This is a response to a blog challenge set by Joanna Malefaki, asking what advice I’d give to my younger teacher self. Now that I’ve written it, it turns out most of my advice is about being outside the classroom, but I’m not sure what else I can say!
Depending on how you count it, I’ve been teaching for:
- 11 years, since my first experience on my gap year
- Nearly 9 years, since my year abroad, when I had my first full-time language school job
- 7 years, since I finished my CELTA and graduated from university
Like Joanna, I think I’d give different tips to each of those ‘me’s’.
On your gap year
I got incredibly homesick for the first three weeks of the six I was at the school in the middle of the jungle. When I left, I was crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to go.
Don’t wallow. Go out and talk to people.
Explore the place you’re in, however small it might be.
Find out about the culture.
Immerse yourself in the language.
Don’t be afraid to find out about the people you’re living amongst.
Fill your time.
On your year abroad
I didn’t learn from my experience of homesickness in Borneo, and repeated it all over again when I was in Paraguay, so the advice above would work for this me. There’s more though:
Just because a resource book looks old, doesn’t mean it’s not useful.
Just because a coursebook looks old, it probably means it’s out-of-date and irrelevant 😉
Plan more than 5 minutes before the lesson.
Make sure you know something about the grammar you’re teaching, and don’t just try to wing it.
Learn what those funny symbols on that strange chart on the wall mean – they’ll come in really useful!
My first job
I spent my next three years working in Brno, which I loved, but…
No matter how much you think it might help, spending every weekend of the first six months of your time in Brno at school planning lessons is neither healthy nor an effective use of your time. Allocate a shorter time to plan, and you will magically be able to do it.
Spend time exploring – don’t wait until you’re about to leave to start, or you’ll never get to the planetarium (still haven’t been!)
Make more of an effort with the language right from the start. Get a teacher – you need one to make you do the work.
Back in the UK
Two years in Newcastle:
Use the fact you’re in the UK. Take the students on trips. Get them out of the classroom, especially in the summer.
Invite people into your classroom.
Observe other teachers. Observe yourself.
Remember that however much you might love the north-east of England, it’s a long way from family and friends, and just because you’re in the UK, doesn’t mean it’s any cheaper getting to see them than when you live in Europe!
Do Module 2 full-time. You’ll get so much more out of it that way.
Do the modules separately, not concurrently.
Make sure you dedicate the time and the effort to actually following through on the PDA (Professional Development Assignment) properly, rather than just hurriedly doing whatever you can to make sure you’ve ticked the boxes. You might find it actually solves some of the problems you have.
When people tell you your instructions are crap, do something proactive to sort it out. Don’t just nod and carry on in the same way. They are, and you’ll save yourself so much time and effort in the classroom by doing something about it.
It’s not worth making yourself ill over – have a proper break before you start.
Start exploring straight away. You never know what’s going to happen that might stop you.
Don’t be afraid to ask people to do things with you in your free time – you’re not interrupting them, and you never know, they might say yes.
Observe other tutors’ input sessions whenever you can find the time to do it.
Get copies of their feedback so you can become more effective, faster.
Collect as many different ways of conducting TP feedback as you can, experiment with them, and try to find ones which work in different situations.
Don’t overwhelm the trainees with paper – be picky, and get to the point.
Timing, timing, timing – be strict with yourself.
Most importantly of all…
Don’t think twice about diving headfirst into TEFL. It will take over your life in the best possible way, give you experiences you never even knew could exist, take you all over the world, and give you the most amazing life.
Don’t change anything.