Whatever you do, whatever your job is, there’s a desire to do it better. If it’s not a job than it is a hobby or simply to be a better friend, coworker, person or human being. The desire is real and there’s a craving to satisfy it that is indescribable to most of us. We set boundaries on ourselves, come up with excuses and avoid the question. But no matter how hard anyone of us tries the desire to improve remains and will never vanish.
For teachers the boundaries can be real, the excuses are not and avoidance is inevitable. So here are my five tips that can help improve our teaching. This is for foreign language teachers mostly but can be applied to other subjects. Happy days, go get ’em.
For foreigners learning English this is a quintessential aspect of learning a language and it’s generally avoided by coursebooks and teacher trainers. Wherever you are teaching abroad, it is crucial that you identify the cultural differences of English-speaking countries and the one you live/work in. In doing so, you are able to build a bridge for your students that will allow them to communicate more effectively. This is because the differences in culture can be subtle but vital in avoiding a misunderstanding. I’m not talking about cuisine and dress here. I’m talking about manners, formality, openness to criticism, hierarchical vs democratic decisions, open vs subtle disagreement, outgoing personality vs private, taboo topics and on and on. You don’t have to prepare lessons on this, but bring them up(cultural subtleties) when it seems appropriate or related to a lesson and go with the flow. Your students will be grateful you shared this insight and will remember it because it truly is invaluable in the global world we live in.
Change the topic of discussion
Coursebooks have improved recently, especially the TED Keynote series, which has fantastic unit topics you can use or adapt for your lessons. Actually, it inspired me and brought me to the realization of how boring and generic most language learning coursebooks are. Please note, I am speaking from a position in which I generally teach upper-Intermediate and advanced students, this doesn’t apply to lower level students obviously. But nowadays company English lessons are a standard for most teachers. Look, adults don’t want to talk about that generic nonsense from their school days, they need real thought-provoking topics they can relate to in their work or otherwise. So provide it. This effort gives a much better flow to the class as well as allow students to share opinions, reflect on their lifestyles or society and not only learn language but about the world around them and themselves. Don’t shy away from pushing for topics that challenge our thinking. Here is a post on some of the topics I am talking about. The point is, don’t focus on the language only, focus on providing some additional insight while practicing the language. Major difference maker.
Provide key tools for communicative success
Communication is not only language. It’s not just the words we teach, the formal grammar structures we test. It’s about a simple thing – connection. Today, more and more people are losing connection with others. Our western society promotes individualism and those smartphones don’t help, they just increase the number of artificial connections we have. In order to establish real connection we need to encourage ours learners to be better communicators and especially, much better listeners. This is vital because I can’t tell you how often people interrupt each other, speak over each other, show lack of interest and poor body language. As language teachers it is our duty to emphasize this as often as necessary. Hammer home the message from day one that being an active listener is crucial. Show interest, ask open ended questions to learn more, make eye contact, speak up and react to what someone says. These are life lessons in connection. Not just words, but a mindset. For more ideas read my post on better conversation. You can also watch my ESL Trailblazer episode on the subject here.
Don’t follow the syllabus or curriculum
This is partially connected to the first in that you need to go off the script aka lesson plan without reservation. Teacher trainers try to turn you into a freaking robot with those ridiculous lesson plans for every minute of the lesson. Trash that nonsense. We need to allow ourselves to go on tangents. When an opportunity arises to discuss or teach a cultural difference or exchange opinions on language, people and situations, we need to embrace those opportunities and go with the flow here. Don’t fear such situations but cultivate them to happen whenever. Again, I’d like to emphasize that this doesn’t mean forcing the issue but commenting on or sharing a personal insight while conducting the lesson. Students will react to your comment, insight, personal experience. It’s real and they are interested, don’t be a robot, students crave that kind of atmosphere because it’s a connection with real experience and life. Whenever there is an opportunity, GO with the FLOW.
Make them curious by being curious
This is also related to the previous point. Pose questions about the topic being discussed or a curiosity you have on the culture or country you live in. Ask students for an answer, for help, for their insight. You can brainstorm this(questions) before class or if you prefer, improvise while in the lesson. Do this from time to time but not too frequently. It’s just another element that classrooms lack. When you show your curiosity and interest in something and share, it will inspire your class to reciprocate. This will inherently improve your lesson outcomes and students will feel more engaged in the lesson because their teacher is engaging with them. It makes sense. Whether student or teacher, we crave connection and we are in the same room quite often so, connect. Our students have a lot of knowledge of their own and if you approach every conversation in life with an opportunity to learn something you’ll be surprised how much you do learn. Every person knows something you don’t. Which is why I started the student insights section on the weekly “Freshen up Fridays’ newsletter I publish. You can sign up here to get an idea of what I am talking about.