaining what will be covered in each class day and what materials will be needed.

Other forms of professional development

As I’ve spent so much time discussing the big three, I’d love it if you could come up with some advice for exploiting other avenues of professional development in the early years of an ELT career. Please leave suggestions in the comments section below and I’ll add them to the post!

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