I have just embarked on training as a trainer on a Trinity Certificate course. Looking through the information for trainees and particularly the pre-course task, I was taken back to when I did my CELTA course some years ago. As I’m sure all new TEFL teachers do, I remember spending hours with ‘Swan’ (the bible) and Jeremy Harmer’s ‘The Practice of English Language Teaching’ trying to work out the answers to questions asking about apostrophes, verb tenses, student errors and other such things that I had absolutely no idea about!
I think it’s good to reflect on the differences between things we know after gaining experience of the language classroom and all the things we didn’t know way back when. In terms of teacher development, we are often looking for ways to better ourselves, focusing on faults, or at least ‘areas for improvement’. Perhaps sometimes we beat ourselves up a bit about what we aren’t entirely proficient at without patting ourselves on the back about how far we’ve come.
I think that for me the most important thing would have to be the fact that in terms of language learning and teaching, there are many ways to skin a cat. In the early days, I think many inexperienced teachers worry about not doing things ‘right’. However, in many situations, there is no right or wrong, just options. As we become more experienced, we become more aware of these options and can put them to use in different situations. One of the reasons ELT is so rich in discussion on social media is that there are so many differing opinions, with dogme and the use of technology being two prime examples.
As a beginner teacher, I wish that someone had said to me: “Look, it doesn’t always matter what you do, what you plan, or what YOU want to teach. Talk to the learners, listen to the learners, focus on the learners. Are they learning anything? Are they making progress? Are they benefiting from the classes? How do you know? How can you find out?”
This kind of learner focus is perhaps the most important thing. Millennia have started and ended since the beginnings of human communication and millions of people have developed language skills without the need of a class or a teacher. So, for me, as a language teacher, I think I should ask myself: “What exactly is my purpose?”. Perhaps listening closely to the students is the best way to find this out, because our exact purpose is different depending on the context of each class and teaching situation we find ourselves in.
Overall, the three pieces of advice that I think could help a beginner teacher would be:
1) Don’t over-plan and don’t be governed only by your plan. Don’t be afraid to go with the flow and leave the plan behind.
2) Ask the students what they think about activities and interaction in the classroom, and about language learning in general, then adapt your teaching to fit their needs and preferences.
3) Make notes about classes and individual students, then make sure you re-visit these notes in order to help reflect on the learning and teaching processes taking place.
These are three things I thought, but about what about you? Any suggestions?
It would be great to hear from someone who has recently qualified and started teaching to see if what I have written tallies with their experience.