I’ve gotten two emails lately from teachers in training asking for advice. If there are any significant number of preservice teachers like them, asking such good questions and determined to pursue excellence, we’re headed for great things in language learning.
One just asked me for general advice for a preservice teacher. Here are a couple of tips if you’re about to enter this rewarding, challenging field:
- Start practicing and developing a repertoire of your own extension activities. Take a unit, in a textbook or just off the top of your head, and see if you can develop a whole week of lessons and activities without having students crack a textbook.
The last two first-year teachers I have worked with both really struggled with teaching outside the textbook. They had only been trained to teach with textbooks, and textbooks are extraordinarily ineffective and unmotivating for students. If you don’t investigate and practice this now, and then decide it’s the best way to go when you’re teaching, you’ll easily burn out. For these new teachers, their students were miserable and they themselves felt burned out and consumed by the quest for effective, communicative activities.
- The other classic problem I see in new teachers is a lack of classroom control. Crafting the skill of building a respectful, controlled learning environment will do more for your success than just about anything else.
- I recommend the materials called “Discipline with Love and Logic.” Treating teenagers like the almost-adults they are, and appealing to their sense of logic, has been very effective in my classroom.
- Be consistent. Students appreciate nothing more than consistency. We all feel safe and more productive in an environment where we know the boundaries and know the consequences for crossing them. Refuse to play favorites. The “good” kids need to know that their usually good behavior doesn’t entitle them to break the rules without consequences, and the kids who push you need to know they won’t be able to do whatever they want just because you’re having a good day.
- Tell yourself every day, you are not there to impress them with your fashion sense, or compare romantic relationships, or otherwise be their friend, but you choose to respect them and you can have a relationship where they can respect and trust you, and come to you for advice and help, even (especially?) without being their friend. You have no opinion on their physical attractiveness, you hope for their best outcome in whatever they’re struggling with, you empathize with the struggle it is to come of age in the American high school, and you have good reasons behind every single thing you ask them to do – then they will respect you, and when they respect you, your classroom environment is a promised land. My former students call me by my first name, keep up with me on Facebook, and come over for dinner, but when they were in my classroom I needed to keep that relationship clearly defined with professionalism.
Welcome to the best job ever! Okay, I am a little biased.
Photo credit: Universidad Europa de Madrid