The Minor Detail: Encouragement and Advice for Teachers from Teachers

So you want to see the world and make some money while doing it, huh?  The research is done and you’ve decided that teaching English overseas is the right fit.  You’re seizing your dreams.  You’re excited.  You’re amped on travel blogs and TESOL.  There’s just that minor detail.

You’ve never done this before.

Teacher at Chalkboard

Soon you’ll be standing in front of 30 eager students, ears tuned to a different language, waiting to hear what you have to say.  This is the adventure you’ve signed up for and I’m here to make sure you don’t go in unprepared.  That’s why I’ve conspired together with other teachers to offer you some of our best advice; advice which transcends the cultural boundaries and connects in classrooms worldwide.  This is encouragement for teachers, from teachers.

Take the good.  Toss the unhelpful.  Those kids will be leaving apples on your desk in no time.  Or whatever the local fruit happens to be in Taiwan.

The Preparation

The Boy Scouts had this one right.  Preparation is your closest ally as a teacher.  Set yourself up for success and do your students justice by knowing what’s going to happen before you walk into the room.

Plan objectives.  Have clear and concise goals for your students and don’t try and do too much during a class period.  A lot of small steps gets us a long ways and gets us there with confidence.

Over plan.  Sometimes our activities slot right into the 20 minutes we’ve allotted.  Celebrate those moments.  But have plans B, C, and D in your back pocket as a supplement along the lines of your teaching objective.  A different game, a book you can read, a song you can sing to reinforce today’s learning goal when plan A gets swept up by the current.

Know your audience.  This takes time, but be intentional about paying attention to how your students learn, what’s going on in their lives, and what works in your teaching.  Not only will they see that you care, but you’ll become a more effective teacher, saving yourself and your students some unneeded struggle.

Take care of yourself.  Eat well.  Get plenty of rest.  Exercise.  Enjoy this new place and these new people.  Always remember, you are the biggest asset to your students.  Protect the investment by being good to yourself.

In the Classroom

It’s go time.  For better or worse, there is no turning back now.  Welcome to life in all its unpredictable glory.

State learning intentions loud and clear.  Let there be no doubt about what it is you are talking about today.  Animals, colors, numbers, doesn’t matter – have it plastered on the board, refer back to it, use key words and phrases.  Tell them what they will learn, tell them what they are learning, then tell them what they have learned.  Clarity is beneficial to everyone.

Transition gracefully.  It can be difficult for students to go full steam from one thing into another at your whim.  Allow time for students to shift focus to where you’re leading them.  A verbal “you have 5 minutes left” or a set of specific instructions about what will happen and when can help students make a smoother transition.

Closure.  Don’t let the bell ring while you’re off on a tangent.  Learn to manage the time you have and come back around to the main point, so that when their parents ask them what they learned today, your students don’t have to stop and think.  They have the closure they need.

Unruly students

You’ve done the school thing.  You know what it’s like.  Kids act up.  But behavior problems in the classroom stem from students who are either looking for something or avoiding something.  It’s nothing that should intimidate you if you’ll take the time to find out what’s really going on below the surface.

State expectations straight up.  Holding your students to a standard you haven’t clearly communicated to them is unfair.  So is expecting them to be at levels of maturity of which they aren’t capable.  Set appropriate rewards and consequences beforehand to which you can refer back to as needed.

Preventative > Reactive.  You can see something brewing.  Before little Aidan takes his shirt off and starts doing cartwheels while screaming obscenities, take action to steer him in the right direction.  Walk to the area where trouble is brewing and teach from there.  Your presence will be a determent to mischief.  Have some visual cues, like pointing to the “points chart” or giving “teacher eyes” while referring to whatever system of behavior maintenance you’ve established beforehand.  These things can enforce your expectations while not interrupting the flow of your lesson.

Know where they’re coming from.  Why is Aidan acting out?  Is this typical behavior or is he having a bad day?  Does he act out in certain circumstances or at certain times?  What does Aidan want?  The answers take some intentional observation on your part.  If you don’t know or the behavior persists despite your efforts, there is no shame in getting help or advice from other qualified resources.  As the teacher, you want your students to succeed, so care about them as people first and not as “problems.”

Positive Reinforcement.  It’s proven that we as humans not only need, but respond to positive affirmation more strongly than we do negative.  Embarrassment is not an effective technique and will only alienate your students and diminish their respect for you.  Setting goals of excellence they can work toward helps motivate them towards their greater potential.  When you are proactive in looking for ways to reward your students with your approval, encouragement, and appreciation, it will transform your classroom.

Online resources

Google.

Keep in mind

You don’t know it all.  You’ll make mistaekes mistakes and that’s okay.  You’ll have bad days and you’ll have good days – roll with it, learn from them, and cherish your experiences.

Learn the art of asking good questions.  Questions can help your students take ownership of the material rather than having it preached at them.  Come up with a few good questions which tie into your lesson.  They can help you assess whether or not your students are following along, as well as providing you with an understanding of your own communication effectiveness.

Set a solid foundation for your students.  Expectations, structure, routine, and follow-through give your students the parameters they need to learn.  Be a fun teacher by all means, but don’t cheapen yourself to just being their buddy.  They look to you for guidance and authority, so honor them with such.

Don’t wing it.  Until you have years of practice and teaching experience, organization is your best friend.

Laugh.  Keep your sense of humor.  Write down the funny things your students say.  Smile.  Enjoy this time of your life, even if it’s not going to be your career.

Do things you enjoy.  Keep yourself interested while you teach.  If there’s a book you love, read it to your students.  A game that makes you happy?  Incorporate it into your lesson.  The kids will learn and you won’t hate your job.

And finally,

You are the greatest gift.  They are there to learn English or Math or Science, but really they are learning what is important in life and how to engage the world around them.  You have this sacred opportunity to let them know they are valued and supported.  Don’t let that slip through your fingers.

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