This is the second in a new series of posts in which I’ll offer simple solutions to the most common problems for newly qualified language teachers. In my first post, I looked at how time will place a lot of constraints on you as a teacher and offered some advice on making the most of what time you do have. In today’s post, we’ll look at what’s in store for you as a newly qualified teacher in terms of professional development and what you can do to make the most of what will be available to you.
Let me start by telling you about the start of my career…
As a native speaker with little to no grasp of how English worked, I struggled valiantly through my four-week certificate course and then, inexplicably, landed a job on my final day of the course. Who said this was going to be difficult job? Seriously, though, my first interview was a success mainly because the main interviewer had a good feeling about me and partly because I somehow managed to answer a question about the use of the present perfect. I’d landed a job in a fairly prestigious university in Istanbul. My career had begun!
My first task was to ‘come back next week, ready for your induction.’ The following week was a nice gentle introduction to the job, full of great training sessions by some of my new colleagues. This was exciting and I felt like part of the team. At the end of the week I was handed a set of course books and told to spend the following couple of weeks getting myself ready for classes.
Get ready I did, in a manner. I studied the book, trying to get an idea of what tasks were about and figure out the grammar rules of my native tongue from those fairly unhelpful little boxes you get on the pages of the book, next to the question, ‘What is the man in the picture doing?’ I attended pre-semester parties and drank as ‘too much’ as everyone else. I went to meetings where things were discussed that didn’t make much sense to me. Then, on the Friday before classes on Monday, the book I’d been trying to make sense of was taken from me and a different one given in its place. Time to start getting ready again with new book!
And so on to class…
Things could have been worse in that first semester, I suppose. I got a lot of good ideas by listening to people in meetings, great support from some colleagues (though definitely not all, I should add). The photocopier became my best friend, although I doubt my learners in those early classes would agree! I hit the books hard! I got myself a copy of the same grammar books the kids were using for self study and I got two dictionaries to look at how words were exemplified and what they were telling the reader about vocabulary. These tactics weren’t quick fixes, but they were effective: I doubt I’d still be teaching if I hadn’t put in so much ground work early on.
13 months into my new career I was observed for the first time. 18 months after first setting foot into class as a teacher I attended an ELT conference: this was an important step, I can tell you. Along the way there were in-service training sessions, lots of reading and then the DELTA in my fourth year as a teacher. Now, a decade on from that, I look back on these times fondly, but with words of semi-caution for those of you embarking on a career as an English teacher: if you want to develop your career, a lot of what happens will be down to you.
Let’s now move to the centerpiece of today’s post and look at where your teacher education is going to come from in the first five years of your career, While doing so, please look back at my description of my first few years and see how it was for me in my early days.
We’ll now use the rest of today’s post looking at the how. I’ll give you a few quick tips of how to get the most out of the opportunities available to you. Because this post is already starting to spiral out of control (nearly 3000 words if you make it to the end), I’m going to concentrate on what I term ‘The big three’…
1 The DIY approach
If you want to become a good teacher, a lot of it is going to be entirely down to you. Fortunately, there are a great many experts in our profession who have written books on this. To help you along the way, here are nine titles I strongly recommend that you read, either before your certificate course or in the first year of teaching. Let me start the DIY section of the post with the nine books I particularly recommend you read:
- The one book you absolutely need to get started:
How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer
This is the one: if you do no other reading before embarking on your certificate course, make sure you read this. This book is simply the complete manual of teaching English as a foreign language.
If you’re a native English speaker who’s worried about coming to terms with the grammar of the language this book will be a life saver, as it takes a practical approach, concentrating on examples of teaching and teaching practice rather than on detailed analysis of learning theory. Don’t start your teaching career without this!
- The other book you absolutely need to get started:
…and learn teaching I did!
Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener
This is the other one! Together with Jeremy Harmer’s book, Learning Teaching is the essential guide for your first years as a language teacher and will remain an invaluable resource for your continuing career.
Again, the really practical approach makes it a perfect introduction to teaching English as a foreign or second language.
- The book to stop you panicking about not knowing English grammar:
Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott
Let’s face it… we need to talk about grammar! If, like me, you’re a native speaker, the chances are you know next to nothing about the mechanics of your native tongue. The beauty of Grammar for English Language Teachers is that it is designed to help trainee teachers develop their knowledge of English grammar systems.
It encourages teachers to appreciate factors that affect grammatical choices, as well as evaluating the kinds of ‘rules of thumb‘ that you’ll see presented to learners in course materials. The consolidation exercises provide an opportunity for you to test these rules against real language use and to evaluate classroom and reference materials. If you’re stressed by the prospect of having to teach grammar, but this book!
- The go-to-guide for all things Grammar
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan
One thing I can guarantee you is that you will be asked questions about grammar that you can’t immediately answer… a state of being that will probably continue for many years! That’s where Practical English Usage comes to the rescue!
This classic reference guide succinctly – and comprehensively – addresses all of the problem points in the English language as encountered by learners and us as teachers. It gives information and advice that is practical, clear, reliable, and easy to find. Don’t leave home without it.
* For more advice on teaching grammar, check out my list of favorite grammar books.
- The reference guide to teacher training courses
A Course in English Language Teaching by Penny Ur
What do you need to know about language teaching and what will you encounter on a four-week certificate course? If you want a text that will act as an easy to read and easy going book reference guide discussing the various methods of teaching English, this is the book for you.
While this is ideal for your initial teacher training, it will remain a useful reference for when you become a fully-fledged teacher. The book combines theory and practice, with each unit containing tasks that encourage reflection and discussion, plus action tasks such as classroom observation and practice.
- The orientation to the four-week training course
The CELTA Course Trainee Book by Scott Thornbury and Peter Watkins
While the purpose of this post is primarily to list the books you should be reading after undertaking your four-week certificate course, I hope the message is also coming through that you should get cracking in advance and not wait until you’ve started teaching!
The course itself may probably represent the most difficult month of your life, so reading this title – which wasn’t available when I did my course, unfortunately – will enable you to orient yourself in advance and know exactly what to expect when you get started. A word of caution: reading this won’t enable you to take the course easily; you’ll still have a huge mountain to climb. Nevertheless, this is an extremely useful primer.
- The comprehensive introduction to how to teach listening
Teaching Listening Comprehension by Penny Ur
Listening isn’t something you’ll necessarily have given much thought in your non-language teacher phase of life… so be prepared for a bit of a shock when you have to teach listening in the classroom.
Luckily, the wonderful Penny Ur is here to help us with this fantastic text in which she defines the characteristics of real-life listening, analyses the problems encountered by language learners, and discusses the considerations involved in planning successful classroom listening practice. The book also contains loads of example tasks to give you plenty of ideas about how to deal with listening in class.
- The comprehensive introduction to how to teach reading
Developing Reading Skills: A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehension Exercises by Francoise Grellet
Reading isn’t something… aagghh, just see the above paragraph and replace the word ‘listening’ with ‘reading’! Developing Reading Skills is the kind of book that you’ll want to keep close at hand whenever you’re planning a reading lesson.
This is a comprehensive reference handbook offers a wide range of sample reading comprehension exercises which will enable you to incorporate meaningful reading into your lessons. I was using this book years after my certificate course when I did the DELTA and still refer to it on a fairly regular basis.
- The ‘slow burner’
Discover English by Rod Bolitho
Get your thinking caps on and be ready to be in this for the long haul. This is one of the first books I bought in the run up to doing the CELTA course, although it took a while for its usefulness to sink in.
Not the immediate go-to-guide that you’ll get with most of the titles I’ve mentioned here, Discover English operates as a language-awareness workbook which highlights and explores selected areas of grammar and vocabulary. The exercises are designed to confront myths and preconceived ideas, and to explore common areas of difficulty, while commentaries offer support to all users, especially English teachers. Think of this as a course for you to take to learn about the language: trust me; you’ll almost certainly need it!
Other great sources of DIY development
Here’s a couple of great suggestions from Susannah (many thanks for these, copied from the comments):
Something I’ve found really helpful in my development is to access free short online study courses. I’ve just completed one called “Understanding Language and Teaching” run by the British Council/Uni of Southampton via the www.futurelearn.com website and I’m currently doing one called “Teaching Adult Learners” via www.open2study.com. The courses are free and are a great way of interacting with other teachers around the world.
2 Your course book
It’s incredible just how big a part the course book will play in your development as a teacher. The basic message is this: Keep asking questions of your prescribed course materials so that you learn all you can from them!
The ever excellent Lizzie Pinard (I strongly recommend her blog BTW) has saved me a job and come up with a great list of points:
‘Instead of dismissing your course book out of hand and assuming that you know better (hey, you might – but not necessarily!), take a closer look at the pages you are due to teach next. Consider the aims it is trying to fulfill and the sequence of activities it is using to do this.’
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of this sequence of tasks?
- How does each activity bring the learners a step closer to meeting that aim?
- What theories of language, teaching and learning does it embody?
(You could look in the Teachers Resource Book, if you have access to it, to explore this further. However, remember: publishers’ claims and actual content may not necessarily be equivalent…)
Now consider your learners and context:
- What are their specific needs and learning styles? What is their/your context?
- What are your joint long-term goals?
- What do you know and believe regarding theories of language, teaching, learning and acquisition?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does this sequence meet my learners’ needs and match their learning styles? Is it suited to their context?
- Is this sequence in tune with what I believe about language, teaching, learning and acquisition?
- How can I adapt this sequence and exploit these activities to best help my learners, bearing in mind these specific needs/learning styles/contextual issues and my pedagogical beliefs? How can I exploit this sequence fully?
- Do I need to add (expand or extend), delete (subtract or abridge), simplify, reorder or replace anything? If I make these changes, how it will affect the sequence and learning goals of the material?
Read more of Lizzie’s ideas on the importance of course books here.
3 Induction course
Although this will appear to make up an incredibly brief part of your time as a teacher, this will form a disproportionately large part of your early teacher education. Take this opportunity to not only pick up tips on what to do in class, but to also the culture of the teaching environment. The following five areas of teacher development are things you can directly work on in your first few weeks. Remember: learn as much from outside your induction sessions as you do when in them!
Get to know the staff and identify key people
You will make first contact with the people who will make your life easier or make your life hell. These are the people to go to for assistance: the secretary who takes calls and knows where supplies like printer paper and white board markers are; the tea man, who seems to know everything before everyone else and has the key to everything, literally; your colleagues who always are there with advice and assistance, as well as those who won’t offer any help.
Get to know these people quickly and offer your own assistance as and when possible to establish good relationships.
Identify important places and resources
Never underestimate the value of knowing your way around. It’s important to get out, talk to people, and learn the layout of the school, if for no other reason than learners may be asking you for this information. You should know where cafeterias, the library or learning resource centers are. Doing so will help you grow in confidence and feel like you belong!
Learn about organizational culture
Each workplace has its own norms, rules, and expectations. Learning about the culture of your new school because understanding a workplace’s culture may bis almost as important as having the skills to do the job.
Look around and ask yourself questions: How important is it to be on time? What do most people wear to work? What is the email etiquette of the school? How long do people take for lunch? What kind of things are celebrated here and how? Are employee birthdays, for example, celebrated by everyone? Is there an annual school party? Finding the answer to questions like this will help you understand the expectations for behavior at this school.
Get to know your learners
When semester or courses start and learners start attending classes, begin immediately memorizing their names. You should learn not only learner names, however, but also something about each learner as an individual, such as a career goal, a hobby, an interesting personal story. Knowing something about each learner helps in getting to know him or her and, incidentally, remembering those pesky names!
Establish ‘your’ class routine
As part of these critical first weeks, you should also establish a class routine that works for you and your learners, which helps a class run more smoothly. What can help you is to establish procedures for entering late, for turning in late work, where papers and books are located, and what learners should do with personal items such as electronic equipment during class, for instance. Set up routines for explaining what will be covered in each class day and what materials will be needed.
Other forms of professional development
As I’ve spent so much time discussing the big three, I’d love it if you could come up with some advice for exploiting other avenues of professional development in the early years of an ELT career. Please leave suggestions in the comments section below and we’ll add them to the post!