Friday, July 13, 2012

TEFL Teacher Lessons Learned: Vol. 2

As the regular teaching year ends, I've been getting surprisingly sentimental about some of my students. You grow attached. For many people in Spain, the ability to speak English well is not just a hobby or a trick to bust out at parties (though pick-up lines and drinking games have definitely made their way into a lesson or two). Lots of my students need to maintain a certain level to keep their jobs, find a job or get promoted. My kiddies need to pass certain English exams to have the best chance at being accepted into their top university picks.

To see someone grow and learn new things under your care has been a rewarding and satisfying experience for me. It's also been an interesting way to learn about the people and culture of Spain.

OK, on to the TEFL/ESL lessons learned!

  1. It gets easier after the first 3 months of teaching.
    "It" being namely the lesson planning. The trainers at our certification program, TtMadrid, said it would, and they were right. After the holiday break (our 3-month mark), David and I resumed classes with this newfound feeling of "I got this sh*t." Which - believe me - was so warmly welcomed after weeks of "wtf are we doing."

    Tip: To acquire aforementioned "I got this sh*t" confidence, read on....
  2. Recycle, recycle, recycle. Recycle your lessons. You will save so much time, and you'll just get better and better at teaching that lesson.
    Blank board game and dice that can be used for ANYthing         
    Tip: Plan good lessons that are adaptable for any level or age. For example, jot down a different set of vocab words upper-level Ss, or make a note to review difficult phrases before reading a passage for lower-levels. Nothing fancy.
  3. Variety. When we started accepting jobs, David ended up with mostly upper-intermediate adult groups. As a result, he would prepare one lesson and teach it the whole week. Smart! When we started accepting jobs, I signed myself up for whatever I thought sounded good and fun. As a result, I ended up with everything under the sun: beginner adult one-to-one, upper-intermediate adult one-to-one, upper-intermediate group, a 5-year-old, an 11-year-old, and high-schoolers.

    While I love them all to bits now and would not change a thing (seriously), it was madness planning for them in the beginning. Madness. Each week, I would go from planning ABCs to stereotypes in the workplace. There are pros and cons to sticking with one level or having a mixed bag. For me, I would love more free time, but I enjoy teaching I'm A Little Teapot to my baby and practicing prepositions with my beginners and making my military dude students explain the meaning behind Adele's "Someone Like You."
    My kiddies hard at work during our sewing lesson
    Tip: Before applying for jobs, think about what kind of students you would like to teach. If you'd rather save time on planning, try to stay within the same level but beware that it could get boring. If you want a variety beware that you'll have to invest more time.
  4. Teacher Kit [tee-chur kit] noun. 1. An emergency folder containing activities for all levels and ages to save the day 2. A thing you must carry at all times

    Sometimes your students will be in a crappy mood and need cheering up. Sometimes the room you reserved has been stolen and you're forced to have class over lunch at a restaurant. Sometimes you forget the listening track you need for the lesson you planned on using. Whatever the cause, you will need this kit on hand to fill time and/or brighten the mood.

    : My kit contains: list of controversial issues (think drinking age, bull fighting, human cloning), awkward situation role-plays (think CEO has spinach stuck in his teeth - what do you say to him/her?), sets of photos to practice comparing/contrasting and storytelling, dice (you can do a million things with these), a magazine or newspaper, and pronunciation mazes (love these because they take up time, fun break from grammar, forces Ss to focus on one sound that they never knew they needed help on). David's kit contains: crayons.
  5. Case of the Mondays. Yes, sometimes you will wake up Monday morning with traces of alcohol still in your system from the weekend, and/or your brain still lounging in the park. And many times during those mornings, you will have no lessons prepared. You will have to print of something in a hurry and study it on the metro enroute to the class.

    Tip: In my opinion, if you must let this happen, do it when you have a few months under your belt - when you are better equipped to wing it successfully. Otherwise, it's just not fair to your students. And you just feel like a crappy teacher. On a Monday. Yuck.
  6. Equipment. To hold a TEFL lesson, all you really need is yourself and your student. That said, gadgets don't hurt in making class more fun and effective. I carry around a little magnetic white board that has been amazing. I don't have to break conversation momentum to get up from the table and write on the the board behind me. A tiny detail but makes a huge difference for both T and S. It's also handy for drawing words they don't understand. I also carry a marker with a small eraser at the tip (because unknowingly hoarding crunchy paper towels at the bottom of your bag is just gross).
    TEFL teacher essentials: mini white board & eraser attached to marker
    iPad... as with many Apple products, you don't need them. But for some reason you find yourself wondering how you functioned without them. An iPad is totally unnecessary, but I love using it to play video clips or listening tracks (instead of lugging my laptop). For my kids, I love these FREE apps: shapespuzzlesanimals.

    : Whatever materials you buy, try to make sure they are travel friendly and fit in a plastic sleeve. Also, write your name on EVERYTHING!
  7. Read the Spanish news. Or at least the headlines, especially if you have higher level students. They are more excited to talk about something topical than rehashed, reused topics from English textbooks.

    Tip: Topics that always get them going: futbol and the crisis. 

The list could go on. But here are 7 lucky ones for now. If you're looking to get certified to become a TEFL/ESL teacher, or looking for a way to live in Spain, check out my post here.



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