Some tips for surviving the first month
I’ve now been teaching in my school in Berlin for just over a month, which is still rather unbelievable to me! Although I’ve not been teaching for long, I have already taught a lot of different classes at different levels, both within the school and in companies. In this short time, I feel I have picked up a few tricks and tactics to make the life of a newbie teacher a little easier, so I’d like to share them in the hope that they might help others in a similar situation.
NB: For some reason, the paragraph tabs between each point keep disappearing each time I press ‘Save’, so unless some HTML guru can help me rectify this situation shortly, I apologise for the blocky text!
- At the very beginning (especially if you came straight off a CELTA into a full-time job like I did!), try to veer towards using textbooks with teacher’s guides – not exclusively, of course, but the following is an excellent post-CELTA test of your understanding of the different important components of a lesson and a coursebook: look at the textbook pages yourself and decide how you would introduce, adapt and teach those specific pages. Then compare with the publishers’ suggestions and see how they would do it differently. Use any good ideas from your original plan and incorporate the publishers’ alternative suggestions, as the plan you devised yourself will always ‘come off the page’ more in a lesson than simply following the publishers’ instructions blow-by-blow!
- On a related note, try to assess a few different coursebook options for whichever grammar or functional item you are interested in, and practise rejecting inappropriate options critically. For example, my classes of adults won’t be at all interested in topics about school, so if a Contents Page tells me that’s how my desired grammar item is introduced or practiced, then I reject that particular book for that lesson. Of course, this is much easier if you are graced with a huge bank of resources but even with a few books you can learn to be productively picky.
- Keep a note of all tricky questions your students ask, and be sure to understand them afterwards – ask for help if Google or books aren’t clear. I’ve already come up against questions about incredibly intricate grammatical points in my first four weeks, and ‘it’s just right because it sounds right to me as a native speaker’ doesn’t really cut it as an explanation.
- In my current school, we have fortnightly plans for our intensive courses, which change regularly. We also have to document which materials we used for every lesson, so they’re not repeated for students who stay on the intensive courses for a long time. These folders then become the perfect place to look for suggestions for similar lessons because you can see how other teachers taught the same lesson to another group. Logs like this aren’t just time-consuming admin!
- If you teach a lesson that your students seem to enjoy, teach it a few times to perfect it. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise I could simply recycle my successful lessons from intensive courses with my company classes – and of course vice versa.
- If you are asked to cover someone else’s class, it’s very common they’re happy for you to do a random lesson until they come back from holiday/visiting family etc. I recommend you use these opportunities to try out something new, like a video lesson or a fun idea with something functional like small talk. I tried out a video lesson I found on a blog when I covered for a colleague, and thankfully it went down a storm, so it’s now become part of my ’emergency lesson bank’ in case I’m needed for spontaneous cover lessons.
- Always print the transcripts and answers to any worksheets you want to use, if they’re available and, regardless of whether there are answer sheets or not, always complete the questions yourself before your class. It’s the perfect way to anticipate any problems. Having the transcript and answers in class also prepares you well for any random question a student might ask!
- Keep copies of good lessons and file them neatly into sections in a big lever arch file. I had a great time doing this about a month into my new job [as seen in the photo!]. It’s particularly useful to keep the copies you’ve doodled on during class, or written additional questions on – these are the most valuable additional notes for the next time you teach the same lesson.
- Similarly, if you have the facility to do so, try to scan and email any good lessons to yourself, including the book references on the bottom. This will allow you to build up your own resource bank on your computer, which you can categorise in similar folders to the paper lever arch file you’ve just set up.
- Buy plastic wallets, folders or any other exciting new stationery item for separating your material for different lessons – in my first week team-teaching across multiple intensive course classes, I was utterly overwhelmed by paper!
- Use a bookmark collection tool like Diigo to save and tag websites you find with good resources or ideas on them. You can use as many tags as you like and search across them, and it’s so helpful when you need a quick filler or news article.
- Read ‘About Language’ by Scott Thornbury. Rather than simply telling you about language, as the name would suggest, it makes you think about it yourself, with lots of step-by-step guided discovery of grammar points to increase teachers’ awareness of the intricacies of the English language.
And, of course, we teach our students to ask questions if they are confused, so being a teacher is no different! If you are lucky, like I believe I have been, then you’ll have a central staff room where all the teachers prepare lessons, eat their lunch and of course, talk about their classes. This is the ideal place to ask for help and inspiration from more knowledgeable teachers and, in my experience, they’re only too happy to test their extensive knowledge of resources and ideas by helping you!