Issue 47 of the IH Journal has just come out, including articles by me on Work-life balance for new teachers. Amy Gowers has written about Taming Teens, which I’ll definitely be sharing with lots of my colleagues and taking note of myself! There’s even an article called How effectively are you using your PowerPoint, which I think a lot of teachers could do with reading Here is the full contents page:
Posts tagged ‘work-life balance’
I have been so homesick that it hurt three times in my life.
The first was in Germany when I was 18 and working in a factory for six weeks at the beginning of my gap year. I was staying with a family friend, but two weeks after I arrived, she went back to the UK for the summer, as she did every year, leaving me alone in her house. She’d introduced me to a few people in the tiny Bavarian village she lived in, but it was during the 2003 drought, absurdly hot and with only 30 minutes rain during the whole time I was there, so I didn’t really want to go outside once I got home from work. I stayed in the house as much as I could, and ended up being by myself all the time. The only way I got through the day doing the dullest job I’ve ever done was the thought that at about 6pm every evening I could watch Will and Grace, one of my favourite programmes at the time, plus occasionally being on the same job in the factory as someone my age, who unfortunately lived in a completely different place and was impossible to meet up with after work. On the last weekend I finally did a bit of exploring, visiting Regensburg by myself. I wish I’d discovered I could go off on adventures by myself earlier, but I’ve certainly never forgotten it!
The second time was a few months later, working at a jungle school in a (very) rural village for the second half of a four-month volunteering trip to Borneo. I was there with two other girls my age who had been in the jungle with me. Unfortunately I didn’t get on very well with one of them, and the second one became more and more like the first as our seven weeks in the village went on. They spent all of their time together. I only had 8 hours of teaching a day, and spent a long time planning, but once I did that I didn’t have much to do to fill my time. Instead I shut myself in my room with the fan on (when the electricity generator was working: during school hours and 7-10p.m. every night) and wrote pages and pages in my diary, consisting mostly of lists of things I would do when I got back home, and all of the things I missed. Sometimes I would use my book to try and learn some Bahasa Malay, but I spent very little time with the people in the village unless we were explicitly invited to their houses.
The third and final time (I hope) was in Paraguay. I worked there from July 2006 to June 2007 as part of my year abroad from university during my languages degree. I’d decided to go to South America and France, but also need to practise my German. I knew there were a lot of Mennonite and other Germans in Paraguay, so wanted to find a German family to live with. The first person I found fell through in November, and my (very) split shifts meant that I’d had huge trouble making friends beyond the three people I went with, who had all found their own friends by this stage. Skype was only just starting to grow, and I couldn’t really speak to my family much and the bandwidth wasn’t good enough for video. It was the year that facebook was opened out to the world, proving very important to me, but it didn’t really become popular until the end of my time in Paraguay. This was my longest ever period of homesickness, lasting about a month. I was very disillusioned by Paraguay, sad that I wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas, and feeling incredibly lonely. So what did I do? I stayed at home, cried, and generally felt sorry for myself.
In both Borneo and Paraguay, I managed to turn it around, and ended up crying my eyes out at the end because I didn’t want to leave. In both cases, this was because I found ways to fill my time and crush my homesickness. In Borneo, this was by helping the kids and the other two English teachers at the school to create a snakes and ladders board:
In Paraguay it was by finally finding a German-speaking family, starting classes at the Goethe Institute, and helping to sort out the resources in the school library.
The most important thing, though, was that I had to stop wallowing in the feeling, tell people about it, and go out and do something about it. Since then I have never really felt homesick for more than a day at a time. It’s never possible to completely avoid the feeling, especially if things aren’t going well at home, and you can’t be there, but you can reduce the likelihood of it striking. Remember: you are not alone, you are not the only person who feels/has felt like this, and you are not impinging on other people if you tell them how you’re feeling. Good luck!
This post was inspired by Elly Setterfield’s post Teaching English Abroad: What if I hate it? which is full of great advice for new teachers. I highly recommend reading her blog. Thanks Elly!
What happens when a CELTA tutor is away?
There’s not much leeway, because you almost always have exactly the number of tutors you need, no more, no less. There’s no time to be sick, and any other absence is a very bad idea, particularly on days when you’re observing teaching practice (TP), when it’s vital to have one tutor per group of trainees.
We were lucky that we have a little bit of slack on the courses in Chiang Mai because of the number of trainers. Today we had demo lessons with no TP because of the level change half-way through the course, so if you have to be down a tutor, it was the best day for it. One was off sick, and another had to go to Bangkok to renew their visa.
Luckily, the one who was ill doesn’t do input, only TP, and we’d already arranged cover for the input sessions for the one in Bangkok. We shared guided lesson planning between the rest of us, and because there were no classes on Friday, we didn’t have feedback, which meant there was time to do this. The major change was having just two demo lessons in the evening, with larger than normal classes: 16 students and 10 trainees in the elementary one, and 11 students and 15 trainees in intermediate with me. We’re very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people! The lessons were useful for both the trainees and the students, and it was good to demonstrate techniques that can be applied to larger classes.
In the end we coped today, but hopefully we’ll be back to full strength tomorrow! Another reason to look after yourself…
On CELTA courses, I find the most often skipped part of language-related TPs is phonology/pronunciation. Trainees check the meaning of the language, spend ages checking the form (especially if they’ve been let loose on a whiteboard), then skip merrily along to controlled practice, without teaching students how to actually say this beautiful new piece of language they’ve taught them.
Trainees get more guidance in early TPs, and this reduces as they progress through the four weeks. At the start I can remind them repeatedly that they need to cover meaning AND form AND pronunciation, but there comes a time when they have to remember it for themselves. For two of my trainees today, that’ll be after tomorrow’s feedback.
Why do they skip it?
Often, it’s not mentioned in the plan at all, and if it’s not there, then it won’t be in the lesson unless they have a last-minute brainwave and remember it. I therefore encourage trainees to have three separate rows in their plan: one each for ‘focus on meaning’, ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on pronunciation’, to make sure they remember to cover all three areas.
Sometimes it’s in the plan, but they blank and forget to do it in the lesson.
Still other times, it’s there, but they’ve spent hours on the warmer, the focus on form or something else earlier in the lesson, they notice they’re running out of time, and as pronunciation is clearly the least important part of introducing new language (!), they decide to drop it. Since to hit the Cambridge criteria it’s important for the students to get at least a bit of practice with the new language, this can be a sensible decision mid-TP, but I’d rather they tried to get to the point faster and gave pronunciation it’s due: what’s the point of knowing what a structure looks like if you can’t say it yourself?
No solutions here, just a general complaint…
And while we’re here, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my week two post: why, oh why, aren’t the way that meaning, form and phonology are covered in the lesson three separate criteria rather than being lumped together as one? Assessing the trainees on it as a single area frustrates me, but opinion is divided as to whether you can/should separate them out.
Does anybody know when the criteria were last updated? And when are Cambridge likely to update them again?!
Easing off in guided lesson planning isn’t easy – the temptation is always there to help too much. Trainees need the opportunity to make their own mistakes, but they also need the chance to shine without you too.
I find TP6 to be the hardest one to do guided lesson planning for, assuming a total of 8 TPs. In the first four, trainees need support to help them focus when planning, not get carried away with materials or too stressed about introducing new language, including logical stages and not dominating the classroom too much, thereby leaving little room for students to experiment with the language themselves.
In TP5, they’ve normally just moved to a new level, so guidance is about how this will affect their teaching, and how to work with the higher/lower students.
In TP7 and TP8, trainees should be showing us how independent they can be, since they’ll be going out into the real world soon, where they’ll have to work alone. They can still ask us key questions and we’re there in emergencies, but generally they should be seeking the support of their peers rather than us.
But what do you do in TP6? Mostly I just have to try and restrain myself, making sure I’m only asking questions, and encouraging the trainees to think for themselves. Definitely an area I still need to work on…
a.k.a. Assessor Day
The assessor’s visit looms around the end of week 3/beginning of week 4 on any CELTA course, and is dreaded by the trainees because they’re petrified about having another person watching their TPs. I have to say that since you already have up to 6 people watching, I’m not sure what difference a 7th one makes, but there you go.
Far from being there to judge the trainees, the assessor’s role is actually to standardise the course and make sure that the CELTA ticks all the correct boxes and everything is running as it should. They check some of the portfolios, particularly (but not exclusively) for borderline candidates where another opinion would be welcomed. They also observe some of the TPs that day and can observe/participate in feedback if it’s on the same day.
Before their visit they get lots of documents to look over, including an overview of the performance, strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. These are the basis for a grading meeting, where the assessor and tutors discuss what candidates need to do to pass/fulfil their potential/avoid failing. Earlier in the day, the assessor meets with the trainees to collect anonymous feedback about how the course is working, and they pass this on to the tutors after the grading meeting. Finally, they make recommendations about what the centre needs to do to maintain standards.
If there’s a tutor in training on the course and the centre is not a training centre, the assessor may stay for an extra day to observe the TinT doing an input session, taking notes in TP and giving feedback, as well as checking their portfolio and offering advice.
All in all, assessment day is long for the tutors, but it’s an important way of making sure that all is as it should be.
The joys of CELTA are many.
Watching people who’ve never taught before learn the buzz of being a teacher, knowing that their students have learnt something from them.
Knowing that the more experienced teachers appreciate the opportunity to develop and reflect that the course offers.
Seeing the lightbulb moment when a trainee finally cottons on to something that they haven’t really understood the point of before.
Watching the trainees’ development over the course.
When you see something used successfully in a lesson that you suggested in feedback to another trainee less than two hours before.
Terminology slips in assignments and lesson plans producing new and interesting terms that will never again feature in any ELT literature.
When a new input session you’ve never done before works.
Finally figuring out how to do something you’ve never been quite sure how to do in your own teaching because one of the trainees has just asked you how to do it, and you’ve got to answer them.
Teaching people to reflect.
Having a TP group who work together like clockwork, so you don’t really need to be in the room because the support network and bond they’ve built up between them does your work for you.
Working with inspiring people and learning their stories.
Sharing my love of teaching.
Playing: with the room, the space, feedback sessions, interaction patterns, normal sized classes (not just 2 or 3 students!), teaching style, new activities, ideas, thoughts…
Knowing that you’ll be working with a great trainee, and have the chance to help them build on the initial course.
I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:
- If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1’ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
- Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the centre’s folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
- On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
- Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
- Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
- Do session.
- Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
- Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.
I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.
The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!
I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!
Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.
In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:
I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.
I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.
Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.
Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.
Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. 😉
It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!
‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)
Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)
Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.
Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!
The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.
It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:
Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.
And about 5 hours later on a different post:
Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.
You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.
I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.
Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?
There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:
- Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
- Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
- Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
- Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.
Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.
Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.
Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.
The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:
- the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
- the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
- the main functions of each of these tenses.
Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.
Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:
- Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
- Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.
Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!
We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.
The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)
Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.
I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!
There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw: