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Saturday, 5 June 2010

New Teachers? Read This!



This posting is a bit random, I admit. I was watching our current TEFL Certificate trainees do their first ever teaching practice and was noting down a few things I noticed, and suddenly thought it might be interesting to post them here.

So in no particular order, with no-one in mind specifically, here are some of the things that went through the mind of this teacher trainer on week one of our teacher training course. Some of these observations are things I liked, and some are things that worried me. I didn't actually tell the trainees any of these because we like to be positive, especially on the first day of teaching. But they could be useful to consider nevertheless. Here we go.

Listenings: "See what you understand" is a very woolly reason for listening to a recording or dialogue. Give them an easy, concrete question to answer, such as 'Does he like football?' or 'What does the man order?'. And if the answer is towards the end of the listening - bingo! - they will need to listen right the way through to get the answer, which has to be better than them getting the answer after two seconds and contemptuously throwing their pens down and semi-surreptitiously checking their e-mails.

Grammar Points: Watch out for long, boring 'explanations' of grammar points by the teacher with no interaction or eliciting of patterns and rules from the students. An average grammar exercise book like English Grammar in Use from Cambridge or Practical Grammar from Heinle would probably do a better job.

Approach: Nice and friendly is definitely the way to go as far as I'm concerned, in the context of our 'guinea-pigs, who are coming of their own free will and for many of whom English is simply their hobby.

Voices: A nice clear voice, possibly slightly slower and crisper than usual, is something to aim for. You need to both be understood by your audience and also make it clear that you are the boss, after all. Many teachers have developped a special 'teacher voice' for this purpose, but watch out that it doesn't sound too babyish or patronising, and don't forget to switch it off when you're with your friends, or they'll think you've lost it.

Drilling: Good to see some first attempts but the thing that strikes me is... two things. First of all, only say what you want the students to repeat, in a crisp, clear voice. Avoid mumbled phrases along the lines of 'Right, what I'd like you to do is if you could just repeat 'I come from Spain', ok, 'I come from Spain', all right, so can you just repeat that...?' like the plague. Silence and incomprehension will follow. Secondly, the students must know when they are supposed to start. This calls for some quite dynamic conducting skills and tons of enthusiasm from the teacher.

Spelling: Not always easy to spell everything correctly when you're on the spot, but try to watch out for silly mistakes which may confuse the students - this gets easier with experience and confidence.
Grammar: Watch out for slightly unnatural sentences due to nerves or interference from other languages, such as 'I would like for breakfast some bacon and eggs'. Sounds like some French word order creeping in there I reckon.

Teacher Talking Time: Vastly too much of this from certain trainees. This is absolutely normal! Many people seem to equate talking with teaching. However, I consider teaching to be more about asking questions and getting people to work things out for themselves. A greater variety of student-focused activities will quickly remedy this.

Boardwork: Try to plan board layout before the lesson: clear writing, organised and not falling off the wall with the weight of the words all over it.

Checking Understanding: "Does everyone understand?" is not a CCQ (Concept Checking Question)! Nor is "Do you know what 'syrup' is? - Good." Ask yes and no questions such as 'Is syrup a liquid?' 'Is syrup a solid?' 'Can we eat syrup?' 'Can we swim in syrup?', where some of the questions demand the answer 'No' to prove that students are getting it, and not just saying 'Yes' to keep you happy.

Pronunciation: Don't forget to correct dodgy pronunciation during the Practice phase. That's what this phase is for before leading into the freer Production phase.

Questions: What is teaching about? Is it fundamentally about asking questions and making  people think for themselves? What do you think?

Student Spelling: There should be a moment when written exercises are checked somehow (even by the students self-checking with a text) to avoid things like 'straigt on' and 'nexto' installing themselves in the students' notebooks. Wandering around and indicating mistakes over their shoulders can be effective and not too disruptive or teacher-focused.

Rapport: "You!" complete with stabbing finger indicating the next student to contribute is a bit aggressive. If you have forgotten the name then substitute it with 'Yes?', a smile and a friendly open-hand, palm up gesture.

Drilling: "Let me see. -One two three..." The aim was to get the students to repeat 'Let me see.' Personally, I would have make the 'Let me see' function almost as the 'One two three' and throw it over to them with a suitably dramatic open arm gesture towards the students just after the word 'see', and an appropriately expectant look, oh, and shut up too! By that I mean that as soon as you can, try to turn your volume down and the students' volume will increase to fill the silence. Many consider it rude to speak while the teacher is speaking and the tendency for panicky teachers is to fill the silence of the non-repeating students with more teacher talk - not the greatest drill in the world!

That's it for now - an A4's-worth of quick notes from a very respectable first attempt to stand up and teach from this months batch of trainees. Of course there are millions of things that could have been pointed out but I hope that this little list is of some use to you. Let me know what you think!

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© 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : New Teachers? Read This!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

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