Have been a lapsed blogger of late, and especially about teaching, but my passions rise and fall these days. Sometimes it takes someone else to kick you up the arse or inspire you. So, with that in mind, I decided to try a dialogue/answer blog of sorts.
Have been following the Flensburg Files since meeting the brain child behind it Jason at a bloggers cafe. I asked him to write a piece on teaching. As I sensed he may have a different take on things, what with being a student. His piece was such that I really felt all the points were something I could elaborate on or resonate with me. So here is my response –
“As a teacher, you have to market yourself to the students in a way that they will respect you from the first day on. ”
In an academic environment, I have fallen prey to being too buddy-buddy with my students at the onset. I have never been one for hierarchy or enforcing authority. However, I feel I have had to distance myself from my students lately, due to them being critical of the image I have projected. My Lingo Guy image has sometimes been seen as not professional, and students still place you in an academic setting alongside “profi-professors”. There seems to be within the academic field a lot of comparison of tutors to others. So I pick and choose more carefully how I am with students in an academic setting.
2. “Almost all of them are eager to learn from you, and not just for the sake of languages.”
In contrary to my previous point, I do have some students who stay with me after the course has ended. One small group (with the exception of one more loner-type learner) has stayed in touch years down the line after graduation, and despite the fact they are spread wide and far around Germany. I shared not only language, but my other passions of photography, art, football and music with this group, and still do.
3. “As Germans, especially in the eastern half, are obsessed with a structured form of teaching, you should structure the teaching to cater to their needs.”
This is quite true and over the space of recent semesters I have had to even title a section of my lessons as “this is for this purpose”. As students often need sign-posting due to not reflecting on the skills being taught by exercises and tasks that are not clearly framed as what purpose they fit.
4.”Too much of everything in an English classroom, even worksheets, are never a good thing”.
Completely agree with this, and even supply notes and study tasks by email and through a wiki. It still surprises me how a few students now come to lessons without a notebook and pen. However, the majority of my previous engineering students from China always took photos of my board work for their notes. I do tend to have a supply of pens in lessons, as a lot of uncreative people will just buy me a pen for my birthday, which on the plus side means I have the surplus . 😉
5 & 6.”The backup plan must always be in store”.
To this day I still have my “secret weapons” folder or ideas. These I formulated during my many years working in ESL/EFL for private language schools. I may not always have the folder with me, but at least consider what I could use, especially if the technical side goes down.
7. “A creative person comes up with activities on paper, through brainstorming and best of all, in the classroom in a spontaneous manner”.
The downside of this was sometimes with strict assessors during a classroom observation. I would rather scrap an idea if I see that it does not work, than wade through and risk total boredom and students switching-off. I have even shelved a whole plan 5 minutes into a 3-hour session, as I realised the group did not have the energy for my high-octane plans. So I just did a mild version of stir and settle, with more of the latter than the former.
8. “Storytelling not only provides students with a sense of entertainment but also lessons for them to learn from”.
I am a total, all-out fan of the power of storytelling. I even try to transpose my modest abilities onto my students.
9. “teachers love to speak at their tempo”.
Having a light Northern English accent I have had the issue of students thinking I speak too fast. However, the story telling which I have done more of in my own creative writing performances has I have found transposed to my pacing in lessons. Very rarely these days, unless the student has had very little exposure to British English, do students have a problem with my accent or speaking speed. This can also be down to our exposure to British English variations with the rise of streaming services, though.
10. “If students become a smart-ass, surprise them with a quiz to test their knowledge”.
I see this often, especially in a mild form of mobbing. Students aware of their own ability poking fun at others who may have less fluency and accuracy in their spoken English. Often the good talkers do end up being poor writers, though. And quite less forceful students will excel in written exams. I think this comes from the skill of observing and not just voicing what you know or how good you think you are. It is still a truism that to write well you need to be able to step back, listen and watch, instead of rushing headlong into expressing yourself.
11.”The main goal of a teacher is to show students how to be decent”.
Totally have to reiterate this. Last semester was the first time I had to write an email to a whole group to nip racism in the bud. I think some students do not realise the damaging effect they can have on their classmates. However, on the flip side, those who mentor their classmates often leave my courses with a skill set beyond just language competence, and even within that an ability to hone or grade the tone of their language.
Here is a nod to the original article from Jason –
What is your own take on these excellent points of his?
Take them easy!