It hasn’t yet been four years since I started teaching, but I can already see how much I’ve learnt and grown as a teacher. This isn’t all that surprising, as when I began I had no experience and no qualification, but even now that I have a couple of years’ teaching experience and a TESOL certificate I can still see many ways in which my teaching has developed.
One of these developments was unexpectedly revealed to me today as I handed in my final MA papers for this semester, and I knew that if I didn’t reflect on it, I would never learn from it. So in order to chart my progress as a teacher, allow reflection on my current practice, and perhaps encourage you to do the same, I will take a moment to ponder on how my teaching practice has changed.
My first teaching job was in a Korean public elementary school where I worked alongside a co-teacher, Michelle. We would spend our classes team teaching, and because we worked well together we quickly began to put together decent classes. Her experience and my drama background meant that we were soon implementing active, drama-related games and role-plays which were a far reach from what Michelle was used to, but which she was interested to implement. She did so with great skill.
Over one semester we developed a routine where each unit would end in a student-scripted role-play. We played imagination building games (such as The Object Game, which I should blog about later) to get students using English creatively before giving them a practice script to try, then alter to a lesser or greater extent depending on their ability. We performed these at the end of the unit, and began to develop a culture of dialogue in which the students discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each performance. Throughout this they needed a lot of scaffolding, but we equipped them with the language they needed, and they did, as Michelle would say, a “good job”.
However, Michelle moved to another school and I got placed with another co-teacher. This wasn’t a problem in itself, but because I had been teaching in the school longer than her I suddenly found myself being relied on much more than when I taught with Michelle. My co-workers wanted to know how I had taught before, and were happy to follow my lead. I was a little daunted to say the least, but decided to try to continue aspects of what Michelle and I had been doing the previous term.
And it didn’t work.
We tried playing the same games, but the students got carried away or refused to try. I tried implementing role-plays, but the students became silly when they were acting, were too shy to reflect on their performances, and just didn’t take it seriously. In an attempt at reflective practice I tried a number of short-term fix ups including new points systems, classroom management techniques and any other way I could think up to encourage my students to perform the way my old classes had done, but to no avail.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but when Michelle left and took her experience with her, I wasn’t able to build a sense of continuity and significance in my classes; there was no longitudinal aspect to my teaching. I was preparing one lesson at a time and finding the best activities to fit each language structure for each class, without giving any follow up or building upon what we had done in previous classes.
Looking back, I think this was also the reason I had problems with classroom management. My classroom was great for the first couple of weeks, but as I lost a sense of continuity and let my standards slip, the classroom atmosphere followed suit. I wasn’t able to provide consistency in my teaching or expectations of my students, meaning my students didn’t know what to expect and slowly stopped listening.
So, when I was handing in my final papers last week, it was this which struck me – my classes now have a sense of continuity. I’m managing to build one lesson upon the next, refer back to previous lessons, plan lessons in groups rather than one at a time, and be consistent in my classroom management. It’s really difficult to maintain, but it’s all about having a long-term, holistic view of my classroom. Previously, I was too focused on the details so that, as the saying goes, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
That doesn’t mean to say that I will stop trying to create lessons which suit each class, each situation and each context – I’ve been reading too much about the ecological perspective (van Lier, 2004) recently to do that – but I need to consider aspects of my future lessons and the way my students grow and develop as people rather than just language learners. I think I’m getting there!
van Lier, L. (2004). The Ecology and Semiotics of Language Learning: A Sociocultural Perspective. Boston, MA: Kluwer.