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“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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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 – 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

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“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.

 

Aside

Student Centered Feedback – Some Techniques!

1 May

Just a quick blog post.  Last week I went to a talk by Jim Scrivenor at St. Giles, one of the things talked about was makingstudent-centered feedback more useful. Too often, says Jim, teachers simply elicit the answer ‘rubberstamp’ (“good”, “well done”) and move on. I agree, and one negative comment from my last observation was that I could think of more ways to make feedback more student centered. Jim gave a variety of techniques, but this week I’ve been experimenting a bit myself too. My aim has been to get more discussion about why answers are right or wrong with less teacher intervention.

Here are three things I’ve tried. The first two, I thought of myself (I’m not saying I’m the first one to think of them, of course!), the thrid is something I learned before:

Technique One: DIY Feedback

Activity types: Primarily longer reading or listening texts

Procedure: I told students they had a strict time limit of 6 minutes.  As a class, they had to agree between them what all of the answers were and then get one student to write them on the board. I was not to intervene.  I told them that if they got one wrong, they couldn’t go home! (a joke, obviously). 

Result: For an FCE listening, this worked very well. They all discussed what was said and used some good language of negotiation which we went through afterwards (feedback on the feedback!).  I have a small class (6 students), bigger classes may need splitting up somehow.

Technique Two: Your turn!feedback-heads1

Activity types: Listening (could be adapted for reading)

Procedure: I cut the tapescript up and gave each pair of students one part of it (but myself the first part), each part was the answer to one – two questions. In pairs they found the right answer for their questions. Then, I did feedback for the first question, eliciting answers and asking for reasons before telling them whether it is right or wrong.  Then the first pair become the ‘teachers’ and do feedback for the second and third questions, using the same kind of techniques.

Result: Tonnes of fun.  They had a whale of a time, mainly because they decided it would be funny to imitate both my manner and my middle class English accent whilst doing the feedback. Very amusing, if not a little embarrassing (there were some startlingly accurate impressions).  It also produced some interesting discussion.  I’ll use this again.

Technique Three: Master Copy

Activity types: All

Procedure: I learned this on my CELTYL a few years ago, but had forgotten it. Basically, you put them in groups of three or four, then choose one person in each group and mark only their work (tick right/wrong). Then the three use the marked piece to check their own answers, and find the right answer to any that were marked wrong. Give a little time at the end to clear up anything they are still uncertain about (or do this whilst monitoring, if possible).

Result:  Good for variety, the only disadvantage was that some wrong answers went undiscussed. Still, I’ll use it occasionally for some variety!

 

Does anyone else have any other interesting ideas for feedback that they use?

Is a TEFL career worth it?

21 Apr

 

I’m trying to find a full time TEFL position in London, but actual jobs seem thin on the ground. I have hours, and classes, but no permanent contract that guarantees the hours will continue. Apparently, a great deal of people are in this situation, indeed, it is a norm in the industry.

In many ways, it is a travesty that teachers are expected to bear the brunt of their school’s problems.  My father owns a business, and when business is not good, it is the business’ accounts that suffer, not his employees’.  In TEFL, when business is bad, it is expected that teachers will simply work less hours and get paid less, effectively bearing a large part of the financial burden. Teachers are treated like contractors, even when we perform a central part of the business.  I’ve met teachers who have been in the business for three times longer than me who are in no better position.  A general lack of work and surplus of teachers mean schools can keep up this model of business.

A highlight: being invited for dinner with students in Vietnam.

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Teaching countries in Cambodia. TEFL can be rewarding as it can be infuriating.

 

 

 

 

 

It is what it is. And there are a lot of great things about TEFL teaching.  It’s fun and it’s truly rewarding.  Moreover, its low pressure: you are rarely observed doing your job and as long as your students are happy, your bosses will normally let you do whatever you please. It’s academic an practical, and constantly challenging. You rarely have a boring day at work in TEFL, as each class presents a new challenge. I’ve had some fantastic experiences over the last four years: I have helped students to pass life changing exams, I have fascinated four year olds with stories and helped them to learn to read, I have trained fourteen year olds to use a dictionary and fourty year olds to ask for what they want in a shop.  Moreover, I have listened to people of all ages and many different nationalities tell their stories, give their opinions and interact with each other and learned no end about the world around me.

The job is incredible, in many ways, but infuriating in others. With no stable full time hours, there’s no way to get a mortgage, the bank doesn’t even want to give me a credit card, and planning for the future is impossible. I can’t even book a holiday in four months time because I can’t guarantee that I will be able to afford to go anywhere.

And, in terms of the career, where is there to go?  Managing is pointless: you get several times the amount of stress for half the salary that McDonalds pay their managers (who are often younger than I am).  Teacher training is possible (and attractive), but you have to work your way in to it, and even then its often not full time.

I am at point where I have no idea where to go.  Should I leave the industry? Apply for jobs in something completely different?  

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An unexpected party: part of a life only TEFL can offer?

Every part of me wants to think that I can turn my passion for teaching into a viable career, but right now there’s a reality-check panic alarm in the back of my mind which is saying that its time to jump ship, before I find a thirty five year old me with no house, no pension, no savings and a contract that’s only valuable for as long as the school I am am working for has customers.