The Tales of a Young Teacher

The tales of a young teacher - After rain there's sunshine

Forgive me father for I have sinned, it’s been two months since my last confession…. Or well since my last blog post which is essentially the same thing.

It’s January already and half of the schoolyear has already come and gone, and all those beautiful resolutions that I had in August crashed and burned somewhere around November, and since then I’ve been in pure survival mode. I don’t really know whether writing the blog is of any use at this point. I’ve been really negative and bitter these past months and even though I’m not sure whether or not a lot of people read my blog, I still feel bad for the poor sucker who stumbles upon it and is confronted with that much resentment.

But then, the internet was created so people would have a way to share everything about their life and well this is my life at this point, so I figured it was okay. If it gets to much just click the cross in the right upper corner of the screen and you’ll be just fine. Now I can hear you thinking “why does your life suck so much then?” And truthfully most of it has to do with my job, but not the teaching part. It’s just everything around the teaching part; the paperwork, the meetings, the endless activities, the organizing, the colleagues, the management changes…. my school is a mess right now and for some reason I can’t seem to rise to the occasion and overcome that. Most of it has to do with the fact that I’m still working full time and I’m drowning.

There’s no two ways about it, I’m drowning, and I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it to the end of the schoolyear like this. Tomorrow I have to get back to work after a two-week break and for the first time in three years I really don’t want to go and that’s a scary thing. Because it’s not really like I have a choice, I’ve got to pay the bills I can’t call in sick or just not go… but I’d give anything to not have to. So yeah… that’s kind of the situation right now and although I’ve, again, made a list of resolutions for myself I have little faith in my ability to stick to them. I am planning to focus more on my lessons and try to let the rest of it slide a bit, not put my energy in it and hopefully that will work. I’m also hoping that seeing my students will cheer me up a bit, because despite everything they remain the best part of my job and maybe seeing them will remind me of why I chose to be a teacher in the first place.

Aim for the stars right? See? Told you I was bitter and cynical. There has to be a turning point sometime though, despite my bitterness I do believe that. Nothing can be bad forever and somehow this will get better it’s just a matter of waiting it out and that’s always the hardest part. For now, I’ll try to keep up with the blog, try out some new ideas and hopefully there’ll be sunshine somewhere behind these grey skies.

The tales of a young teacher - Is it do as I say or do as I do?

The first week of school is always a flurry of activity and flies by before you know. However sometimes the first week of school is also a perfect week to take a moment to think and take stock of your choices. And as I was hurtling down a zipline this morning I did just that.... I took stock and  I was screaming my head of, luckily I'm a good multi tasker. 

 

"What were you doing hurtling down a zipline on a regular Friday morning?" you might ask. Well I was participating in the annual start of the year survival/climbing escapade that we organize for our students. This year the third years were lucky enough to go climbing and I was unlucky enough to be a third year's mentor and therefore was stuck at the so called 'climbing forest' as well. Needless to say I was not looking forward to this specific activity, mainly because, like most sane people; heights scare me. I for one, strongly believe that if we were made to be up that high, evolution would've given us wings... It didn't and therefore we should stay on the ground where it's safe and the risks of falling and breaking your neck are significantly lower. But I digress, as I so often do. 

 

So where was I? Oh yes hurtling down a zipline and taking a moment to think. Of course my main thought was: "What the frick am I doing?! Why oh God why?" Unsurprisingly the answer as always led me back to my students. For they have been the reason for many a foolish action since I've started teacher training all those years ago (6 years... to be exact, but that just sounds less impressive) 

 

Why do I seem intent on behaving this way? Mainly, because in my opinion you should never ask something from a student you are not willing to do yourself. And even though I knew many of my students were scared I still asked and expected them to give the climbing activity a try. What kind of teacher, hell what kind of person would I be if I then refused to do it myself? The answer is: a hypocrite. And I'll admit I am many things (a control freak, a perfectionist and a confrontation avoider) but I actively try to never practice hypocricy.  

 

Writing poetry, performing raps, making videos and podcasts, presentations, we ask all of this and more from our students. And most of these activities scare them to death or they simply dislike being in the spotlight, they might hate the sound of their own voice and despise seeing themselves on film. Still, knowing all this teachers will ask and demand praticipation from their students. And I believe there is nothing wrong with that; these experiences are good for students, it makes them actively practice the language as well as bolsters their confidence and their presentation skills. However, I would never ask them to do something without doing it myself first. 

 

"Oh really? Does this mean you rapped in front of all your students?" Why yes, yes it does. I have and I'll probably do it again. I've made videos of my home, endless recordings of my voice, silly pictures of my face and I've performed some mortifying raps in front of more than 20 children. And all of these things are confronting and (in case of rapping) completely terrifying. But I do them, because I think teachers should lead by example. And it's not fair to ask your students to do things you yourself are not comfortable with. By demonstrating these activities you show your students that the activities can be fun and are definitely doable. You also establish the lengths you are willing to go to motivate and encourage them. 

 

By setting an example and demonstrating these kinds of activities first you show your students your commitment. Will they maybe laugh at you a little bit? Sure, they're teenagers, it's a definite possibility. But you should roll with that and use that to your advantage. Play it up, own it, and you will gain something invaluable in return: namely your students' respect. 

 

Every single student that went climbing with us today, knew how scared I was. Hell a lot of them saw how scared I was; but I pulled through (with a lot of encouragement of my colleagues and one or two special students) and did it anyway. And even though I was praying to all the gods, old, new and Game of Thronian, it was worth every second because it's something that they will remember in the two years I still have to teach them. Further more it inspired at least one student to give the activity a try and even though she eventually had to stop early she still tried, and that's worth a lot in my eyes. 

 

My students know I'm not unreasonable, they know I'd never make them do something that's truly unequivocally beyond what they are comfortable with. But I will challenge them to leave their comfort zone, I demand that they expand their experiences. And 99% of the time they will do what I ask simply because I've already showed them that it's okay to do so. 

 

The tales of a young teacher - What's in an accent anyway?

Almere,

 

Monday June 25th 

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything which has a lot to do with the fact that I’m severely whelmed at the moment. Meaning that I’ve been teaching 33 hours a week for a month now and honestly? Me is dying. It’s so severe that even my grammar is suffering. Anyways it’s busy and when times get busy you must prioritize and no matter how much I love my blog and sharing my experiences with you guys, it was also the very first thing to go. However, I’ve just woken from a very untimely nap, will not be able to fall asleep for several hours yet, so I thought, I might as well share; and boy have I got a story for you guys!

 

Last week I had a job interview. Yes, I know, I can imagine all your gasps and exclamations “A job interview?” “But why?” “How?” “When?” “Where?” Truth be told I applied for the job 2 months ago, when my current school hadn’t offered me a fixed contract yet. It was a position as an English teacher at my former high school, same number of hours I do now but a higher level of students. The school is closer by than my current one so that’s a plus and of course I’m quite familiar with the school thanks to me being a student there. To be honest, this job was all I ever dreamed about when I started teacher training. You dream about what you know, right? So, I always envisioned myself teaching at this particular school. And well 2 weeks ago they send me an email completely out of the blue, inviting me for the job interview. I was torn, I’d just gotten a fixed contract after all, but after talking it through with my boss (who is absolutely amazing) I decided to not let the opportunity pass me by.

 

So, there I was: 4:30 p.m., heart in my throat, weak knees and all, yet from the moment I walked into my old school, there was nothing. No feeling of familiarity, or of welcome, no click whatsoever. And when the interview began it steadily got worse. Halfway thought the interview I began to wonder if this is what I wanted, and what happened next, well, let’s say it was a no brainer after that. The guy who conducted the interview was a little stuffy, not somebody I could easily envision working for or with, but I mean, that’s first impressions right? Important, sure, but not a deal breaker. The questions he asked me though, bothered me a bit. He didn’t ask me about my vision as a teacher, or how I conducted my lessons, he didn’t ask me why I chose to become a teacher or about my further ambitions. He did ask me if my current students liked me, if they wouldn’t miss me if I would leave, he asked a bit about why I studied in Belgium, which I admit isn’t all that noteworthy but then he asked me why I've got an American accent, and if the school where I studied didn’t have any rules about that…. Now I must admit I was a bit flabbergasted, I spoke a little English whilst trying to explain a work form and so he apparently heard enough of my speech to determine for himself that my accent sounded American. But to pursue it like that and ask me why and how I got it, well that struck me as odd. Especially because he followed it up by saying that he was sure that schools preferred British accents to be taught to their students.

 

Now I have many problems with this question, not only how it was posed but mostly about it being asked at all. He could’ve asked me a hundred other questions that would’ve told him something about me as a teacher. Instead he focused on something as banal as an accent. Now I have been told many times that I have an American accent and I won’t lie: when I was younger I loved hearing this. I took it as a compliment, after all if I sound American, I sound like a native speaker and for someone whose first language is not in fact English, that’s quite an accomplishment. However, ever since becoming a teacher and studying up on certain research and developments within the ELT field I’ve come to realize that there really isn’t something as an American or British accent. Because what does an American accent really entail? Do I sound Californian, New Yorker, Bostonian or like I’m from New Jersey? Do I have a Texan accent or am I from New Orleans? Saying that somebody has an American accent is bullcrap, I might speak American English, but I don’t have any accent besides my own way of speaking. This same principle applies to British English of course, non native speakers have a very strong idea of what British English and a British accent entail, but this heavily desired accent is spoken by a very small group of people and does not in any way represent the diversity of the British English language. Moreover, the fact that this guy implied that a British accent is better and therefore has preference when teaching students is something that really gets me going because I simply do not understand where this idea originated from?! Why on God’s green earth would British English be better? Because it was first? Because it sounds posher? For heaven’s sake people, we live in the 21st century, language is evolving more rapidly than we can keep up with, more people speak English then there are British and American people combined! American and British might be the sounds we are most used to, but they are definitely not the sounds that are most spoken. So, who the hell cares what I speak whilst teaching my students, as long as I can make myself understood?!

 

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been confronted with this prejudice about accent, it happened in teacher training and during my internships as well. It’s sad to say but a lot of people (non native speakers) have very strong feelings about what is correct English and what isn’t. And mine? Well, apparently, it’s not quite up to snuff. It just hit me harder this time because I’m more sensitive to the topic I guess? Following the discourse on Twitter, going to conferences and watching amazing TED talks like the one given by Heather Hansen not so long ago, they really opened my eyes about certain prejudices and problems when it comes to teaching and speaking the English language. After this line of questioning my mind was pretty made up. I was never in a million years going to take this job, and I’ve never walked away with such a feeling of relief before, because I didn’t need this job, I already have one. And that gives you the freedom to be picky.

 

However, for everyone out there who doesn’t share my, admittedly, luxury position, and who therefore has to put up with these kinds of things, my heart goes out to you. Because it sucks, truly sucks to be judged upon the way you sound. And I mean, I sound American, which is apparently a lesser English accent, but what if you have a different accent, what if you can’t (to the ear of the untrained) pass for a near native speaker? What then? Because let me tell you, my English is good, and I take pride in that, I won’t lie, I do. But everyone who has every complimented me on sounding American has been a non-English teacher. No other has ever made the mistake of thinking that I am a native speaker. And it’s more often than not that it’s these untrained listeners that put stock into English sounding good. I could make a lot of grammar mistakes but as long as I sound good, people will still praise my English. If your accent however doesn’t contain this “precious” native sound people will judge your English more harshly. Which is frustrating, unfair and just plain wrong. Like Heather said in her TED talk (if you haven’t seen it please do because it’s amazing) there are more non-native speakers of English then there are native speakers. English is rapidly becoming a lingua franca and accent does not and should not matter. You can speak ”bad” English perfectly and there is absolutely no shame in that.

 

I’m guessing the point of this experience and it's subsequent rant is this: accents do not and should not matter, sounding English isn’t important and the fact that many people still judge upon accents is frustrating and unfair. Especially if these people are responsible for hiring English teachers and/or distributing learner content. Because the idea that our students should learn this antiquated British English accent is also, to my mind, very damaging. As English teachers we should keep this debate alive and kicking. Everytime something like this happens we must speak up and restate our arguments. Because if we don’t these prejudices might not ever go away, and wouldn’t that be a shame for all generations of teachers and learners still to come?

The tales of a young teacher - An emotion-fuelled rant

Almere,                                                       

 

Wednesday June 6th 2018 

 

Today I have no new insights to share with you guys, no interesting literature to share, no webinar to review and no blog post to respond to. Today my blog will be filled with some old-fashioned whining and ranting. If that’s not your cup of tea, get out while you can because this may get ugly.

 

Let me paint you a word picture: It’s four o’clock on a sunny Wednesday afternoon at Wellantcollege Naarden, the hallways are deserted, the cleaners are already in the building, the bosses have gone, the students ran away as fast as their legs could carry them and a total of maybe 5 teachers roam in empty classrooms, working their ass of. They are all alone.

 

Sounds like the beginning of a bad horror movie, right? Unfortunately, it’s just a typical afternoon at my school, especially when the weather is as good as it has been in the past few days. Spring is here and with it the well-known end-of-the-year frustrations. This is the period where summer vacation is only 6 weeks away and everybody knows it. It’s a period of longing, of hoping but mostly a period of whining. So … much …. Whining……

 

Right around this time of year teachers believe to be busier than at any other moment of the schoolyear, which is ridiculous, because you’re not busier you’re just exhausted. This is actually the moment a lot of my colleagues have very little to do. Our fourth years have finished their exams which means that some of my colleagues are down to a blissful 6 hours of teaching a week! Meanwhile little-miss-idiot over here is teaching 33 hours a week (not including prep time, meetings, correction work and the like) because she has a pathological need to please others. Which I do, and therefor the amount of work really is my own choice and I don’t mind, it’s only six more weeks after all. But the incessant whining and sighing and groaning about the so-called ‘excessive’ workload is starting to piss me off. And when I’m pissed, I start ranting, never to the people who actually deserve to hear it (I do not do confrontations well) No, I rant to you guys and to my boyfriend (the poor thing) So thank you for being there for me in my time of need.

 

What bothers me most is that I have always known that teaching is not a nine to five job. It’s something you take home with you, something that requires a lot more than simply showing up and teaching your lessons. There’s of course all the preparation time, the correction work, the meetings and the classes. But there’s also school parties, graduation, class outings, excursions, sport events and so on. The end of the schoolyear is when most of these last ones coalesce, which means that it can be a very busy time. But this is something that you are aware of when you start teaching, and if you’re not, it’s certainly something you find out in your first year, so why the hell are there people who have been teaching for decades and who are still whining about this?! This is how it is people…. It’s the job, you can’t escape it, so accept it and bear it gracefully of get the hell out of dodge. But stop the incessant whining, for god sakes, these people are talking ME into early retirement with all the moaning and groaning, that’s how depressing it is.

 

I do have to be honest: I complain all the time. I will grouch about being tired, I will drone on about how my classes are a drag and I can’t find the energy to prepare them all properly. I will come in on Monday and I will ask whether it’s Friday already. I’m Dutch, complaining is in our blood, it’s how we show we care. What you will never find me do is complain about things like giving goodbye speeches to students at graduation (which is a hot topic for complaints with my colleagues right now) or complain about the fact that we have to go out to dinner with all the fourth years before they get their diplomas (which is really fun!) No, I have accepted these things and I have learned to embrace them. These activities and special days are what makes working at a school so fun! It’s a change of pace and it helps move the schoolyear along a bit.

 

So that was rant number one, let’s move on, shall we? Let’s talk about this new work ethic where teachers seem to think they can walk in at 8:25 AM and walk out at 03:30 PM. What’s up with that? Like, I get in at 7:45 AM and when I’m lucky I finish at 4:30 PM but usually it’s a little later. I need all the time I can get to get all my work done and usually I still end up taking it home with me. Yet other people drop everything the moment their last lesson has ended and then when they have to teach the next day they just put on Netflix and watch a movie “It’s almost summer after all” ……. I don’t want to generalize (I’m sure a couple of people have good reasons) but to me this attitude really sucks. If you’re sooooo busy, then how come you can leave early every day? If the workload is too much, then why aren’t you at school busting your ass every day from dawn to freaking dusk? It seems to me that someone, somewhere isn’t being entirely truthful. And you know, honestly, I don’t care. You wanna leave after your last class to go home and lie on the couch? I completely support you! You do you. But don’t come in the next day, half an hour after I’ve already started and whine about how busy you are. Because that will eventually end with me accidentally hitting you in the face …. With a chair …. Repeatedly. Or me dreaming about this a lot (again, Rianne and confrontation generally do not mix)

 

So that was the end of my rant. Honestly, I feel a lot better, it’s nice to just get it all off your chest sometimes. I do promise you that my post next week will be more academically inclined. And I will also post something on Friday, I haven’t for the past two weeks due to the fact that I started covering 6 additional classes and have been really busy trying to keep everything on track. But I have done some pretty fun things in the past couple of weeks that I would love to share with you guys so keep an eye out and thank you for bearing with me!

 

*This rant was brought to you by: a frustrated teacher. No feelings were meant to be hurt in the process* 

Of Studying and Teaching - An Austrian Teacher Trainee on being a Teacher (Trainee)

This Wednesday's post was written by Alexandra Riemer, an Austrian teacher trainee that I met during IATEFL. She will tell us something more about the teacher training program in Austria and about her own experiences as a teacher trainee. Thanks again Alex for taking the time to write this! To my readers: Enjoy!  

 

Hello there, lovely readers of Rianne’s blog!

 

My name is Alex and I will be your new host. Or rather, I am the writer of this week’s blog post. I‘m here to tell you something about the way Austrian teacher trainees are taught and about my personal professional development story I would also like to share some insights I gained during the internship I am doing at the moment. I‘m currently 22 years old and in my fourth (and penultimate) year of my teaching diploma, hence why I at least believe to know a bit about the training programmes in Austria.

 

Maybe I should start with why I am writing this blog instead of Rianne and how I met her, as Austria and the Netherlands are rather far apart geographically. It all started at this year’s IATEFL conference in Brighton, when Rianne complimented me on my handwriting (it’s tiny but, apparently, rather neat) and invited me to be part of her team during the International Quiz, where I met a lot of other lovely people (a lot of them who are part of BELTA - shoutout to them and to our team at the quiz, unofficial second place forever!) Rianne and I then went to some of the same talks and workshops and that’s why you are reading a blog entry written by me at the moment.

 

But let’s save the sappy story of how I got to meet Rianne and made lots of new friends for another day (the actual story is so much longer than above) and get to the content of this blog - the teacher training programme in Austria with all its lovely elements.

 

So, to start with, I should tell you that I am not only studying English but also History and Political Education as part of my five-year teaching degree because, in Austria, you have to choose two subjects instead of one. The teaching degree is also split into two parts that I like to call the “unofficial Bachelors“ and the “unofficial Masters“ based on their content and duration.

The English part of the teaching degree is then split further into: literary studies, cultural studies (of both American and British culture), linguistics, language studies (i.e. grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation) as well as a didactics courses. Sadly, the didactics part of the teaching degree is rather small and is only focussed on during the last few semesters of the degree. To allow for us students to gain first-hand knowledge on what it is like to be a teacher, we have to do two internships in each subject, one in each of the two parts mentioned above. The first internship, during the first part of our studies, consists of eight observations and two lessons taught by the student; the second internship is a tad longer (with ten observations and eight lessons being taught).

 

As I told you above, I am currently doing my second internship in English (I actually am smack in the middle of teaching and, besides writing this blog, planning my next few lessons), which might be the most interesting for you. I have taught four lessons already, two in a fifth form (14 and 15-year-olds, level B1 on the topic of food) and two lessons in a fourth form (13- and 14-year-olds, level A2 on the topic of body talks including piercings and tattoos, body language and other ways a body can talk). Reflecting on these four lessons (which I have to admit is not a lot, but hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta to do), I have come up with five points I would like to share with you as a teacher-in-the-making.

 

1)       Shortening texts is much harder than you think

For my second lesson in the fifth form I decided to talk about food of the future and created a well-rounded lesson starting with a speaking activity, a reading of an article taken from the Guardian with a reading comprehension based on the Matura (the leaving certificate for secondary students in Austria) and ended it with a short video, in which people actually ate the food of the future. But, as I was aware that the article had some rather… demanding language, I decided to shorten and rewrite some parts to make it easier for the students. Let me tell you - this was so much harder than I thought it would be. I did not have the knowledge on what vocabulary the students actually did know and what was new for them, which, inevitably, led to me creating a rather tough reading comprehension for the fifth-formers. (They did manage to find the right solutions, it was just a bit more demanding than what they were used to. 

 

2)       Save everything twice, three times or seven times

This second point actually goes hand-in-hand with the first point. Although I just got a new laptop, it decided to malfunction exactly on the day on which I had to teach the “food of the future“ lesson. And of course, all of my well-prepared material (the reading comprehension, the vocabulary work and the shortened text) were on my laptop which I could not access. Lucky for me, I am a morning person and got up way earlier than I had to. So I just grit my teeth and drank my coffee next to my stand-by computer and re-created each and every one of my activities. (I was a tad rushed, I have to admit.) So, to save you from the same: save everything as often and as many times as possible. 

 

3)       Pantomime works wonders

The fourth form that I taught was a rather energetic class, meaning that doing certain tasks in this class can be a challenge for teachers. To allow their urge to move to be used in the classroom, I decided to play pantomime at the end of the second lesson to show how gestures could be used to talk as well. For the words that they had to pantomime I only used vocabulary out of the lists they had to study before, meaning that they were supposed to know all the vocabulary items. (Spoiler: they didn’t.) One of my personal favourite items was, by far, eye contact. Just imagine a student staring at his classmates for forty-five seconds straight while pointing at his eyes for his colleagues to get it.

 

4)       Writing during class works just as well

In this same class I also tried out something that Rianne talked about on this blog before - letting students write with a time- rather than a word limit (and making the time limit a random one rather than 10 minutes) and giving students an additional challenge if they were up to it. I let the fourth-year-students write a letter to their parents in order to convince them why they should be allowed to get a tattoo or a piercing at just fourteen. I honestly prepared for the worst reaction: that they would simply not do it or write something immature or unreasonable and that they would not use the time limit I gave them. But, low and behold, they actually wrote for the whole time and the texts they produced were absolutely adorable. (One girl wrote about a tattoo that she wanted - it was of a cat which she would name Sushi; so she would not have to get a real cat.)

Of further note - if you correct texts whilst riding the train, try to keep your giggles and chortles to the minimum. I think I annoyed my whole compartment because I giggled through the texts of the students. 

 

5)       If you touch upon the lives of the students, they are more likely to do the task

This is something that I realised whilst teaching the fifth form. As I talked about food trends, I also talked about food blogging and, as a (at least for me) logical conclusion, I let them be food bloggers for the day. To give them some choice, I let them either write an actual blog or they could post pictures on their Instagram (with everything that comes with that, including comments, hashtags and a snazzy tagline) which they printed out. Even though not all of the students were even there during this lesson, I got the homework of each and every student. Some of them wrote a blog, some of them posted pictures on Instagram and some of them actually drew pictures in the form of Instagram instead of posting it online. I never thought this homework would have this turnout - I was very proud to say the least. (My favourite hashtag by far was #English #homeworkdone.)

 

So to sum up my experiences during my internship so far: Do not underestimate the students but do not overwork them either, be confident in what you want to do and it will work out, and save everything. Honestly, trust me, save everything. At least twice. Or three times. Or seven, whatever works for you. 

The tales of a young teacher- It's all about "fun" but should it be?

Almere,

 

Wednesday May 23rd 2018 

 

Since starting my own blog I have been reading other professional blogs as well, you know to get a lay of the land so to speak. Last week, while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came upon a very interesting blog post by Sarah Priestley on the subject “Do students really want fun in the classroom?”

 

In her post Sarah talks about the fact that she worries about the use of the word fun within the ELT world. According to her, the word itself is overused and the concept might be overrated. While reading the post I alternated between getting my pitchfork and thoughtfully rubbing my chin and thinking “this woman has a point”. Because my feelings were so mixed and because I kept revisiting the subject after reading the initial post I thought I would share my thoughts with you guys.

In her post Sarah looks at why the word fun is so strongly associated with ELT and touches upon two common assumptions that seem to be reasons behind this emphasis on fun.

 

Before reviewing these I'd like to take a moment to say that Sarah has a valid point by remarking upon the many ‘fun’ labelled activities, articles and talks that can be found on the internet. Everyone who has ever done a google search on “grammar activities in class” will have seen the many links screaming about “fun grammar games”, “10 fun revision exercises to do in class”, etc. I’m not denying that the word fun is being overused within our field. However, it might be a good idea to look at what people mean when they put ‘fun’ in the title. In my experience they usually mean ‘interesting’, ‘engaging’, ‘communicative’ or ‘active’, at least that’s what all these activities strife to be. And that, in and of itself, is very understandable if you look at the principles teachers are taught during teacher training. We are told that engaging our students is the priority, that by providing them with authentic and interesting materials we will increase their motivation and getting them actively involved will raise their participation and enjoyment. Which is exactly what we, since becoming teachers, have been trying to do. We try to incorporate a competitive, social or authentic element into our lessons in order to motivate our students and to spruce up the learning experience. Which makes a lot of sense to me; we live in the 21st century, most of our students (when teaching teenagers or even young adults) were born or grew up during this century, and so they are accustomed to being entertained and engaged. They live in a world of instant-gratification and are constantly rewarded for the smallest things (think about gaming), so it’s not a surprise that we, as educators, have responded to this process by adding these elements to our teaching. That is the way we reach our students, it’s the way we engage and motivate them. This doesn’t mean that all our activities are fun or that our students experience them as such. What it means, is that we try to vary our activities, we keep trying different things, we emphasize our students being active and we aim to always involve them in the learning process. Calling these activities ‘fun’ might be the wrong descriptive word, sure, but it doesn’t eradicate the meaning and purpose behind them.

 

Now to the assumptions: in her post the first assumption Sarah tackles is the common belief that our students need to have fun in order to learn. Her answer is no, and I wholeheartedly agree; students don’t need to have fun. But they do need to be engaged, they need to actively participate, and they benefit from being able to relate to the materials that are being taught. The way teachers try to achieve this may, very possibly, lead to students having fun while learning. Not a need, but a good side effect. Let’s not forget that enjoyment does speed up the learning process; if students like what they are doing, they will have a positive association with the activity and will likely want to do it again. This will lead to a lot of voluntary repetition done solely on the power of intrinsic motivation. And tadaa: our students are learning because they associate the learning process with a good feeling; a feeling of ‘fun’. Sure, sometimes it's too much of a good thing. Communicative activities with competitive elements or authentic materials may very well lead to a lot of noise, students physically moving around and looking engaged while not actually being so. But our job is to keep this possibility in mind and to plan accordingly, that’s what clear instructions and class management are for. If the activity does turn out to be too ‘fun’, take it out and try again. The learning process should be the core of the lesson, that is something Sarah and I completely agree on.

 

The second assumption that Sarah talks about is the one that says that “students appreciate and want fun activities in the classroom”. She debunks this by saying that in all her years of teaching she has never once encountered an adult student asking for more fun in the classroom. She, trying to get a broader view of the subject, discussed this with one of her colleagues, who works as the Head of Adult Customer Care at her school, and this colleague also told her that the question for more fun has never been posed before. You already know where I’m going with this? Because there’s one thing that really stood out to me: Sarah is talking about adult students, and so is her colleague. However, a lot of teaching (I won’t say most, because I honestly don’t know if it’s true) takes place with students of a younger age; kids or teenagers. And lemme tell you: those kids appreciate a fun element. They love having fun while they are learning, they love doing ‘fun’ activities in school and that’s because they are kids, and they are not at school voluntarily; they are there because society has decided they have to be. They didn’t choose to learn, had no say in their learning goals and are young and easily distracted. They get bored quickly and are more involved with their personal problems and social lives than their ‘professional’ development. And that’s the big difference; I totally understand adult learners telling their teachers that they don’t need the ‘fun’ activities, that they are there to learn and that’s what they want to focus on. That’s because these people made a deliberate choice to become language learners. The kids and teenagers that many of us teach, they didn’t make that choice; they were forced into it. They are younger and have very different mindsets than adult students and thus, using the argument that adult students don’t ask - nor have any need for ‘fun’ activities, has little to no validity when it comes to the other (younger) learners of the language.  

 

This in no way to say that I completely disagree with Sarah or am denying that many of her points are very valid. Because I don’t, and they definitely are. I just think that, when we argue about the use of ‘fun’ activities in the classroom, we must really zero in on what we mean when we use that word. I think it’s become an immensely overused term; the problem lies in the fact that many teacher are misnaming their activities. Instead of 'fun' these activities should be called ‘engaging’, ‘motivational’ or ‘communicative’, because these are the goals, that’s what we are trying to achieve. So we shouldn't call them 'fun', because having fun is not the purpose of what the students are doing. 

 

Goal or not, I do strongly believe that fun, especially for younger learners, is quite important. And though it shouldn’t be a purpose in and of itself, it’s definitely something teachers can, and sometimes even should, consider when designing or implementing new activities. As with any other term or  principle within the ELT world, ‘fun’ is something that we shouldn't not overuse. Having fun in the classroom is not a crime, but we musn't overdo it either. Teachers need to make sure that stimulating and enhancing their students’ learning process remains the main objective. The goal is to make them effective language users, if they can have fun while doing it, that’s great. But we shouldn't go out of our way to make it fun, because not only is that unnecessary it can also damage the students'  perception of language learning. Which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. 

The tales of a young teacher - Stressing out

Almere,

 

Wednesday May 16th 2018, 

 

Since I actively started using Twitter it has come to my attention that one of the hot topics right now is mindfulness. Taking care of yourself mentally and physically to ensure that you won’t crash and burn in the future. Now, being mindful is all about avoiding stress, which is quite difficult since stress has become an undeniable part of modern day life. If there are people out there claiming to be stress free they should step forward and share their secret with us regular mortals, because I for one can’t imagine having no stress at all.

 

Stress is also something that is manifesting younger and younger, reports on teenagers with burn-outs or depression are becoming more and more common. And research shows that children as young as ten are under huge amounts of stress.

 

So, as teachers we should comfort ourselves with the fact that stress isn’t something only we experience. It’s safe to say that we (our society as a whole) are pretty much in the same boat. But how should we, and teachers, specifically, deal with stress? That’s a question I wish I would have a definitive answer to, because I’d be rich by now, but alas I don’t. I do however have a couple of suggestions and ideas that have helped me tone down my stress levels a bit. It’s not revolutionary, not by a long shot. But it could be of help to beginning starry-eyed teachers who are just starting out, dreaming about changing the world one student at a time.

 

Leave your baggage where it belongs: a good and useful tip in many different situations. In this case I mean to say that whatever happens during your workday is something that should be left at school. Don’t bring it home with you. This is my first piece of advice and certainly the most difficult advice to follow, heck half of the time you will probably fail at this. Speaking for myself I have a hard time leaving my work at home, I take it with me and then analyze it to death. Things that I’ve found to help prevent this is to have a little notebook/document where I write down everything of note at the end of the day before leaving for home. Confrontation with a colleague? I write it down. Bad experience with a class or student? I write it down. After I’ve written it down I reflect upon what happened and note down any course of actions I might want to take the next day. When I’ve written down everything, I leave the notebook at work and then go home. It’s not a 100% fix but it does help a bit because I’ve already thought about and reflected upon the things that have happened and that bothered me. I’ve thought about what I could have done differently and about how I’m going to fix it. This means there is less to agonize over once I get home. Now, unfortunately work has other ways of finding you at home no matter what you do: especially emails are a sure-fire way of getting stressed in a relatively short amount of time. Solution: don’t check your emails, don’t link your email account to your phone, keep it strictly on your laptop or computer. Make it a habit to check your mails at the beginning of the school day and at the end. Everything in between can wait. You deserve to have your evening to yourself. Another golden tip is to never hand parents or students your personal phone number if you can avoid it. People are severely lacking boundaries nowadays and nothing can interrupt a quiet evening on the couch more than a Whatsapp message from a stressed-out parent.

 

No is also an answer: beginning teachers often feel pressure to perform. Everybody who starts their first job has this, you want to impress your bosses and be liked by your colleagues. You want to show them you have a right to be there. Some might say that this is part of the territory and I agree with this statement, but there is a limit. The only person that knows how much you can handle is you, but you have to communicate this to your colleagues and superiors in a very direct manner. It’s impossible to do everything and nobody expects you to, they might like you a lot for doing it, sure, but they will also respect you for being able to say no. They have all been in your position after all.

 

Get physical: no, I don’t mean to say you should hit your students or the people you work with (no matter how much you might want to) what I mean is that you should take up a sport. Whether it’s walking, swimming or tennis. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have something that you can do, that completely occupies your mind and allows you some respite from your work-related thoughts. I chose kickboxing because, not only do I get to hit things, it’s also a sport with a lot of technique behind it which requires my full attention. I have lessons two or three times a week and I cherish these hours. Sure, my boyfriend has to literally push me out the door sometimes but once I’m actually moving I never regret it.

 

You are not a therapist: which is to say it is not your job to listen to every single one of your students’ stories. If we are being really honest a lot of your students will have their own worries. Being a teenager is hard and it seems like it is only getting harder, students (even when they vehemently deny it) really like their teachers and they love getting attention and being listened to. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! However, if it comes to a point where all your afternoons are spent listening to your students and you end up trying to either fix their problems or worry about them incessantly, well that means it has gone to far. You are not their therapist, that is not your job, if it’s what you want to do, that’s fine but then go back to school and become a therapist. If you’re a teacher, then you have other responsibilities. You must learn when to listen to a student and when to cut them off, even if you don’t really want to.

 

The tips mentioned above are ones that I have use myself thanks to  various experiences during my first year of teaching. Some of them are simple, while others might be quite difficult and even seem harsh. But nobody is happy if you’re stressed out, or at home with a burn-out. You can’t take care of others if you yourself are not taken care of. Our job is stressful, there’s no denying it, it’s something that everybody knows, and nobody will blame you for being stressed or having trouble handling it all. But you are allowed and encouraged to ask for help. Talk to your coworkers, talk to your doctor or your friends and family. Ask them for advice on how to cope with stress. Just don’t ignore it, don’t pretend it’s not happening or that you are not affected. Denying it will won't help anybody and especially not yourself, while it can damage you in ways that might be irreparable. 

The tales of a young teacher - "Just circle" a wonderful workshop by Tatiana Shyan!

A high level of engagement during the entire workshop!

Almere,

 

Wednesday 9th May 2018, 

 

Today I want to talk about a great workshop I attended during the sixth annual BELTA day. Now as a board member I couldn’t attend as many sessions as I did in the previous years, in fact I only attended one. But let me tell you, it definitely did not disappoint!

 

The session I attended was given by Tatiana Shayan from Ukraine and it was all about playing circle games in class. As it was a workshop, we ended up exploring these circle games ourselves which was a lot of fun.

 

Tatiana explained that circle games can incite some negative feelings in your students, they are likely to feel a little exposed and insecure. However, with the right attitude and firm rules this can be resolved. Tatiana went on to say that circle games can be used in many ways within the classroom, as ice breakers, introductions or fillers. Most importantly though is that playing circle games is fun and relaxing and they can boost your student’s confidence and wellbeing.

 

During the workshop Tatiana introduced us to several circle games; the first one was an introduction game that you can use to help your students remember each other’s names. Now as opposed to the traditional name game where students have to add an adjective to their name, this game required no additional language. The students stand in a circle and make a gesture when saying their name. The other students in the circle take turns repeating this gesture and the original student’s name. When everyone has had a go the teacher makes one of the gestures and all the students need to figure out which name was attached to that particular gesture. It’s really entertaining, and it will make learning each other’s name quite easy.

 

The second game is called “hen house”, this is a game that you can use to help students with difficult words, both with remembering and pronouncing them. Now what happens is that the teacher explains the exercise to the group; she lets them choose a word, something with multiple syllables, and they divide it up. Group one says only the first syllable, group two only the second and group three only the third. At the count of three the groups start to simultaneously chant their given syllable. The teacher lets the students try this a couple of times. She then asks for a volunteer to step out of the room. When the volunteer has left the group comes up with a different word (preferably one that they have been introduced to) she assigns each group a syllable. When the volunteer re-enters the room, the students begin chanting their given syllable. It’s up to the volunteer to walk around the room and try to puzzle out which word is being said. This exercise was a lot of fun but also quite challenging. I volunteered to leave the room and it really takes some focus to figure out which word is being said. Not only does the game help your students understand what a syllable is, it’s also great for word recognition and for practicing pronunciation. All in all, a great game to end a vocabulary lesson with!

 

The next game was also vocabulary based, and it requires the students to work in pairs. Each pair is given a difficult word that they haven’t studied yet. Next to the word are options a, b and c. One of the options contains the correct definition of the word, the other two options are blank. The students have to come up with their own (believable) definitions of the word and have a couple of minutes to do so. When everyone is done, the pairs take turns sharing their words and the three definitions with the class. The class has to guess which definition is the correct one.

 

The fourth and fifth game were both aimed at speaking skills. The fourth requires the students to write down a question on a piece of paper, fold the paper and give it to the teacher. The teacher puts all of the folded papers in a glass jar and passes the jar round the circle. All the while music is playing in the background. When the music stops the person holding the jar has to take out one question, read it aloud and try to answer it. Other students are allowed to chime in with their answers as well. This game is great to informally talk- and encourage discussions in the target language.

 

The fifth and final game involves writing down a secret on a piece of paper, then folding the paper into a paper plane. When everyone is finished the teacher counts to three and the students throw their planes into the middle of the circle. Then they have to get up and retrieve a random paper plane. They read the secret and then walk around the room asking their fellow classmates indirect questions in order to find which student the secret belongs to. For example, if the secret is “I don’t like Brussel sprouts” the student has to ask questions like “Is there any food you don’t like?” “Is there a vegetable you hate?” etc. They are not allowed to ask, “Do you dislike Brussel sprouts?”

 

I had a lot of fun attending Tatiana’s workshop and trying out all these different games, and based on all the happy faces I saw during the session itself I wasn’t the only one. Tatiana’s session really drove home what BELTA day is supposed to be all about: good and practical ideas that teachers can take home with them and implement in their own lessons. I also had the great pleasure of getting to know Tatiana a little better during the conference and she is absolutely lovely! So passionate and enthusiastic about what she does and unendingly positive. I really hope that she’ll come back to BELTA day in the future because I’m sure there’s a lot more we can learn from her!

The tales of a young teacher - Taking the high road even when you really don't want to

Almere

 

Wednesday 2nd April 2018 

 

It’s that time of year again, the May break: a two-week holiday in which our senior students have time to prepare themselves for the exams and all the other students just prepare themselves for the eleven remaining weeks of the schoolyear. It’s also a moment where every person I talk to feels a need to comment on the fact that I have a two-week break.

 

“Oh you’re a teacher? How nice to have all those holidays!”

“On break again huh? You teachers sure have it easy.”

“I don’t understand why you complain about your job. Just think about all your holidays! Normal jobs don’t have that you know”

 

Every teacher in existence has heard one of these comments, or a variation thereof since the moment they started their job. It’s a standard comment, almost a running joke “Ahh look at those weak ass people, still complaining about their job even though they have so much vacation time” I have only one thing to say to these people, and that’s a solid and heartfelt “Fuck you”. Which, I admit, might sound a bit crass. But I find that it’s these words that really capture my emotional state every time I hear some dimwitted idiot utter these sentiments.

 

Now, I’m not going to complain about my job (I only do that, you know, when I’m actually working) I chose my job for a reason. I knew when I chose it that it wasn’t going to be a 9 to 5 desk job. Teaching is a profession and a teacher is something that you are, not something that you do. It doesn’t stop when you leave school, it doesn’t stop when you enter your home. Hell, it doesn’t even stop when you’re out with your friends or sitting on the bus. You're always a teacher, you never leave that part of you behind. And sure, there are many perks to teaching; the fact you are always off in the weekends, the national holidays and the vacation time. Those are perks and I won’t deny that. Of course, in exchange for those perks teachers are often underpaid, overworked and under a huge amount of stress. We start at 7:30, we leave school at 17:00 and then we go home. Where we prepare lessons, correct tests and assignments, read up on literature, answer emails of both students and parents and oh yeah, we also try to have our own life. Guess which one lags behind?

 

When people rag on teachers and their so-called vacation perks, it definitely touches a nerve. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Question is, what can you do about it? There’s very little use in trying to correct these people, as a teacher you know when somebody can’t be taught and most of these people? Well, they are a lost cause. It’s doesn’t pay to have a discussion with someone who will never listen and who only likes the sound of their own voice. Therefore, ignoring it is the only viable option. Ignoring and imagining terrible things happening to them in the safety of your mind. That way nobody gets hurt, and you get the satisfaction of imagining them being hit in the head… with a chair… repeatedly. Doing that for real would also be great but will probably get you jailtime, which is less great, so maybe avoid that as much as possible.

 

I would however love to invite these people to come and teach my classes for a day. Just to see how they would hold up. And it doesn’t even need to be a special day you know? Not one with a parent-teacher conference at the end, where you teach for eight hours and then get to stay at school until 22:30 to talk to parents. Not a practical exam day where you are teaching and assisting with exams and also trying to make sure your mentor students don’t have a mental breakdown.

 

No none of that. Just a regular day; where I get up at 5:30 in the morning to have time to look through my lesson preps for that day while having breakfast. Where I’m at school at 7:30 to answer any emails I didn’t get to the evening before and to set up my classroom. Where I teach six different classes from 8:30 to 14:35 with two breaks (20 minutes and 30 minutes respectively) of which one is spent doing surveillance in the aula to make sure the kids don’t kill each other. Where after those six hours of classes, I have two meetings, one with my English section and one with the entire team where we debate about everything, from the method we are using, to our ways of assessment and the application of school rules. A day where when these meetings end I still have correction work to do, but no time to do it at school, and so I take it home with me. Where I come home at 18:00, have dinner, correct what I need to and then move on to answering emails. Because those things just keep on coming. After which I go over my schedule for the next day, check to see if everything is in place, and then finish the day with trying to read a book on teaching English, followed by bedtime at 23:00. Where I toss and turn in bed, my brain trying to work through everything, and to finally fall asleep somewhere after midnight, just to wake up five and a half hours later, to do the whole thing over again.

 

Yet even this description isn’t entirely complete. You see it didn’t mention the fact that during those hours at school I have dealt with three catfights, two meltdowns, a disgruntled parent, and colleagues who are more than a little stressed. And if I was especially lucky? Maybe a fistfight, a theft or a visit from the police. That’s the kind of day I want these people to experience.

 

The description above is a pretty accurate picture of my life. The life of a teacher; whether you’ve just started or have been at it a long time. This is our reality. And although I will never say it’s not worth it (because it truly is) it’s nothing to scoff at either. Teachers see your children more than you do; we don’t only teach your children, we are practically raising them alongside you. And we don’t have one or two kids; we have hundreds of them. And we see them 38 weeks a year. So yeah, we deserve those vacations. We need those vacations, because without them? I don’t think there’d be a lot of teachers left. And what would happen then?

 

So teachers, if you’re reading this just imagine the next person who makes this insipid comment either being hit in the face with a chair, or try picturing them getting through one of your regular workdays. Both options will cheer you right up! And when you’re done imagining it just walk away, because you’re a teacher and you’ve got better things to do. 

The tales of a young teacher - When silence is silver but speaking is gold.

Almere, 

 

Wednesday 25th of April 2018

 

Regular teachers will tell you that getting your students to be silent is one of the hardest challenges there is. For a language teacher this is quite the opposite. If I want my students to be quiet I just ask them to do a speaking exercise. That shuts them right up. Which is a problem, you know, if you want them to actually use the language when they are in your classroom!

 

This problem ofcourse, leads to several questions: “How do I motivate my students to speak?”, “What kind of activities can I let them do and how do I asses these?” and “How do I get my students to engage with the language outside of the confines of my classroom?” Three excellent queries that I’ll try to answer using the tips and tricks I got during several sessions at the IATEFL conference. 

 

Let’s start with the first question which is also the hardest one to answer. How do you motivate your students to speak? This is something that can be quite hard. Students think speaking in a language that is not their own is scary which, to be fair, is true. They are afraid of making mistakes, afraid of being laughed at by their peers and afraid of being assessed. As a teacher it is your job to assuage these fears by creating a classroom environment in which the students feel safe. Starting with your very first lesson where you have to lay down some important ground rules when it comes to speaking. Tell your students that everybody has to speak, tell them why it is important (assesment, use of language, etc) tell them that making mistakes is natural and encouraged, and try to really drive this message home by making mistakes yourself. Show them it’s all part of the language learning process.

 

Another important thing is that you really have to try and use English as much as possible from the very start, even if your students are beginners. Start of in English and, at first, gently encourage them to do the same, prepare your students for the fact that after a couple of week (I myself went with 4 weeks) speaking English in class will become mandatory. Use those first weeks to build up your students’ confidence and their vocabulary. When you’ve established that your classroom is a safe space wherein mistakes are allowed and encouraged you can further motivate your students by doing exercises that are slightly different from the usual role playing activities in the workbook.

 

Which brings me neatly to the second question: what kind of activities can I let them do and how do I assess this? The easy part of being a language teacher is that as long as you get them to speak, write, read or listen to anything or everything your students are engaging with the language and are therefore learning. However, students quickly get bored with a lot of the standard exercises that coursebooks provide them with. Role playing cards, writing emails or boring postcards, it gets old really fast. To make sure your students stay motivated you have to think outside of the box. During the IATEFL conference I was introduced to a couple of activities that I think would work quite nicely and can offer your students a little bit of variety:

 

- 30 students 1 question, this is a simple speaking activity where your students think of a question (related to the subject you are working on) and have them interview other students in and around school. The language use in this exercise may be quite simple but it is a fun, dynamic and different assignment with a low treshold. All your students will be able to do it. It will help them gain confidence and therefore it’s already a great exercise in and of itself. This activity is one that I got from Nazli Ozturk’s talk on English beyond the classroom. She actually showed us a video made by her students and it looked amazing and something learners of every level are able to do.

 

- 20 seconds of honesty, an activity that you can only do when you’ve really established your classroom as a safe space. In this activity your ask your students to stand in front of the classroom and honestly talk to their classmates for 20 seconds. They can talk about their secrets, their likes, dislikes or simply about something that happened that day. As long as it’s honest. I do believe that it would be a good idea if the teacher starts this activity every single time you do it. It’s important that your students realize that you are just as willing to put yourself out there, and that you aren’t asking them to do anything you aren’t willing to. This is an exercise I got from Djalal Tebir’s session and one that I think is pretty amazing. I love the idea of students using the language in an authentic way, relating to their own personal life compared to the very stilted speaking assignments that take place in a fictional restaurant for example.

 

- having students record a podcast, a fun and modern way for your students to really practice their speaking skills. This activity came from Thomas Strassers session on using apps in the classroom. Apparently there’s an app called Spreaker that allows your student to record their own podcast. This is an exercise with a low pressure level. Students can record the podcast in their own home and they only have to record their voice not their face. 

 

Naturally speaking assignments should be assessed in some way, yet if you simply have students do role playing in the classroom it can be very hard to accurately assess your students’ level. 20 students in a class can easily mean 10 conversations you should be following at once. This is of course an impossibility and it can really lower your students motivation, if they aren’t assessed and don’t receive feedback how will they know how they are doing, and more importantly how they can improve? So you see assessing speaking assignments is quite essential is maintaining their motivation. Now two of the activities I mentioned above are actually quite easy to assess. The 30 questions can be filmed and the podcast is recorded, this means you have tangible material to assess and give feedback on.

 

However all speaking done in class is an entirely different story, and this is where Jon Wright’s session on creative speaking comes in handy. He suggests to have students record their conversations so that they can listen to them later. For this listening part you give them specific questions to find an answer to, like: which words are used frequently, which tense are we talking in, is everybody talking an equal amount of time or not? These questions will help your students to get a better insight into the language and lets the students really think about the language they are using. A step further is to have students play their recordings for the rest of the class so that every student reaps the benefits of listening to all the conversations. Having students give feedback to each other can also be quite valuable, although they don’t always have the insights you do they can still give their fellow students some great tips and they can often relay them to each other in a more understandable way than you can. At the same time the recordinfs give you a chance to hear all of your students speak and to give appropriate and individualized feedback.

 

Now we’ve tackled speaking in class but how about having students engage with the language outside of the classroom? Research has taught us that it takes way more hours to truly learn a language than the hours that students have in school. The additional learning has to be done outside of the classroom, but how to convince your students of this? A good tip is for them to really use the 'interspace’, the time between home and school wherein they are travelling for example. By having them listen to English music as opposed to music in their own language you are already forcing them to interact with the language more than that they usually would. Another great tip is to encourage gaming with your students, which sounds counteractive but research shows that gaming really helps the language learning process. Because a lot of people game online they are forced to interact with others and they mostly need English to do this.

 

Another great tip, maybe more parent oriented than student oriented, is having them label all the furniture in their home in English. Just use post-its to label all the items in your house. Start big (furniture) and expand from that (bills, magazines, salt, pepper, candles, etc.) This is a tip that parents may find more intriguing, especially if they are worried about their child’s level of English. But it is nice to be able to give parents a tip beyond the usual ‘have your child read a book’ suggestion. By the way, before I forget, all these wonderful tips were given during the ‘Forum on using English outside of the classroom’ which consisted of three talks given by Anthony Holt, Jessica Mackay and Nazli Ozturk, who were all really awesome FYI. 

 

There’s a lot of other tips that I can name, but I do feel like I’ve been rambling for some time now.  If you’re interested in learning more, I’ll probably post my list of notes on all my IATEFL sessions after my blog post on Friday. I’ll put them in the archive so you can look them up for yourself.

 

For now I’d like to finish of by saying that encouraging your students to speak and to actively use the language is, in my humble opinion, our most important goal when teaching English. Our students should be able to produce the language, not to ramble of a list of grammar rules or random vocabulary. If they can’t use the language to make themselves understandable, then they aren’t English speakers and you haven’t done your job. Which is bad... so make sure it doesn’t happen. 

The tales of a young teacher - To write but how to write? That is the question.

Almere,

 

Wednesday 18th April 2018

 

Alright, this will be my first post in what looks to be a 5-part series on the IATEFL conference. Each post will tackle a different topic of which I ‘ve seen one or multiple great sessions. In the Friday posts I’ll share with you some of the new activities that I’ve learned at the conference. By the times that’s all done BELTA day will have come and gone, giving me instant new material to work with. Man, you gotta love conferences.

 

Anyways the topic of today’s post is writing and more specifically how to motivate your students to write. Now as we all know writing is not a big hit with most of our students. In his talk Edmund Dudley points out that students associate writing with the feeling of being assessed. Students also dislike the often unimaginative and contrived tasks the coursebook (and by extension teachers) set out for them. All in all, they see writing as a horrible classroom chore that costs too much time and too much effort.

Despite all the misgivings and negative associations writing remains a very valuable and necessary skill and as such should be taught, yet how to convince our students of this? During the conference I attended two talks that gave me a lot of great ideas on how to motivate your students to write. And I’d like to share my top five with you:  

 

1)  1. Time limits for writing = This tip came from Edmund Dudley’s session and I mentioned it in last week’s vlog as well. Setting a time limit as opposed to a time limit enabled the students to write at their own level without feeling pressured to meet a certain standard. They write for the allotted amount of time and then their work is done. Whether they’ve written 5 paragraphs, or five sentences. It’s a great motivator because it allows every student to achieve a sense of accomplishment which is a great motivator in and of itself. Also, students feel that writing for 8 minutes and 24 seconds is way easier than writing for a solid 10 minutes. It’s the same tactic used in sales, 10 dollars? Well that’s quite expensive, but 9,99? That’s already more palatable.

 

2)  2. Random phrases = Another tip from Dudley’s session wherein you provide the students with an additional challenge to their writing task. This tactic really plays to the, sometimes, absurd and random writing tasks we ask our students to do. You simply challenge your students to add a rather random phrase to their otherwise quite boring writing task. The challenge is to incorporate the phrase as naturally as possible. Dudley gave the examples: “The whiskers of Charles Darwin” and “A tall glass of exotic warm mango juice”. The appeal to the students is the unexpected addition to the task as well as the idea of a challenge. By introducing the added element as a challenge your students will rise to the occasion faster then they would otherwise. The “challenge accepted” culture is very much alive and kicking. 

 

3)  3. Creative problem solving = Of all of Dudley’s ideas presented in his talk this is by far my favourite. This activity consists of presenting your students with a problem and having them come up with a creative solution. Let’s say for example that you are locked inside the bathroom without your phone or any other means of communication. How do you get out of the bathroom if you’re only allowed to use the items inside it? Let your students mull the problem over and ask them to write their answers on a piece of paper. Not only does this stimulate their writing, it also stimulates a creative way of thinking and honestly, I think reading and correcting these assignments would be hilarious. And sometimes there’s gotta be something in it for you as well.

 

4)  4. Music stimulated writing = This tip came from Djalal Tebib during his session called “bringing HONY into the classroom”, I think this was the most surprising session I’ve seen during the entire conference because I had no expectations what so ever and it turned out to be completely amazing. Always nice to be pleasantly surprised. Anyway, Tebib uses the Facebook page Humans of New York in his lesson, this page consists of pictures of everyday people accompanied by their background stories or quotes they’ve given. It’s amazing authentic material and therefor connects better with your students than some of the material from their coursebooks. Tebib uses music stimulated writing which means that he gives the students a writing task revolving around a theme, let’s say loss and has then puts on sad instrumental music in the background to help students get into the right mood, as well as give them a little inspiration. I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea, stimulating our students visually is something almost all of us do, but auditory stimulation especially in the form of music is not something that I’ve really considered before.

 

5)  5. Quote generative writing = Another tip from Tebib’s session is quote generative writing which basically means having your students come up with quotes around a certain theme. His motivation for this is that having student write longer essays or writing tasks is often daunting for them. They feel like they’re not good or capable enough to achieve this, however quotes are often short and therefore seen as less of a hurdle. Having the quotes revolve around a significant theme does force the students to really think about what they are writing. If you’ve done this a couple of times you can slowly work up to writing longer texts. A great addition to this activity is to have a “quote of the week wall” where you display the best quotes.

 

There you have it, 5 great tips you can instantly use in your classroom. And I must admit, these two sessions were among my favorites because I walked away with concrete activities that I could instantly insert in my lessons. Which really is what I’m looking for when attending conferences.

 

If any of you are interested in learning more about these activities I’d suggest buying Edmund Dudley’s book called “500 ideas for teaching English to teenagers”, my colleague and I bought it for our faculty and I can’t wait to dig in and get my hands on more of these awesome activities. Djalal Tebib hasn’t written a book (yet, but here’s hoping) however, I did make notes on his entire talk that contained a couple more activities. If you are interested just let me know and I’ll happily share my notes with you. For now, this is where I’m going to leave you. Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your day! 

The tales of a young teacher - Having students in charge of the classroom

Brighton,

 

Wednesday 11th April 2018

 

This week I’ve gone back to basics and have become a student once again. I am currently visiting the IATEFL conference in Brighton. Four exhilarating days filled with amazing talks and workshops on every possible subject within our field. It’s kind of like heaven; well who am I kidding, exactly like heaven (minus the chocolate but really that’s a minor detail) in the past two days alone I have met some wonderful people, listened to interesting and engaging talks and made a lot of useful new connections. And there’s still two days left.   

 

Today’s topic is about putting the students in charge of the classroom. I attended an exciting workshop about this topic, hosted by two Dutch teachers. They explained that during one of their courses they had set up a project in which the students themselves did a big part of the lesson planning. There were two important reasons behind this decision. First was the low English level of the students, and second their lack of motivation. By having the students organize big parts of the lessons they hoped to pique their interest and engage them as much as possible. 

 

They started the course by explaining the set up (student led activities and lessons) and told the students that their evaluation would consist of two parts; the actual activities organized during the lessons and an oral exam at the end of the course. They asked the students what they thought they needed to learn during this English course. Students, after some deliberation, came up with ‘vocabulary related to their specific field’ and ‘speaking skills in general’. When these goals were written down the students were grouped in pairs and had to brainstorm about what kind of activities they wanted to do during the lessons. The teachers guided them by providing examples and by giving suggestions when asked. 

 

In order to maintain some control over the activities the students came up with, the teachers asked them to hand in their lesson plans 24 hours before the lesson in question; this however did not happen. The students did all show up with their activities, and practiced them in class, as was the assignment. The teachers showed us two clips and you could really see how much the students enjoyed these activities. Their motivation had really increased as had their participation in the lessons. They also engaged with the content more because they had to approach it in a different way. They had to read it, consider what they were going to use in their activity, actually produce the activity, explain the activity to their peers and then do the activity in class. This way they retained way more knowledge than with a simple class activity set up by the teacher. 

 

The workshop was very interesting and quite entertaining as we had to try out some of the activities that the students had actually come up with. It was great fun and it was clear that the students put in a lot of time and effort into creating their activities. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on how it can be quite effective to have students produce their own games. This, I think is a great extension as it takes it a step or two further. Not only are students creating their own activities, they are also explaining and teaching them to their peers. Another interesting aspect is that students have a say in what exactly is in their exam ( in this case an oral exam) was about. It really increases the learners autonomy, something that’s that’s extremely beneficial to their motivation and participation. 

This idea is definitely something I would like to try out with my students, especially the third and fourth years. These are, generally, the students who lack motivation when it comes to applying themselves in class. I think by giving them a bigger say in what they are learning and how they are learning it, their actual interest in the lesson will increase. It will also give you, as a teacher, an insight into the wants and expectations of your students. It might be that what you are teaching them really isn’t what they want and more importantly what they need, and it’s our job as teachers to think about this carefully and to do something about it if this is the case. 

 

Now this is very much it for today, keep your eyes out for my Friday blog, which will be filled with the IATEFL 2018 highlights. Goodnight everyone!!

The tales of a young teacher - 5 tips on how to manage your students

Almere,

 

Wednesday, 4th April 2018

During my teacher training we discussed class management a lot. We did this in class, outside of class, during our internship, when writing papers, etc. Class management was a hot topic and it often led to heated debates. Because, what exactly is ‘good’ class management. Is there one single formula that works? Or does it differ per teacher, per class and maybe even per day?

 

Now I could spout well known facts about class management in order to make you think I know them, but I don’t, I’d have to look them up, and honestly, I’m way too tired for that. I know there’s a multitude of smart and academic things to be said about class management, leadership styles and the likes but I can’t remember a single thing and at the end of the day I don’t really think I need them anyway.

 

The thing I needed to get a clue about good class management? I needed to actually teach; to have my own classes, to make my own rules and to try and instill these in my students. At which I failed miserably, at least at first. But you live to learn and now I’ve got at least 5 solid dos and don’ts when it comes to class management. Here they come so hold on to your hats people!

 

1)  1. Do not, under any circumstance, use sarcasm when trying to correct your students. Teenagers are little shits and will use sarcasm in return, completely ruining the point you were trying to make. And honestly you can’t really blame them. We would do the same. No, when it comes to correcting your students it’s better to be direct. Say “Sit down please” when a student is standing over at a classmates table instead of sitting in her own chair. Don’t ask “Are you lost?” because they will take that comment and run with it, as far as they can, which is usually further than you want to go.

 

2)  2. Don’t belittle your students. Don’t be mean or use them as an example for the rest of the class. By belittling your students not only are you damaging your relationship with them, you are also reducing their respect for you. And more importantly; it’ll come back to bite you in the ass. Students have long memories when it comes to being insulted, and more importantly there’s a strong group dynamic among teenagers. You insult one, fact is you’ve insulted a whole bunch of them. And 24 angry students occupying your classroom? Not fun. As a teacher you have automatic power over your students. Within your classroom and within school you have a lot of leeway in how you treat them. But with great power comes great responsibility so don’t abuse it. I also feel it says a lot about yourself if you need to belittle a student to gain some measure of control. If this is the case, you might crack open a book about class management after all or think about a different career altogether.

 

3)  3. Be human. Students see more than you think they do and they often feel disconnected from their teachers because even though they know their teachers aren’t perfect (they have eyes and ears people) teachers have a hard time admitting their faults. Which begs the question why? Teachers don’t know everything. Nobody knows everything nor is anyone always right. Students can be right as well, and in order to build a relationship with your students and to have any chance at establishing a classroom in which everyone is on an equal footing, teachers should be able to acknowledge this. If you wrote down the date of a test wrong, admit that you did so and come to a solution together with your students. Don’t try to either deny your fault or shift the blame. A mistake is not the end of the world if you can have an honest conversation with your students about how to fix it so that everybody is happy.

 

4)  4. Pick your battles. This one sounds a bit ominous doesn’t it? As if teaching is a battle. Which it’s not; don’t be ridiculous. Teaching isn’t comprised of one single battle. Teaching is a war filled with battles. And I don’t say this because this is a bad thing, nor do I think I’m pessimistic by saying it. I think it’s just the truth. Teaching is a war against teenagers’ hormones, against their lack of motivation and their self-doubt. It’s a war against their short concentration span and their inability to express themselves properly. It’s a war against their lack of comprehension of why they need to go to school. And let me make this clear, this is not not something they actively decide upon, it’s just the way they are, the way we all were when growing up. Society expects a lot from teenagers. Good grades, flawless behavior, two jobs, and a thriving social life. And I don’t think it’s weird they resist all these labels and expectations. School is something that’s forced upon them and it’s within their (our) very nature to fight against this. So, when it comes to your classroom or when it comes to correcting your students, pick your battles. You don’t need to fight every single one; not only is it exhausting for you it’s also difficult for them. To be corrected on everything you do or say; it isn't fun and it's also not very fair. My advice is to take some time to decide for yourself what your hard limits are. What do you absolutely expect your students to do? Make a list, a limited one, and share these ground rules with your students. These are the things you consistently enforce within your classroom and outside it as well. The rest of it? My advice it to make like the song and let it go.

 

5)  5. Be consistent, this is somewhere in the books you read during teacher training I’m sure. (So is the rest probably, I don’t fancy myself a revolutionary when it comes to class management) But in my eyes it does deserve to get an extra mention because it is really important. Being consistent means more than consequently adhering to the rules you’ve instilled in your students. It also means things like: taking the same amount of time to correct tests, when promising something actually delivering on that promise, treating students the same way in the same situations even though you are going through emotional extremes (angry, happy, sad). Being consistent is important because it creates structure; your students will be able to depend on you. They know how you will react or respond in different kinds of situations which in turn helps them with how they should act or behave. Being consistent means always sticking to your ground rules and having a set way of responding when these rules are broken. Being consistent is being a teacher; it’s what your students need.

 

So, these are my tips, things I’ve learned through experience (I’m extremely guilty on the sarcasm charge) but also things I’ve noticed when observing my fellow teachers. It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect class management. And good class management? Well that depends wholly on the day. You will always mess up and make the wrong choices, there will always be a time where you use sarcasm or where you make an exception for a student when you really shouldn’t have. There will always be that one battle where you should’ve let it go but instead decided to bite down. This is just the way teaching works; we’re all human. But as long as you can communicate this principle to your students and own up to your mistakes in a mature way, they will forgive and forget a lot. Class management is all about building a relationship with your students, a relationship built on a foundation of good communication. Without class management you can’t teach, but establishing this relationship, these rules and everything that goes with it; it takes effort and a lot of hard work. Which really seems to be the theme of my posts: teaching is a lot of work people.

 

*cue the surprised gasp* 

The tales of a young teacher - MI, differentiation and classroom management. How does it all tie together?

I think this is pretty accurate. Don't you agree?

Naarden,  

 

Wednesday 28th March 2018,

 

For today’s post I watched a short talk by Rosy Cortez on the multiple intelligences theory. Rosy did a 10 in 10 talks for EFLtalks, the aim of this organization is to have teachers teach teachers. It’s a great initiative and the site http://efltalks.com/ is filled with great talks done by teachers all over the world.

 

Rosy’s talk was mainly theoretical, she explained the term multiple intelligences, explained the different kinds of intelligences and gave a couple of suggestions for activities you can link to different kinds of learners.

 

To make sure we’re all on the same page: the theory of multiple intelligences states that everybody is intelligent, even people who don’t come across that way. But the intelligence differs because everybody processes information in a different way; visually, auditory, kinesthetic, logical, mathematical, etc. By appealing to the different ways of learning you are personalizing your teaching and engaging your students more.

 

The MI theory automatically leads to another important term within the educational world that teacher either love or hate, and that’s differentiation. Differentiation means that you design your lesson to the needs of your individual students. If you have a student who has a higher level, you might give her a more difficult assignment. If you have students who have a hard time understanding your instructions, you might give the instructions in another way or put the students in a lengthened instruction group to give them the attention they need. You can differentiate in product, process and content, this depends on what your class, or specific student requires the most. A simple example of differentiation is an assignment where you let students choose between three kinds of products; a poster, an article or a poem. All three products appeal to different kinds of learners and lo and behold, we have successfully differentiated.   

I mentioned that differentiation is a term both loved and hated by teachers. Loved because differentiation makes a lot of sense; we have always known that students respond differently to certain approaches. By using differentiation, you reach, and hopefully motivate, more of your students than by just using one single teaching strategy. Nevertheless, differentiation has also become a word that’s feared, mostly because our bosses value it so highly.

You see when principles like differentiation are taken by management and become a point of evaluation for the teacher you’ll soon find that teachers start resenting the very existence of the principle. This, because sometimes management forgets that teaching is way more than just a long list of fancy terms and principles. Differentiation, multiple intelligences, flipping the classroom, BYOD, all great theories and practices but first you have to know how to actually teach. And even then, sometimes even the most seasoned teacher finds it difficult to do it all. But bosses, well they don't always seem to get that. 

 

When you graduate from teacher training and you find a job, you are elated. But when you actually start teaching that elation turns to deep dark fear. To start teaching is to take a leap of faith, a plunge into the deep, it means saying a short prayer and hoping for the best. In short, my dear readers, when you start teaching you are thrown to the wolves. You either learn how to survive or you stop teaching, and that is the cold hard truth. You see, when in teacher training you don’t actually teach your own classes; no, you teach classes that belong to another teacher, a teacher who has either worked hard to instill some very clear rules, and therefore your teaching practice is quite easy. Or a teacher who doesn’t quite have control and therefor you don’t either, but in that case the unruly students are not your fault nor your responsibility. You’re just there to finish your internship. And so, when you start teaching your own classes you soon come to the conclusion that 1) you never really thought hard enough about the rules you have and they way you’re going to enforce them. 2) It’s harder to enforce your own rules when there’s no seasoned teacher sitting in the corner 3) teaching now is way harder than it was during teacher training and how the hell are you ever going to survive?!

 

Forgive me the melodramatics but I do believe it gets my point across. You cannot apply all these great teaching methods and strategies before having solid class management skills. And as a teacher fresh out of teacher training, most of the time you just don’t. Class management is of course another frightening sounding term with lots and lots of definitions but comes down to a simple question: “Are you the boss in your own classroom?” If that answer is not a resounding yes, then don’t bother trying anything fancy. If you can’t control your class, if they don’t listen to you and if you don’t have their respect you cannot and more importantly should not attempt any of these methods or theories. You can’t run before learning how to walk. And in this case walking is controlling your students. (Just in case the many metaphors are confusing you)

 

Some of you might scoff and think I’m overexaggerating, but I don’t believe I am; any starting teacher will tell you that teaching is way more than what they tell you during your teacher training. There are relationships to build, school rules to adhere to, your own classroom rules to figure out and instill, there’s parents and colleagues and bosses all to be taken into account. And then, there are your students; each and every one of them an individual who wants to be heard, understood and respected. Together they form classes of highly emotional teenagers who need to know you before listening to you, who need to understand that you are in control and that you make the rules but who also need to see that you will listen to them in return. It’s a precarious balance that you must find, but you must also accept that finding it might take a while.

 

In that time, the time where you’re finding your footing as a teacher and where you are getting to know your students, you should start simple. How can you differentiate if you don’t know your students? How can you flip a classroom if you haven’t even established your own classroom yet? Baby steps people, baby steps. If you want too much too fast, you risk losing your students’ motivation and engagement and in turn risk losing your passion for teaching.

 

Don’t be too discouraged though, once you find your footing you can start exploring all these wonderful methods and theories once more. You can refresh your memory by reading literature you read in school or by exploring the many resources on the internet, and don’t forget, http://efltalks.com/ is a great place to start!

Once you’ve reactivated all this knowledge you can start implementing it in your lessons and believe me, the results and reactions from you students will be way better than if you had tried it when you were just starting out! 

The tales of a young teacher - Using humor in the classroom

Almere,

 

Wednesday 21st March 2018

 

Alright, today’s blog is going to be short and sweet. There are two reasons for this; the first one is that I’m exhausted. I don’t really know why, but for two days now I’ve been asleep around 19:30 which is the same time my three-year-old nephew goes to sleep. My exhaustion brings me to the second reason why this blog is going to be short: I cheated, I didn’t read a whole article, a book or watched a webinar. I simply studied a slideshow instead. The subject was still very interesting though, and the creator of the slideshow a well-known name within the ELT community so it’s still legit.

 

Moving on; a slideshow about using humor in the classroom made by Shelly Sanchez Terrell, who’s name I first heard about two weeks ago during the EFLtalkslive international women’s day event and who I’ve followed on Twitter ever since. Shelly is an amazing speaker, I really enjoyed her ten-minute talk and from what I’ve read and seen she has a lot of experience under her belt. The slide show I looked at is inspired by an article she wrote, which I wanted to read at first, but I had to buy it which meant getting up to get my credit card, and because of my exhaustion and general laziness I decided against that option and here we are.

 

The slideshow is called “Ways to engage learners with humor” and the subject got my attention because I believe that humor is one of the best tools a teacher has. Humor can lighten the mood, strengthen both the students and the teacher, establish a relationship, diffuse tense situations and it creates an overall pleasant atmosphere within the classroom. All great reasons why teachers should use humor in the classroom.

Shelly obviously agrees with some of my own insights because the slideshow also states that using humor is a great way to enhance the atmosphere, prepare the mind for learning and that it supports relationship building, it also helps students relax before tests and can prevent teachers from experiencing a burn out.

 

The rest of the slideshow consists of many tips on and examples of using humor in the classroom. The suggestion of using gifs and memes to reinforce rules was one I thought was valuable and something I hadn’t thought of before. Some people might argue that you should be serious when establishing rules for the students to understand you mean business. However, I think that if it’s your style and it suits you could totally uses memes and gifs to establish rules. The humor might help the students remember them better.

 

In the slide show Shelly also suggest using an app called Plotagon which turns written texts into animated videos. I have already downloaded this app and will be using it in my class sometime next week! It looks absolutely amazing and it’s a great way to really engage students in an activity (writing) that they usually believe to be boring.

 

The slide show offers a lot of other very interesting apps and activities that you could use to humorify your classroom. (I know, I know not a real word, but it’s sounds awesome and shows where my head is at right now, so gimme a break people)

 

In conclusion: humor is something that teachers can use to create a relaxing and fun environment in which your relationship with your students can thrive. Check out Shelly’s slideshow or better yet her article to learn more about how exactly you can go about using humor in the classroom.

 

Thank you all for staying with me during my rambling and good night! 

The tales of a young teacher - The elephant in the room

Almere,

 

14/3/2017

 

As we’ve entered March, also known as women’s history month, and the international women’s day has come and gone I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t address this topic in my blog.

 

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of listening to an extensive selection of women speaking at the EFLtalks International Women’s day event. The set up was easy; every speaker had ten minutes and ten slides to talk about a subject of her choosing. Shelly Sanchez Tyrell, Judy Wong, Fiona Mauchline, Susan Barduhn, Dorothy Zemach, just a few names in a long list of incredible women who shared many interesting things with their captivated audience. The event was set up by Rob Howard which just shows that feminism isn’t limited to women.

 

I’m a little hesitant to discuss the elephant in the room; people always judge you for doing so and you’re always in danger of becoming known as the kind of person who’s always on her soapbox. But watching all these amazing talks by these inspiring women I think it’s time for me to acknowledge the elephant; hell, I’ll even give it a name: sexism, as experienced by a female teacher.

 

Now I must be honest and say that I truly believe that I haven’t been actively discriminated against for being a woman nor have I endured any real hardship for being a woman (yet).  And truthfully, as I’m a Caucasian woman living in the Netherlands, my opportunities and chances are much better than those of women living elsewhere or women of color. Still hearing all these amazing women speak and reading up on some of the experiences of other female teachers I think it’s safe to say that sexism is alive and well, although in various degrees, throughout our entire society. Sure, I’ve never been directly discriminated against for being a woman, but what about indirectly? What about every little snide comment by male colleagues about ‘it must be her time of the month’ when I’m angry about something, every comment about how ‘I’m too emotional’ or ‘’too bitchy’ when I’m either sad or thoroughly fed up with my students. In my life sexism might live on the edges of the periphery but it’s still very much present. If a male teacher gets angry with his students or disciplines them he’s seen as authorative and strong. When a female teacher gets angry and disciplines her students she’s either a stone-cold bitch or a hysteric fool, there is literally no in between. Yet if women don’t discipline their students enough they are too soft and motherly…. It seems that as a female teacher you just can’t win. And this is just one of the many small ways sexism can be a part of our specific work environment.

 

A bigger and more glaring issue of sexism can be found when looking at women in leading positions within our field. Even in education, dominated by women, we have few visible women in leading positions. ‘’How did this happen?’’ And more importantly “how do we change this?” After listening to some of the talks from last Saturday I think that I there are three very important things to start with:  

 

1. Be active! Be active in the field; write, blog, create and most importantly share your ass of. Approach conferences and organizations that are looking for speakers or people to fill their ranks. Put yourself out there!

 

2. Support each other! This doesn’t just go for women supporting women although I must underscore how important this is to me; it also means that men, especially well-known names within our field should try their best to support their female counterparts. Decline offers to speak at conferences if the lineup isn’t equal, suggest women that you know for speaking opportunities if they are suited to it. Support each other and work together.

 

3. Inspire others! Inspire your colleagues and everybody else that you can reach, lead by example as it were. Think about your students as well! Representation matters and if they see you being successful in your chosen field then their own motivation to be successful will be so much higher.

 

Sexism isn’t something that you should just accept, just like racism or any other form of discrimination whether it’s sexual preference, religious belief of identity. You should fight against all these things as hard as you can. We are teaching the younger generation and so we have a duty to lead by example and to inspire them to be better and more openminded.

 

Sometimes people will ask why we have an international women’s day or a black history month, they ask me why it’s even needed, we don’t have an international male day or a Caucasian history month after all.  I always give them the same answer: every day of our lives is a celebration of the straight white male. They are, literally, everywhere; they dominate our political life, they dominate our media, they dominate all the stories that we know, and until that changes we need these days and months to remind ourselves, and more importantly the generations to come, that humanity is more diverse than this single entity we keep on seeing. Just think about it. Won’t it be a beautiful day when a person is no longer limited by their race, beliefs or sexual identity, when a person is just a person and therefore worth something by default? You may call me a dreamer or incredibly naïve but for my own sake and for the sake of my future children (both my own and the ones I teach) I need to believe that this can happen. And I ask you to believe it as well, more than believe, make it happen! Put yourself out there, join the discourse, call out sexism and racism and every other kind of discrimination when you see it happening. We are all responsible, we must all act and we must all rise to the occasion. For if we don’t do it, then who will? 

The tales of a young teacher - Flipping the classroom

Naarden,

 

Wednesday March 7th 2018

 

Hey guys, sorry to have been MIA last week but we had a week-long break and I spent most of it doing non-work related fun things. You know hanging out with my little nephew (he just turned three) and spending a weekend in London to see Hamilton! (the most awesomest musical ever!)

 

However, school is back in session and so am I! This week I read an article about flipping the classroom, a term that has become more and more popular in the recent years. Flipping the classroom is the hot new thing to do but what exactly does it entail? And how can you do it successfully?

 

These are two of the main questions that the article tries to answer. The article was written by Meagan Gillmore and originally published in TEACH magazine; you can still find the digital version on their site www.teachmag.com.

Succinctly put flipping the classroom means that you let students learn about certain concepts at home using instruction videos or other means that you’ve provided, after which they come to class and put what they’ve learned at home to practice. This lessens your in-class instruction time and gives you more opportunities to engage your students in practical assignments.   

 

The article is quite long and contains many teacher comments on the flipping the classroom method. I’m not going to discuss all the comments made because if I did this post would never end. So, I’ve just chosen some key questions from the article to answer using both the opinions and solutions from the article as well as my own.

 

First up “Why flip your classroom at all?”, flipping the classroom helps you free up your actual class-time for practical implementation of the theory. By making the students prepare their lessons at home or have them receive instruction through a video you make sure that in the 50 to 60 minutes you see your students you are practically engaging them instead of just talking at them. Flipping the classroom also helps to develop the students' sense of responsibility and independence. They are responsible for their own learning process and are completely in charge of the way it happens. If they want to watch a video 5 times to fully comprehend the theory? That’s completely fine! Did they understand the concept half way through? That’s great as well, they can stop the video and move on. Flipping the classroom is a great tool for differentiation.  

 

The second question to ask yourself is “How do I successfully flip my classroom?” When answering this question it's important to remember that instruction videos are not the only option you have. Flipping the classroom is way more than simply recording your voice against the backdrop of a PowerPoint. You can let your students look up definitions of key concepts to prepare them for class or let them prepare three arguments to an important statement you’d like to review. It doesn’t need to be technological, it just needs to be relevant to what they’ll be doing in class later that week. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination; and we're teachers! Our imagination is endless. 

 

Finally, you should ask yourself when and how to begin flipping your classroom. Here the article suggests starting slowly; to flip a single lesson or maybe a single theme. Don’t jump in and start to only flip your lessons. Students do benefit from actual face to face instruction time. Now I agree with this part wholeheartedly, but I would like to add something to this suggestion: don’t flip your class out of nowhere! This isn’t something you can do in the middle of the schoolyear when your students are completely unfamiliar with the concept. It’s not something you can throw in randomly. Flipping your classroom needs the be a very thought out decision, something that’s imbedded within your curriculum from the start. You could use the summer holidays to design a completely virtual binder that students need throughout the year for specific lessons or units, you could make sure that your students know it’s coming by handing them a planner for the coming semester. But don’t just do this out of the blue, in my experience students need more context than that.

 

I think a very interesting and important point the article makes is that flipping the classroom is not a sneaky way of assigning the students more homework. You see, homework implies that students practice concepts they’ve already learned in class. Yet by flipping the classroom the students do the opposite. They come to school with a lot of information already at their disposal and so practice can be done in the classroom under the supervision of the teacher.  This makes sure that students take ownership of their learning process. If they haven’t prepared, they can’t participate in class. 

 

All in all, the article is very informative and sheds some light on interesting questions that automatically come up when hearing the term ‘flipping the classroom’. The method itself is something that I’m a huge fan of but, like every teaching method, it should be used in moderation. Teaching is a balance between different kinds of methods; the saying ‘variety is the spice of life’ comes to mind. Using only a single teaching strategy will never lead to satisfied and well-balanced learners. Flipping the classroom is but one tool in the extensive arsenal of a successful teacher. 

The tales of a young teacher - the 411 on using emails in class

A great read!

Almere, 

 

Wednesday 21st February 2018

 

Since starting this exciting journey of professional development I have become an offical member of IATEFL. I've been wanting to for a while, ever since signing on for the IATEFL conference to be honest, but I've always let the price hold me back a bit. But no more, sacrafices and investments need to be made! So, now I'm officially a member and also an offical recipiant of 'Voices', their bi-monthly newsletter, which I found in my mailbox last week. I immediately devoured it and found a very  interesting article about using email in class which will be the topic of today's blog:

 

In her article 'From pen pal to key pal' Paula Claudia Ghetu writes about the advantages-, disadvantages- and the different uses of email inside the classroom.

Paula states that the main advantage of writing emails is that students get a sense of realness from the interaction. They are interacting with real people (teacher, third parties, other students) using a real life medium. A medium that to some might be very familiar, while for others still present a challenge and as such is a valuable learning experience all on its own. 

 

The article becomes extremely interesting when Paula delves into the different ways a teacher can use email inside the classroom. I've listed the most interesting ideas (at least in my opinion) below. 

 

Students can use email to: 

- submit classwork as email attachments to be marked by the teacher and returned by mail 

- compare the style and form of emails with that of formal, semi-formal and informal letter 

- write a journal or diary to a partner in English 

 

Teachers can use email to: 

- post regular newsletters about the class and invite learner comments 

- create real world assignments, such as asking students to send emails to companies in response to advertisments or requesting information, sample products and so on. 

- start an out of class reading circle! 

 

Not all these ideas are new to me, especially the first three are things I have thought about or have done before, but they are still worth mentioning because they're solid thoughts that could easily be implemented in class. Submitting classwork as email attachments is something I'm a big fan of and it's really easy to create a seperate email account to use for this purpose. You eliminate your paper trail (think about the environment people!), as well as the danger of not being able to read your students work (reading students handwrting can be somewhat of an art on its own) and you provide your students with quick feedback that they can read and take in at their own pace.

 

The ideas that really had me going were the ones that were more teacher focussed; I loved the idea of posting regular newsletters about the class, their progres and the things they've done in the last week or month. It could be a great way to highlight some of their work; essays they've written or other assignments that they've made. I was also blown away by the suggestion of creating real world assignments where students have to send emails to companies in response to advertisments or requesting info. I've really never thought about this. But as a teacher who teaches vocational education I can easily recognize that it's these kinds of real life applications that are important to my students. 

 

Paula also mentions the disadvantages of using email as a class tool and the biggest one, maybe even the only one is the fact that the intensive communication between teacher and students may very well lead to a massive amount of work on the teacher's part. The students have to write one person; the teacher has to respond to all his students; quite a task indeed. I do feel that if you take this disadvantage into account and simply make sure not to plan 4 to 5 of these kinds of assignments at the same time you can still limit your workload which is Paula's argument as well. 

 

All in all the article was a fun and compelling read, not only did I revisit some old concepts but I was also inspired by a lot of Paula's ideas. I think a good article (or webinar or video or whatever) is defined by how much the reader can take away from it and in this case I took away quite a lot. Certainly enough to try and implement in my own lessons! 

The tales of a young teacher - the PPP approach

Scott Thornbury, author of 'Big questions in ELT'

Almere,

 

Wednesday February 14th, 2018 

 

This week I found I lacked the time to watch an entire webinar or lecture of even to read an article of acceptable length. Report cards will be published next week so for the past 5 days I’ve corrected a massive number of tests, papers and tasks. Now I can hear you thinking ‘cutting it fine, aren’t you?’ but in my defense all the grades for my own classes were already in; it’s just that I’m covering three classes for a sick colleague and they were ridiculously behind, so I’ve been overworking the poor kids and myself to catch up.

 

Hoping to save time and still learn something useful I decided to scour YouTube to see if I could find anything interesting below 15 minutes. I came across some videos made by Scott Thornbury, a name that I know because he will be the plenary speaker at BELTA day this year. By watching the video I kill two birds with one stone; work on my own professional development and do a little reconnaissance on our future plenary speaker.

 

In the video Scott talks about the PPP approach, a term I thought I was unfamiliar with. However, while watching the six-minute video I concluded that not only do I know the PPP approach I am actually intimately familiar with it. PPP stands for presentation, practice and production and is a very popular method for ordering and teaching English lessons. While I didn’t know the term the method went by, it was taught to me in college by one of my English teachers who’s a huge fan of this approach.

 

In the six minutes Scott spends on talking about the method he mostly focuses on the pros and cons of the method and tries to shed a light on the many criticisms it has received over the years. Now a clear advantage of the method is that it neatly arranges the lesson into three clear parts which gives teachers, especially beginning ones, an excellent way of maintaining control in their lessons.  Another plus of the approach is that it follows a clear logic that students will likely respond to. Of course, the method also has many disadvantages and has been a point of contention within the ELF/EFL/ESL community for some time. Many people feel that a danger of this method is that the presentation stage tends to take over, leaving little time for practice and no time for actual production. The method also assumes a linear way of learning, getting to point B by starting at A and making no detours which, as we know, is not the way learning a language works. The last disadvantage that Scott mentions is the fact that the model forces the teacher to cut up the language into tiny little pieces, again something that doesn’t always makes sense.

 

Now as I mentioned before I was taught this method during my teacher training and I’ve found it to come in handy when planning my lessons. Scott is right when he says that the approach really helps a teacher order and structure his/her lessons. However, I find that the method is only applicable when giving an exclusively grammar or vocabulary lesson, which has become something I try to avoid. I’m not a huge fan of grammar lessons (vocabulary lessons are a different story) and feel that we should pay more attention to practicing and developing productive and receptive skills, something I believe we can do without teaching grammar first. The goal for many people who want to learn English is to be able to make themselves understandable, and good grammar isn’t truly necessary for this. Hell, you might even say that with the huge number of non-native speakers, there might not be any true ‘correct’ or ‘good’ grammar to speak of anymore. But that might be a discussion for a different post.

 

What I’m trying to say is that the PPP approach is a great method for beginning teachers to use; it provides you with a clear structure and allows you to maintain control over your teaching process. However, as you evolve as a teacher I think you should be brave and try to let go of this method and others like it to find what works for you as a teacher but also what works for your students.

 

Now let’s finish of this extremely long post by saying that I really liked the video; even in six minutes Scott managed to really make me think about my own stance on this method. He speaks very clearly and is easy to follow. When watching the video I saw many other links to videos that Scott has posted, I’ll definitely check these out in the future and I recommend you to do the same!

The tales of a young teacher - Going Mobile?

Going mobile - a webinar by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly

Almere, 

 

Wednesday, February 7th 2018  

As promised today will be the first of, hopefully, many reviews on things I've seen, heard or read about teaching English. 

 

Last weekend, while spending the second and last night in my hotel room in Antwerp I decided to kick off my professional development project by watching the recording of a webinar given by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockley. The webinar was called Going Mobile after their similarly named book that they, at the time of recording, had just sent of to the publisher.    

 

I was drawn to this webinar by two things: the first being Gavin's name: I was fortunate enough to come across Gavin when he was a plenary speaker at BELTA day two years ago. His session was very interesting and we had a lovely conversation at the end of the day wherein he complimented me on my English, so no wonder the man stuck with me, I really love compliments! The second thing that drew me in was the topic: Going mobile; now as a twenty five year old I grew up smack dab in the middle of the technological revolution. For most people this means that I must adore all things technological and that I'm a huge fan of using it in the classroom. Those people are usually dissapointed (or happily surprised depending on their age) when I tell them differentely. Teaching with tablets or Ipads? It really isn't my cup of tea. 

 

Now I have good reasons for my reluctance, reasons I think that are shared by many other teachers. In my opinion working with devices is rarely the succes you want it to be; the kids are easily distracted, you have limited control and oversight as to what exactly they are doing and most importantly the devices themselves never seem to work. I'm talking about the frustration of no internet connection, sites that don't work, apps that won't dowload, batteries that are empty; basically the whole shebang. It's awful and infuriating and at those moments I truly prefer pen and paper. However, the school I'm teaching at is slowly converting to a blended learning environment wherein the students keep their textbooks but no longer have any workbooks. All the actual exercises and assignments are done with the tablet. *Cue horror music* I decided to watch Gavin and Nicky's webinar in the hope that it would grant me a better perspective on the options I have when it comes to teaching with or through a device. 

Instead of talking you through the entire webinar I'm just going to review the points I thought were most helpful and interesting:

 

The first thing I thought was very interesting was the BYOD vs the class-set debate. Is it better for students to bring their own device or for the school to invest in class-sets that they can hand out during the lessons? Personally I think BYOD is the best option: students nowadays almost always own a device; they know how to operate that device already and so it saves a lot of time. Counterarguments that were given in the webinar are that some students don't have the means to buy their own device and that because the devices are all different it will make your instruction harder. I don't think the last argument is necessarily true and even if it is I believe the familiarity of the students with their own device will make up for it. In the webinar Gavin counters the first argument by advocating for a hybrid form of the two options where students bring their own device, but if they don't have the means the school can provide them with one.

 

Something that Nicky also mentions is that in order to make sure the students don't use their devices in an inappropriate manner it's a good idea to set up and AUP; an appropriate use policy wherein the rules and regulations of the use of a device in class are all written down. Both students and parents must sign this in order for devices to be used in class.  In the AUP the repercussions, for when the terms are violated, must be very clear. I think this is a nice sentiment but I don't believe it will necesarily ensure that students will uphold the AUP. As for catching them in the act; teachers only have one set of eyes and about 25 students per class. It isn't always possible to catch them red-handed. Nicky does mention that in order to monitor your students you should simply make the students lay their devices flat on the table. Something that you could also have written down in the AUP. 

 

After a rather theoretical introduction Gavin and Nicky do take their time in elaborating on a couple of activities they have done with their own students which focusses mainly on producing language via a device by using images or texts from the students their own lives. At this point the webinar became very interesting and my mind was going a mile a minute with figuring out what and how I could do some of the mentioned activities with my own classes. I especially liked the idea of students taking pictures outside of class and using these for a speaking or writing assigment. It's something I've heard about before in other webinars but I haven't tried  yet. 

 

Although the webinar didn't really teach me something new it was still a great way to refreshen some concepts that I’ve seen during my teacher training but have never had the chance to implement. Something I will surely try to rectify in the near future. I also really liked seeing the different opinions on the BYOD vs the class-set debate as well as the ideas Nicky and Gavin presented in order to ensure that students won't get too distracted by their devices.

 

Both Gavin and Nicky are great speakers who are really good at keeping your attention and at engaging the entire audience. Let’s just say that the 58 minutes of the webinar flew by! I am also seriously thinking about buying their book to see what other interesting activities they have come up with. All in all a good start to my blogging adventure.

 

My question to you guys is the following: Have you used devices in your classroom before, if so did you like it? And also how did you make sure that your students were not otherwise occupied?