Tag Archives: Teaching

“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?

 

 

 

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.

 

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.