“The fear” – My personal experiences with ‘teaching anxiety’

3 Sep

 

Fear of teaching?

Just like a fear of spiders, ‘a fear of teaching’ is common, completely normal and completely irrational.

One of my colleagues, who is very experienced and an excellent teacher, recently said something which hit home for several reasons.  As she was about to leave the coffee room to start her class, she said ‘I still get that little bit of fear before I go into class, every time. Do you get that?’

My answer was an honest one – ‘No, but I used to’, but this was the first time I that I had ever publicly confessed to the fact that I suffered from a fear of teaching.

This ‘fear of teaching’ is something which I think is very often felt, but very seldom discussed.  Why is this?

In fact, for my first two years of teaching, it wasn’t so much ‘a little bit of fear’, but a massive amount of dread which made me feel sick. It took me about 2 years to realize that I was suffering from some sort of social anxiety about going into class.  I’m not normally someone who suffers from social anxiety, it seemed to be unique to the teaching situation. 

For the three years or so I suffered from this, I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone. It seemed like a private fact.  Moreover, it seemed like something that I shouldn’t really admit to.  I didn’t want people to know that I felt under confident in the classroom. In fact, I think sometimes, I would wax lyrical about teaching, teaching theory, students and classroom activities in the teachers room as a way of avoiding or covering up the fact that I actually felt uncomfortable teaching.

The effects of this pre-class fear were numerous. It was very draining. It massively added to the stress of lessons and the fatigue caused by teaching. For me, the fear  would be before class and normally erode about 10 minutes into the lesson. But,if the lesson started going badly, it might have lasted for the whole class or even gotten worse. Or, if I started to run out of lesson plan, I realized that I’d forgotten a handout etc, it could easily resurface.

Physical Symptoms

Does any of this look familiar? This is how I felt before class.

What were the causes?  Well mainly, I was proud of my work as a teacher. I wanted to be a good teacher, and I hated the idea of classes not liking me. I was scared of student complaints, which I took as a slight on my professional ability, and I was scared of students thinking bad things about me. There was also a degree of potential social embarrassment from among my peers.  No wants their fellow teachers to see them as being a bad teacher.

 Like most social anxiety, it was probably rooted in my deep desire to be liked and appreciated, and an over-active imagination of what students might have been thinking about me.  In their faces I would read ‘what a useless teacher, why have I paid so much money for someone who is so unprofessional’.  In fact, what they were probably mainly sitting there thinking about what they would cook for dinner that night whilst patiently waiting for the teacher to set them a new activity.

My colleagues’ comment  about how she was feeling was probably the first public mention of ‘teaching anxiety’ which I have heard of, in the whole 5 years of teaching. For her, I think it was just more pre-class jitters. But I wonder how many people are more like I was when I started – walking around with a gut -wrenching fear before every class?

I know that not every teacher suffers from some for of anxiety.  But I also now know that I am not the only one.   Who else has, or has had, some sort of anxiety about teaching?  Did anyone find cures or coping techniques?  Any experiences that you are willing to share?  Has anyone else already blogged about this?

 

 

 

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Photos that bear Witness to Modern slavery – CLIL lesson for advanced adult students

25 Aug

ImageDid you know that there are 27 million people in slavery today? That is three times more than the total amount of slaves transported during the entire transatlantic slave trade. Did you know that  between 100,00 and 300,000 American children are sold into sex slavery every year?

Neither did I, until I saw this last week:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_kristine_glimpses_of_modern_day_slavery.html

And after seeing it, I thought I would make it into a lesson for my advanced class. If nothing else, I thought that it would help spread the message.

I designed this topic based lesson.  It’s fairly low-resource (no handouts) and mainly discussion based.

This is a tough lesson with adult topics, some very emotional scenes and images and some pretty advanced language too. In the end, I think they really appreciated the discussion about a serious topic, and the chance to learn about more than just English.

The material is, frankly, fascinating, and leads naturally into a very serious discussion. Artistic students should enjoy the conversation at the beginning about the photos, too. In my class, this lesson took about 1.45 hours as all of the discussions ran on and we got some very interesting language out of all of them (almost 30 words and phrases were on the board by the end of the lesson!).

Image

DELTA Module 3 – Q&A

10 Aug

Here are some questions which I wish someone had answered for me about the DELTA Module 3 last year when I started writing it.  Just the basics.

I didn’t get any of this from tutors or courses, because my method for writing this essay was to read the handbook about 6 million times, take in everything it said, and work based on that.

1. How much reading do I need to do?

The handbook is fairly explicit as to how many references are desirable and I strongly recommend following its advice rather than ignoring it. My bibliography had 13 books in it, but I really based the essay around about 8 core texts which I read cover to cover. Three were about young learners, two were about task based learning and three were about course design. The other 5 books and articles were really thrown in for quotes and I wouldn’t say I really read them thoroughly. You can add more if you want, but my essay proves that 13 is enough for a distinction, so its don’t feel that you have to do it to get a higher mark.

Notably, though, my final bibliography referenced far fewer books than I  read whilst thinking about or writing the essay. I think this is the right way around. I read a lot of blogs, articles, pieces of research etc especially about young learners in the build up, but they wouldn’t all fit into the actual essay.

2. What’s in a ‘course plan’?

This is the question that I didn’t know the answer to and didn’t dare ask anyone because it seemed a bit stupid.  The answer is simple – it

DELTA Module 3

Course Plan sample

depends on what kind of course you are writing!  If you wanted to write a grammatical syllabus – your syllabus would be a list of grammatical items along with materials to teach them. If you wanted to write a task based syllabus, it would be a list of tasks.

A course plan is not a series of lesson plans. Don’t plan every lesson down to the last detail. I think this would actually confuse the course plan because it risks obscuring the main purpose/structure of the course.

Remember, (hypothetical) teachers will be teaching the course and its still their (hypothetical) job to plan their own lessons! 🙂

3. I am writing a topic / task based syllabus. How many language items do I need to include in my course plan?

None. You need to understand your type of syllabus fully. If you write a task based syllabus, don’t then stick a load of grammar points under each task that need to be learned, because then you’ve written a grammar based syllabus not a task based one.

If you’re writing a task based syllabus and thinking ‘but what grammar point is this teaching?’, then you haven’t understood what task based learning is about!  The same goes for a lot of different approaches.

4. How do I show ‘linking between the sections’?

Cambridge loves to see ‘linking between the sections’, essential for higher grades. This is because it shows a coherent body of work.  The four sections shouldn’t look like four different essays, they really need to run on into each other naturally. For example – you’ve got a task based course?  So do a task-based needs analysis and a task-based assessment. Don’t do a task-based course then give them a grammar test at the end!  This is ‘implicit linking‘ – making sure that everything is connected by theme.

On top of this, think about ‘explicit linking‘.  This is where you actually say ‘In section x I said…, so…. Two examples of explicit linking from my essay:

“Analytic syllabuses are clearly more appropriate for younger learners, who do not necessarily see language as an abstract set of rules (see 1.2.2)”, or “Whether this assumption is completely false for adults might be debatable, but it seems almost unquestionable for young learners, because, taking into consideration what was said in 1.2.2 about the way young learners learn, for a product based syllabus ‘The language has to be packaged in a way that makes sense to children’ (Bourke, 2006, p. 282)”

5. How detailed does my needs analysis have to be? How detailed does the summary have to be?

Simple but detailed - the needs analysis results

Simple but detailed – the needs analysis results

 

It needs to be sufficient to justify the type of course, the course content and the types of activities you’ll be using, and no more.

Endless excel tables recording vast quantities of data is more likely to obscure your purpose than enhance it. A brief but clear summary is all that is necessary. Above all – it should be critical. For use excel to highlight activities which one or more students said they didn’t want to do as a way of justifying not using those activity types.

The important thing about writing it up is that the key information is clear. Someone should be able to read a statement in your essay, like ‘the class has a mild kinesthetic preference’, they should be able to look at the referenced table and instantly see that this is the case, AND be able to see the numbers behind the statement.

Remember that you are assessed, by and large, on what is in the essay, not on your appendices. If there is something in your needs analysis results which you haven’t referenced in the body of your text – then you probably don’t need it.  Don’t waste your time or go overboard here. As I said, 30 pages of tables is probably not a good thing because it will only make it harder to read.  It’s not as simple as ‘the more, the better’. Quality not quantity.

6.  I am just starting, I have 6 months ahead of me, what should I do first?Read. Become an expert on your chosen specialism and on course design. Start to think about what is involved in course design. And start to be critical, post on blogs and read an write about surrounding issues.

7. How long does it take to write a really good essay? I heard that some people spend thousands of hours writing it!

It’s only 4,500 words so you don’t need too long to write it. My rough guess is that about 150 hours over about 4 months is enough. That’s about 3 months of 3-4 hours background reading a week, followed by about two full weeks to write it, and leaving some editing time.

Personally, I did most of the writing in about three days. I spent about one more full day tabulating the needs analysis, about one day assembling the appendices and editing and about one day doing the course plan, making six full days (probably about 8-10 hours each day, including a lot of coffee breaks).  I then had about two weeks to edit and improve, doing about an hour a night.

People that spend too long writing it are probably being somewhat inefficient.  Never write over the word limit and the ‘cut it down’ because it will waste your time. Don’t read obscure books from the 1960s just to add pointless quotes.

8. I am just starting, I have 6 days ahead of me, what should I do first?

Panic. I don’t know how people pull these essays together last minute, but if I were you I would delay your submission by 6 months and write a decent one that you can be proud of.

I know, we’ve all heard the stories about the people who wrote it all in the 48 caffeine fueled hours between the exam date and the module submission date and somehow got a merit.  But you’ll have this result forever, so why not make it as good as you can?

9. What’s the one thing that you need to do to make sure you pass?

Write with the DELTA handbook in one hand and tick off the criteria as you go. A startlingly good essay could fall down if it doesn’t meet the Cambridge criteria.

10. I heard that writing a one to one course or an exam course is easier. Is this true?

I’ve heard this a lot of times.  I imagine that an exam course is easier in some ways because your assessment procedures are handed to you on a plate and there are mountains of resources available to you. One to one courses only have one needs analysis, which you can easily distort to your needs if you want to.

Beware of the hidden dragon though. It may seem easier, but Cambridge is still expecting you to do the same amount of work.

To be honest, I think you should chose something that you are really interested in.  You are going to spend a LOT of time reading about it, and you want this time to be spent reading about something which will be useful to you in the long run, not just get you a certificate.

DELTA module 3 – sample essay

8 Aug
DELTA Module 3

DELTA Module 3

DELTA results are in – I hope everyone is celebrating!

I’m going to post my DELTA module 3 essay here. A few people already have asked me how I got a distinction, posting my essay for them to read is the best answer I can give.  However, I think it helped that I chose a topic that I am genuinely interested in and used module three as an opportunity to learn about the specialism, investigate, and put my own beliefs and ideas into a course, rather than just aiming to ‘meet the criteria’ (it probably also helped that I spent 12 months on it!).

My essay is a task based course for Young Learners. It may appear a bit rough – (there’s a buttload of typos!) – but this is how it was when I submitted it. I promise I spent a lot more time on it than the typos might have you believe.  Here it is:

VN130_017_Lewington_Delta3_YL_06 2013

VN130.017.Lewington.Delta3.appendices

I wanted to post my essay up here because I remember there being a point where I really felt it would have been helpful to see what other people did, in terms of how much detail they wrote into their course plans, what the needs analyses looked like etc.  Also, I believe in collaborative learning and open access information, and I think that there is no reason to be insular and secret about things like this.

If you asked me  why I got a distinction, and I threw modesty to the wind, I’d probably say that it was all about the linking between the sections and the clear overall theme.  After I had done some reading (which wasn’t  a massive amount – just 2-3 books – but I did it slowly and in depth) and I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Once I had a clear idea of where to go with the course, it was easy to write an essay which was consistent throughout because I knew from the start where it was heading and why. The needs analysis and forms of assessment came naturally. I also kept in mind the whole time actual teenagers that I teach, and I tried many of the course elements out from time to time to see if what I was saying in theory actually worked out in practice, making adjustments where necessary. For most of it, I felt like I was arguing why my course would be perfect for young learners, and I meant what I was saying. I actually believed that it would be a great course for teenagers to study on.

Basically, passion and some hard work.

Good luck with your DELTA module 3 essays. I hope you all find something that you are passionate about to write yours on!

I’d love to here what approach other people took and what results it got them.  I think that more discussion of the DELTA on the blogosphere would be a great resource for people who study it in the future. Got another good essay?  Post it on YOUR blog! Let’s get the discussion started?

 

DELTA Module 3 Needs Analysis

DELTA Module 3 Needs Analysis Results

DELTA Module 3 – Young Learners Book List

9 Jun

Just finished your exam?  Thinking of getting started on module 3?

I just finished my DELTA module 3 on Young Learners aged 13-17,  after reading extensively in the last 5 months.  One thing that slowed me down dramatically was not knowing exactly what to read.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive, because there are a lot of benefits to selecting your own reading and coming up with your own ideas – I think a basic, critical guide  could be useful, especially for people who will have to buy the books.

Main Books / Chapters in Books for your own learning

  1. Teaching Languages to Young Learners (Cambridge Language Teaching Library)

I read this one cover to cover. At least read the first two chapters and the chapter on course design. Covers children 5-12, very interesting and good guide to relevant research on the age group.

2.  Children Learning English – Jayne Moon

Not much about course design and skint on terminology and usable quotes, but skim through for stuff on teaching methodology for the introduction / course plan. Essential reading if you haven’t done any other form of training for Young Learners or don’t have much experience, as it remains the best practical guide for teaching children. Otherwise probably non-essential for this essay.

   3. Assessing Young Learners (Cambridge Language Assessment) – Penny Mckay

This one is really important. The intro has a great general introduction to teaching young learners.  The rest is absolutely essential reading for your assessment section – I read about 40% of this book in total and quoted from it extensively.

4. Teaching Young Language Learners (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers)

Good general introduction to the age group, again. Also sections on assessment and materials assessment, if you are using a coursebook. Nothing on course design, though.

5. Teenagers (Resource Books for Teachers) by Gordon Lewis 

If you are writing about teenagers, the brief introduction to this book is about all that I could find which is specifically about Teenagers.  Essential! Good activities to form part of a course, too.

6. The Unschooled Mind – Howard Gardener

Gardener is responsible for the ‘multiple intelligences theory’. This book is in the Cambridge handbook’s bibliography, probably because of Cambridge’s infatuation with learning styles and multiple intelligences. I didn’t find much use for this book, though, as it isn’t about language teaching and there really was no space in my essay to go into the theory discussed here in detail.

– There’s also a few brief notes in The Practice of English Language Teaching by Jeremy Harmer on children and teenagers, good for grabbing a few quotes.

– If you want to put some projects, arts and crafts or drama into your course, look for ‘Projects with Children, ‘Arts and Crafts with Children’ and ‘Drama with Children’ in the Oxford Resource books for Teachers section for both activities, and quotes to justify what you are doing.

– There isn’t much written about teaching EFL to Teenagers, so take what you can from what is written about teaching children and try to think about how it applies to teenagers.

Using amazon market place, I was able to get hold of all of these books for under £10 each and some for under £5.  I spent, in total for module 3, about £60 on books.

If you are in London, St. Gile’s open-access ELT Library has most of the books that are listed here, free to use, and friendly staff to help you find them ( http://www.stgilesedtrust.org/elt-library/resources/ )

Good luck!  To follow, I’m going to post a guide to general reading for course design.

Video

Why is pronunciation teaching so bad?

26 May

You wouldn’t tell your students that ‘I like eating’ is a good example of the present continuous. So why would you tell them that they can make the /i:/ sound by widening their lips?

In this 5 minute video post, I argue that all teachers and teacher trainers should make more of an effort with pronunciation.

Classroom Management with Young Learners – 5 common mistakes

26 May

 

ImageAs someone who’s mainly been teaching young learners over my entire career, I’ve had a lot of experience with classroom management.  When I started, as a fresh CELTA graduate thrown ruthlessly into a kindergarten class, I was clueless.  From collegues and managers, I got tonnes of advice, but much of it was really quite bad.

Not until I did the CELTA Young Learners extension did I learn anything at all about classroom management.  Even then, it took three more years of careful practice before I felt comfortable in my ability to get the classroom I wanted.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that I made, and that I’ve seen people make, (and some of which I have been advised to do!), with classroom management.

 

1) A Negative Approach

‘If you don’t shut up, you are all losing your break’, ‘Do what I say or I’ll call your parents’

If you start a battle by trying to stamp your authority on them, its a battle that only you can lose.  If they don’t want to do what you want them to do, then they won’t.

Instead, start with the premise that all young learners really want is positive attention. Something as simple as ‘well done’ can make them feel great.  Say ‘well done Roberta for sitting so quietly’ when others aren’t doing so. Tell them that if they work hard, they can play a fun game later or relax a bit. Tell them their English is improving after they try hard.

2) Not using names

‘EVERYBODY BE QUIET PLEASE!!!  EVERYBODY!!!  HELLO??!! WELL DONE EVERYONE

Don’t talk to to all of them.   Talking to everybody is like talking to no one. Use names.

3) Relying on gimmicks

Image

“Well done everyone – the rocket is going forwards!!!”

There’s nothing wrong with ‘classroom management systems’ like this (I sometimes use them, especially with kindergarteners), but in themselves they aren’t going to get students to behave long term.  Use them, but don’t rely on them: their effect wears off.

Teens may also see them as patronizing, which might tell them that you lack respect for them.

4) Not being strict enough

If you aren’t strict, it isn’t fair on the students who are behaving well. Students who are sitting quietly listening to you will expect you to do something about the two students at the back who start talking over you.  If you don’t do something, they will quickly lose their respect and wonder why they bothered behaving well at all.

It’s also about consistency. If you let them talk over you once, then from then on, whether they can talk over you or not will not be clear to them. 

If this doesn’t come naturally to you, it can help to have clear classroom rules written on the board, and to refer the students back to these rules when they break them (‘Daniel, what’s the first rule?’).  Make sure that rules are positively worded, though (‘Speak English in Class’, not ‘Don’t speak Italian).

5) Trying to win them over by being their ‘friend’

Using silly voices, cracking silly jokes, doing silly little actions to make them laugh: all sure fire ways to create long term discipline problems.

Think of the teachers you respected and behaved for at school – were they like this? No, they probably weren’t!

You should be firm, stern and professional, at least until you have them in the routine of behaving well.  In the long term, you can loosen up, but first work on building respect.  If you are worried about feedback forms, don’t be.  When it comes to who students ‘like’ as a teacher, respect always trumps.