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About

Top 5 Warning Signs the Teacher isn't yet a Teacher



I know I'll take a lot of flak for this and I know it isn't the standard way to go when talking about "teaching" (the standard approach being to talk about what is "good" teaching), however, during my years of helping teachers, I've come upon some warning signs that set off alarm bells and signal A) the teacher really isn't fit for teaching B) the teacher has potential but really needs some "basic training".

Our profession is unusual. We are experts (us native speakers), we all have scored 100% on our final thesis and have a PhD in English. We are curriculum masters and know our subjects better than any professor of engineering, math, better than any medical specialist. All this without studying a thing!!! BUT, this does not make us a good teacher. It is a start but the proof is not in the pudding but the eating.

The Top 5 Warning Signs of "bad" teaching".

#1 The photocopier is overheating!!!


Many insecure and weak teachers fill their classrooms with pieces of paper. Instead of "teaching" and communication, they substitute a "thing" -- thinking this will represent teaching and learning and students will have confidence they've learned because they have "paper".

English language acquisition is not about acquiring words on paper! It is about acquiring the tools to convey meaning in said language. Do not think that books/paper/things = language learning. In fact, after class, most of this paper goes in the bin, the dustbin of history.....

#2 Playing "word" games


Word games (scrabble, hangman, word searches, matching exercises, bingo) can supplement the language teaching but are not a means of acquiring language. If a teacher is using these for their lesson, they are ineffectively using class time and haven't yet acquired any idea of the what/how of communicative teaching methodology. If you ask a teacher for an activity or teaching idea and they give you something that is about "playing with words" - tell them that you'll save it for Sunday morning and your coffee and morning newspaper. Language does not = words! Language is much more than words and fully is about conveying meaning between two or more principles....Let this be the engine of your classroom, not guessing words.

#3 No preclass chatting or post class chatting


Teachers that know how to form a solid and functional classroom environment, come to class early and engage in student casual conversation. This is a great time to get to know your students more (for designing lessons, assessment) and for creating a supportive social atmosphere in class. Same with those 10 min right after class. Teachers who think a lesson is X o'clock to Y o'clock are not taking their work seriously nor comfortable with it.

#4 Too much teacher focus / directing.


Alarm bells should be roaring if a teacher is spending too much time talking, especially in front of the class. Students do need input, in the form of speech but they also need a variety of speech input (video, audio, other classmates). Also, Comprehensible Output, is much needed especially in the EFL classroom and it is crucial teachers give the students a lot of time to practice speaking. Teachers who spend a lot of time chatting up the class, who are not pacing the lesson properly and never directing the lesson towards the lesson objective --- need some "basic training". Too much time by the teacher at the front of the class, waving a piece of chalk is another warning sign. Teachers need to monitor and move around the classroom. Anxious, skittish, nervous behavior by the teacher in the form of focusing attention on themselves, is a no no. The best teacher is often an invisible teacher....

#5 Too friendly


From my years of teaching, a big warning sign goes off if a teacher is too friendly. How can that be, you say? Well, it is a fine line and a balancing act but good teaching is about sticking to the objective of that day. It is about professionalism and organization. Teachers that are constantly chatting with students, going off on tangents during class etc..... have really crossed a line. A line that should be outside of class. There is plenty of time for that outside of the classroom and I applaud it. But inside, it is our job to teach an objective and use skilled means for the students to acquire and practice that.

Agree or disagree? These warning signs are something to digest.......

Downloads: 1489


Supporter
Comment by Mike on December 10, 2008 at 12:53am
I think it all depends on the target audience. I work in 3 primary public schools located in rural areas. There are no English hagwons in the area of these schools. I teach from grades 1 to 6.
In Grades 1 to 2 they are just starting to acquire words. Since their concentation levels are much shorter than adults, I will use a lot of pictures and try to match the pictures with the words. I do use flashcard games. I somtimes make it very easy for them. I want them to think that studying English is easy and also keep up their motivaton. The downside is once they are finish with my class, they do not get much exposure using English until the next class.
Grades 3 to 6 is where I will see students making sentences and start using English. They seem for the most part be able to read well and translate it into Korean. The problem is with the listening and speaking part. The students just do not get the exposure needed.
I would agree with most of the rules, but I think with very young kids with no vocabulary, then have some word games and hope that they learn some new words and also build up their confidance and motiation.

Supporter
Comment by Bryan Lahey on December 10, 2008 at 1:13am
As a conversational teacher in a Korean all-boys high school, I like #s 1-4, but #5 I am not so sure about. My philosophy has been to try and be as friendly as possible with my students (in order for them to actually like my class and like the idea of speaking English with me). Often times I will have a strict objective in mind for my class that just flat out won't work. Either my students don't care or just don't have the ability to follow me. I think that the professionalism and organization is for their traditional English classes (which have left them with woeful conversational abilities by and large). If I can ever get my students to be "chatty" in English I consider those to be the best moments in my class, and those are the moments I strive for .. if it means talking about wrestling during my science unit, then so be it. I try and follow the brains and interests of my students closer than my teaching objectives.
Comment by Ellen Pham on December 10, 2008 at 1:41am
Mike, I agree with you! I never knew this about kindergartners until I subbed, but they adore word games. They are obviously getting something out of it- maybe still mastering matching skills, drawing lines from one thing to another, writing something in the box instead of outside the box, whatever! (That is a word I think a lot, with a smile, when I teach kindergartners- just don't make them cry! :D) They are still being "classroom trained", as a beloved art education professor once said to me. As they learn a few simple phrases, in first and second grade, telephone might be a fun circle game, with lots of laughing. Another fun game that might be effective is... I forget the name, but you make a circle with one less chair than # of students. One student stands in the middle of the circle and announces something- "If you are wearing red shoes..." and everyone who is wearing read shoes has to change their seat, with the person in the middle trying to grab a seat too. The one left standing gets to go in the middle and pick something else... I guess the challenge of practicing speaking/ listening with a big group is designing activities where the students contribute much of the speaking input (good motivation for pronunciation) and the listening requires some immediate action by the students, so they're not stuck there, zoning out as the teacher is droning on. And of course, singing songs- lots and lots of songs. And dramatic play- the primary grade students already love to pretend- keeping house, driving a car, a plane, pretending to be animals, adapted charades, all great for group language practice/ participation, I would think (but I have not been in your position :) )

But I'm getting off topic... yes, David, you are right : ). The problem is, if you have not been through a quality elementary ed program, where do you learn about (and practice) student-centered activities? Or constructivist learning, which applies to all classrooms, EFL included? From David, during orientation, right? :D

Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on December 10, 2008 at 2:07am
Ellen, Bryan , Mike,

I think Mike said it best - it all depends on the "target audience" or students.

I put these out there as "extremes" and of course it never is black and white. But I think it beneficial to think in terms of these absolutes but not "apply" them as absolutes. If that makes sense.

Bryan -- yeah, I almost dropped #5 because it really is hard to explain. It is more a feeling I have.... With young students or as in your case, students who really need a supportive atmosphere just to speak and get over their learning anxiety -- friendliness is the way to go! However, I still think there is always a line there. Hard to describe or delineate what that line is but too often I see teachers who are just friends . There is learning and conversation -- Great!!! But, this might as well happen outside of class. Teaching has to have some order and students have to have a notion of progress and feedback and a plan of learning...this is the need for professionalism I'm trying to point out. I also think PLAY (and kinesthetic activity) is great and Ellen's suggestions for this kind of learning are bang on. Still, you can have play with a purpose me thinks - even if the students aren't so aware.

But my main aim in mentioning these is for us to have a starting point to reflect on our own teaching practices. Myself included (I'm a little bit of #4/#5 and have to work on this!).

Supporter
Comment by Pilar Pamblanco on December 14, 2008 at 9:29am
It does depend on the target audience. I teach teenagers at a state school in Spain. I'm required to teach the whole syllabus to mixed ability classes so I give my students lots of photocopies as a way of practising grammar, acquiring vocabulary and learning about culture and traditions in English speaking countries. Unless they want to fail the course, the photocopies (and the notes they take) don't go in the bin. They are required to show me their files (and their activity books) when they have an exam. Parents are happy because they can see when their children work and when they don't. I tell my students that English is like Maths, you just need to understand and practise (reading, writing, listening and speaking) and it seems to work... (And, yes, sometimes the photocopies are too hot...).

I wish I could be an invisible teacher, that would mean that my students wanted to learn. Sometimes I feel like a "sargent" instead of a teacher. "Don't do this, don't do that...".

I get on very well with my students, but I reserve the chatting for before or after the class. I can make a funny comment or laugh at one made by one of my students, but after that I go on with the lesson.

In July, I teach an intensive course at a state language school. The students (16 onwards, the oldest one this year was fortysomething) are there because they want to learn English, not because they have to. I make them work a lot and we get on very well so much so that they are sorry when the course finishes. There are no discipline problems and we can do lots of things. And, yes, they get lots of photocopies and they love that. We spend 4 hours together and we practise the four skills, but their books and the photocopies will help them revise once the course is over and I'm not "there" anymore.

Supporter
Comment by Headrick von Pizza Head on December 19, 2008 at 12:31am
I'll add a few more

Lessons are commonly pitched at the wrong level.
The teacher is constantly planning activities that are either too difficult or too easy. This is common in Korea where NET's are forced to submit well written detailed lessons before even meeting the students. Teachers need to accomidate lessons according to students level.
Some good icebreakers can remedy this. I like to write key words on the board about myself and see if students can guess the questions. Your first lesson is not just about having fun with your students or getting to know them its about learning their level.

Teachers who follow the text book like it's the Bible.
You should always be willing to stray away from the textbook or the lesson plan when spontanious opportunities arise.

Teachers are either using too much, or too little choral repetition
The ammount of choral repetition used should relate to the class size and student level.
For a small class of Intermediate level students it would be a good idea to keep it to a minimum.
On the other hand large 40+ student classes that might only see the NET once a week. In order the maximize student speaking time it might be used quite often. but not all the time. Choral repetition can also be incorporated into fun activities.

Using too many, or too few games: Games like Jeopardy, Baam, or Fling the Teacher, can be a great tool when used properly. They should be used to review material already taught.

Losing your cool: We all have bad days and sometimes a lesson we thought would go really well tanks. It's important not to get too emotional when this happens.

The Volume on your voice is too high. This might be that you are trying to talk over the noise in the class.
The louder you get the louder they get. Never start teaching until you have absolute silence.

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