Diary of a newbie teacher: Part One

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!

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!
  11. 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.
  12. 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!

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About BerLingo

My name is Rachel, I am 25 and I love Germany. I studied German, Spanish and Italian at Durham University for four years, one of which I spent living in Europe, and then worked at Routledge academic publishing house for almost 3 years. Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to finally fulfil a long-held ambition to live in Berlin, and so in April 2015 I completed the CELTA qualification (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, adminstered by Cambridge University) here in the German capital. Now qualified, my blog berlingo18.wordpress.com charts my experiences as a new English teacher in my favourite city... (More information about my plans can be found in my first ever blog post.)
This entry was posted in Berlin, Berlin School of English, ELT, newbie, NQT, reflection, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Diary of a newbie teacher: Part One

  1. This is really useless! I’m going off to uni and thinking about teaching so thanks. xx

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  2. Toussaint says:

    As a self-learner of languages who blogs as I learn each language, I am glad to have read this post. Your list is well organized and thought provoking, and will have some influence in how I continue to approach my language processing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks Toussaint, that’s great to hear 🙂 which languages are you learning?

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      • Toussaint says:

        I first took on French, which I blogged about on duolinguist.wordpress.com, then took on Italian with duolinguisto.wordpress.com, and I’m also processing German. That blog is duolingistum.wordpress.com. I’ve reserved Spanish with duolinguista.wordpress.com, and that will probably start in January. French is completed, which took me a year, and Italian and German are in progress, and will probably take around six months.

        Liked by 1 person

      • BerLingo says:

        Gosh, wow! I am definitely going to have a look at these websites! I can speak decent German and Spanish, and average Italian, but I would love to pick up French, so I’m amazed you did that in a year!

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      • Toussaint says:

        BTW, your new blog banner (is it new, or did I not see it?) is excellent.

        Liked by 1 person

      • BerLingo says:

        Thanks! And no, it’s not new: I accidentally stumbled upon the way to use two and have them on rotation, so you would have just seen the other one before 🙂

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  3. paulwalsh says:

    When you say, “In my current school, we have fortnightly plans for our intensive courses, which change regularly.” – what do you mean?

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    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks for the comment, Paul. There are a lot of different plans which we rotate so students don’t repeat the same things!

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      • paulwalsh says:

        What I mean is Rachel is that if the lesson plans are produced by the school – then your freelance status is in doubt IMO.

        A freelancer is employed to perform a specific service (and traditionally, would have their own tools). If the school is just giving you lesson plans to carry out (their lesson plans) then I would have questions about your freelance status i.e. what exactly is the service you are providing?

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      • BerLingo says:

        They’re only lesson plans insofar as headline topics like ‘present perfect’ or ‘adverbs of time’ – we have so many classes and so many repeating students that it’d be lunacy to have no plan at all, I think.
        The service I offer is my interpretation and spin on that topic. And this is only the intensive courses: I also teach in companies, evening courses and 121s where I decide the entire contents of the classes.
        I hope none of the above will get me into trouble with the tax man here, anyway!
        Thanks for the post,
        Rachel

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    • Anthony Ash says:

      Paul, I think this means that they create a lesson-by-lesson syllabus for a two week period. Once that syllabus is completed, they move on to the next one. This is common with intensive courses where learners only come to the school for a matter of weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BerLingo says:

        This is indeed what I meant 🙂 Some of our learners are here for 2, some for 8, and some even for 12 weeks with employment vouchers from the German government (amazing deal, I think!)
        So we have rotating plans to make sure they have variety 🙂

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  4. Anthony Ash says:

    Great post! I’m impressed that you have come up with a couple of good ideas already. I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but rather when I do Teacher Training, there are plenty of teachers who take years to realise some of the things you have already realised – in the space of a month!

    One good example of this is the idea to do the exercises yourself beforehand. I feel that this is one of the best ways a teacher can plan. When I have to do an emergency cover, I usually just grab the next set of materials in the course and do them as though I were the learner. I don’t have time to plan and reinvent the wheel, so I have to use what is in the coursebook step by step but doing the exercises before provides a lot of good insight, as you rightly point out, and helps to predict issues and problems the learners might have.

    I think it is also a good idea that you suggest considering what it says in the teacher’s book. At this stage of their career, most NQT’s are still trying to master what I like to call “executive techniques” i.e. setting up activities, collating feedback and dealing with language errors. There is more time and mental space to focus on these and develop them when the structure and materials of a lesson are already taken care of i.e. the coursebook and teacher’s book. Of course, as you rightly point out, not everything in there is appropriate, so you need to keep your eye’s peeled. I love the suggestion of designing your own plan and then comparing it with the teacher’s book – that could be very insightful indeed!

    I have only one criticism: filing all your lessons away. To my experience, it is very rare that a teacher reuses their lessons in their entirety. You should find, as you develop, that in one year from now, when you come back to teaching the same unit in a given cousebook, you will look at what you did last year and then think “oh, that’s awaful – scrap that!” This is all part and parcel of your Professional Development and very important for ensuring that you don’t have 1 year of teaching repeated 10 times over but in fact 10 individual years of teaching and development. So, keeping your lesson plans as a reference to see how you did it before is probably useful, but I doubt you’ll reuse most of them, except a few.

    With regards to lesson planning, I did a 10 minute talk at the IH TOC 2015 conference suggesting teachers make use of PowerPoint not for showing the learners but for their own plans. Everything is explained in this video: https://sites.google.com/site/ihtoc7/planning-powerpoint-and-procastination-1

    BTW you refer to a picture in your post but I can’t see any picture in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Wow, Anthony, thanks so much for this comment – and for alerting me to the fact that it’s here because I had a friend visiting this weekend so all my notifications had backed up!
      I don’t perceive your comment in a condescending way at all; rather, I am very flattered 🙂 Thank you for thinking I’ve been in some way perceptive!
      Thanks also for your remarks – since scribbling this post on my phone a few weeks ago, I have to agree with you on the saving-all-lesson plans front. Now, I tend to only save those that are particularly successful in my intensive course classes, which I know I can then use in all my regular evening classes (because it’s the same level; because they’ll like the topic etc.) Otherwise, I know that most of the textbooks are here for the next time 🙂
      I really like your phrase ‘executive techniques’, because that is really what I’ve been trying to work on since the CELTA – introducing lessons in a creative way, doing feedback using different methods and also trying to monitor effectively. This is made vastly easier by the presence of these wonderful teacher’s books – and I often find myself doing my ‘publisher thing’ and standing up for course books and teachers’ books when they come in the firing line in the staff room! Of course, every book has its faults, but on the whole, I think all our jobs would be much harder without them. I do read all the posts for/against, and about dogme teaching with great interest though.
      I am going off on something of a tangent, but I am certainly going to look at your talk later, thank you!
      And thank you, finally, for the picture spot! That was my fault 🙂 It’s what happens when I upload posts from my phone, along with the lack of paragraph breaks.
      Take care,
      Rachel

      Liked by 1 person

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