Does your teaching need a recharge?

A new year is almost upon us! And what better time to reflect on our careers? The key to enjoying any profession is to constantly adjust, adapt and grow. After all, as an educator, enthusiasm is one of the most important things you can bring to the classroom. But how do you keep that up over the years?

For many, the creativity and inspiration you had when you first stepped into teaching can seem like a distant memory. Rigorous schedules, planning and constantly ‘performing’ can have many teachers burned out by the time the Christmas break comes, regardless of whether you’re in private or state education.

Help is at hand, however, as DimmiDeck have put together a list of eight ideas you can use to refresh your teaching style, improve your abilities and bring that passion back into your lessons. Whether it’s a simple tweak, a major change or buying one of our recommended teaching books you’ll find a new year’s teaching resolution below!

1. Know Thy Enemy

For anyone who’s taught multilingual classes, the fact of having no shared tongue apart from the language you are teaching is often seen as beneficial for creating conversation. However it can lead to some interesting differences in ability with specific grammar points or vocabulary.

Why is your strongest student (Polish) struggling with past continuous whilst your weakest student (Spanish) has no problem at all? Why can’t any of your Italian students pronounce ‘th’ correctly?

When teaching in a multilingual class, it’s even more important to understand not just what mistakes your learners are making, but why they are making them. Each language has it’s own grammar structures and pronunciation which can help or hinder a language student depending on what their L1 is.

Doing some research on your class can be an huge help for your lesson planning and anticipation of problems. Even if you teach in a monolingual environment, researching common problems can help you anticipate them easily and, most importantly, how to get past them.

The book ‘Learner English’ by Michael Swann (Cambridge Press) is a classic reference guide detailing the grammatical and lexical issues facing various nationalities when studying English. It also contains lots of information regarding pronunciation issues and is an essential purchase for anyone taking their language teaching seriously.

2. Become Thy Enemy

Learning a language can be difficult and frustrating for a lot of people. But you’d know that right? Or would you? Statistically only about 20-30% of native English speakers can speak even a little bit of another language, as opposed to over 90% in countries such as Sweden, Luxembourg, Holland and Latvia.

Without having ever experienced what your students are experiencing, how can you ever truly empathise with them? Can you ever really understand their thought process? There’s no excuse, with so many free materials and language classes available now to not at least try to study a second language. I promise, not only will you enjoy it, but you will start to see your own teaching methods reflected and begin to understand what is really effective or not.

There are language classes available in multiple languages in most major cities, as well as online. Check out www.tutorhunt.com for face to face private lessons, or www.verbling.com for online teachers. For free resources, check out Duolingo or Busuu for excellent beginner vocabulary training. If you have any suggestions for genuinely effective self-teaching methods, leave a comment below.

3. Train Your Learners

“Help me to help you, help me to help you!”

I consider myself a good language learner. Asking the right questions and making connections between different ideas, your own language or different grammar tenses comes more naturally for some people. It’s understandable though that for those who find language learning difficult, it can be a frustrating process.

As a teacher you learn very early on that different people learn in different ways. What if I told you that everybody has the potential to be a great language learner? The trick is just helping them find out what works for them.

‘Learner training’ as a buzzword is essentially providing your students with the tools they need to learn their language outside of the classroom. ‘Learner Autonomy’, however, goes a step further and involves self assessment and discussion activities which help learners discover their own unique learning style, and to nurture it outside the classroom.

Learner autonomy allows your learners to learn without ‘studying’ in the traditional sense, taking activities as simple as going to a museum, watching TV or reading the news and turning them into learning opportunities.

By introducing ‘Learner Autonomy’ activities into your regular classroom schedule, you give the students an opportunity to discuss their own language learning abilities, discover new ways to practise language and break up the routine of a course.

Brian Morrison’s ‘The Autonomy Approach – Language Learning in the Classroom and Beyond’  is a fantastic, thorough guide to the theory of learner autonomy and is packed full of activities to help your students find their preferred learning style and take their learning outside of the classroom.

4. Go Back to School

For many career EFL teachers, once the CELTA is done and dusted a few years can pass in the blink of an eye. Your CELTA or TEFL certificate may have been an important first step into teaching, but your training shouldn’t stop there.

There is the DELTA course, but if this is prohibitively expensive or unsuitable for whatever reason you’ll be happy to know that there are many more affordable, respectable and useful training courses available for teachers. You just have to know where to look!

For between £100-300 you can enroll on one of the British Council or International House’s teacher development courses. The names of the institutions speak for themselves, and courses can often be completed online around your teaching. At the end you receive a certificate and a recognised qualification in areas such as ‘Teaching Young Learners’, ‘Teaching with Technology’ or ‘Advanced Teaching Methodology’. Courses are designed to introduce advanced theories and practices than on CELTA, and should be a fun refresher to your language teaching.

For those with less time or resources, the incredibly good value courses from Cambridge English Teacher can be completed entirely online. Cambridge English, through whom I have personally completed seven courses in topics from ‘Motivating Teenage Learners’ to ‘Teaching IELTS Exam Classes’ are very affordable at only £25 per course. You get one course free when you sign up for a years membership and the courses are completely online using video, text and multiple choice quizzes and matches to measure completion.

At the end you can print a nice certificate to add to your portfolio and add another string to your bow with regards to teaching different class types. An online course like this may not seem like much, but it shows future employers that you are serious about teaching, want to improve, and have studied beyond your CELTA certificate.

What’s more, completing a small course such as these is surprisingly motivating, just what you need when going back to school for the new year!

*I should also mention that Oxford Press do similar courses for around £70. Although I have no experience personally with these, if they’re as good as the materials they produce for teaching then I’m sure they’re worth a look!

5. Go Back to Basics

We live in a world dominated by new technology. From Amazon Prime to smartphones, things have changed rapidly in the world over the past ten years and will continue to do so. Because of this, it’s tempting to try and use every new tool and technique that comes along.

For the most part, a lot of these can absolutely add value to your lessons. However, as someone who only relatively recently discovered the versatility of traditional flashcards, I strongly recommend going ‘back to basics’ for some of your activities next year.

The British Council website has a load of clear, free flashcards to download. Also in January, we begin crowdfunding our ‘DimmiDeck’ cards which are essentially flashcards without the words, providing clear, fun images for students to learn vocabulary sets in a more subjective way.

6. ‘Unplug’ Your Teaching

With Teaching Unplugged, Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings introduced us to a world of communicative language teaching with zero preparation and maximum efficiency. If you haven’t yet read it or heard about it (where have you been??) Teaching Unplugged is a complete methodology and series of lesson plans around the idea of teaching in the DOGME style – focusing on emerging language and learners needs rather than pre prepared ‘grammar nuggets’.

It’s generally regarded as somewhat of a pipe dream in practice, at least with the idea of teaching an entire course in this way. However there’s no doubting that the theory and ideas behind it are solid, innovative and, dare I say, aspirational. For most teachers it would be difficult, and perhaps detrimental to subscribe to any single method, unplugged or otherwise, but there is no disputing that there is a huge amount to be taken from Thornbury and Medding’s book.

Whilst it may not be perfect or even feasible for the majority of teachers, Scott Thornbury’s influential work is as inspirational as it is revolutionary, and every teacher can learn something from it.

Check out http://www.scottthornbury.com for Scott’s fantastic, dogma-challenging and often hilarious blog ‘An A-Z of ELT’ and also links for purchasing his work.

7. Hit The Library

If you’re not quite sure what you want to focus on next, simply doing a bit of research into the hundreds of great teacher training guides available should be inspiration enough. Not all need be as innovative or radical as ‘Teaching Unplugged’. In fact many simply build upon and reinforce what you already know, or offer a different viewpoint on something you thought you knew.

As well as general theory books, there are some great guides on planning your TEFL career, expanding your knowledge of teaching theory and preparing for different class types. If you keep reading into your profession, you’ll find motivation in the number of teachers who share your values, and inspiration in those who introduce new ones.

Some of my favourite ‘kick up the butt’ books are listed below.

Succeed in TEFL – David Riddell – A guide to ‘what do I do now?’. Career progression ideas, advice and wisdom from International House’s David Riddell.

The Developing Teacher – Duncan Foord – For teachers who want to seriously plan their development, Duncan Foord presents exercises and activities for you, as a teacher, to better yourself. Everything from chatting to your co-workers to analysing your lessons is covered here.

The DELTA Development Series – Various – We’ve already mentioned three books from this series, ‘Teaching Unplugged’, ‘The Autonomy Approach’ and ‘The Developing Teacher’ above. This professional series of short books covers a range of topics for advanced EFL teachers. Each one aims to solve a specific issue faced by modern teachers and in my experience you can’t go wrong with any of them.

8. Go to IATEFL

If you’re really serious about teaching foreign languages and want to be amongst like-minded people who share your passion, going to IATEFL should be on your itinerary every year. A four day exhibition packed with innovative workshops, inspirational presentations and all the latest resources and methods, this conference could do more to energise and revitalise your teaching than a years worth of studying blogs and books.

Head over to the IATEFL website for information on this years conference in Glasgow. There you will be able to get all the information on speakers, events and special guests. There’s also a huge early bird discount available until January 12th. IATEFL membership itself comes with its own benefits as well.

Final Word

Teaching languages should be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, but with time the novelty can wear off anything. If you feel like you’re at a point where you need a new challenge, using one of the ideas above can really help you remember why you got into teaching in the first place and will hopefully give you that inspirational ‘kick up the butt’ you need to grab 2017 by the horns.

For the rest of us who are still as passionate as the day we turned up for CELTA, constantly developing yourself as an educator is the key to enjoying a long and successful career. Further development of any type will expose you to new ideas and open plenty of new doors for you down the road.

Have a great 2017 – let’s get stuck in!

Do you have any other recommendations for personal development? Have you used any of the resources above?

If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it using the links below!