- Be energised. Your students will always be a reflection of you. Fill your class with positive vibes and your kids will lap it up, fill it with tiresome, monotonous routine, they will die a tedious death. Avoid yawning, don’t answer your phone unless it’s the utmost urgency and no matter how painfully slow the lesson drags, try to hide looking at your watch. No one is more important than the student.
2. As Ricky ‘The office’ Gervais put it some time ago “You need to be an all round entertainer”. Whichever character traits you embody, whether a crippling shyness or confidence issues, once you enter that classroom you have to become a persona of yourself, not a caricature, but a chameleon in some sense. You’re not the introverted kid you were in 10th grade, come out of your shell or give it up immediately.
3. Use props. The more you get people engaged the more they think they’re having a good time. (to some degree) Move them, stand them up, sit them down, use flashcards; get the hands moving, make them think they’re part of the lesson. Be innovative.
4. Make it competitive. Boys thrive on competition and always want to win; girls always beat boys. Let them fight it out if you can.
5. Use games. Anything. Taboo and Password are always on hand for a tired teacher. Invest.
6. Move people around. Take anybody out of their comfort zone and they become unsettled. Routine breeds confidence which (should) creates a stable teaching environment, some kids just like to make it difficult for themselves. By moving tables you’re changing their routine. People don’t like that and so their behaviour changes. Experiment. If a kid is distracting another child, try moving them. Talking crap. Move them. Throwing things; being out of line, being a spoilt, little, demonic-spawn-brat from hell. Move them. If you leave it or procrastinate or you’re afraid to do something, It’ll be abused. Just do it.
7. Phones are prohibited. If they come out, take them. They want dictionaries, give them manual ones. One comes out, they all do.
8. Kids rarely need the toilet. Get them to go at the beginning, otherwise make them wait. They’ll use it to try and waste time and if one goes, they’ll all ask and thus all disappear. Last week I had one kid drawing a treasure map and directions for the other to use whilst using the toilet. It was stamped out immediately.
9. No food or drink. It’s noisy and a distraction. Makes a mess and kids lose focus.
10. What ever school director says don’t use Polish, they’re idiots. Learn some basics, if kids think you know Polish they behave differently. Sure, explain things in English, but learn to use it when it’s best served.
11. Break the first kid that messes with you. Like all bullies, they are cowards, they won’t pick on anything they know will fight back. All bullies need to be brought down a peg or two. Bullies. Kids. Same principle.
12. If kids are misbehaving, keep them behind after lesson for five or ten minutes. Get them doing the homework they failed to do previously and then tell them you’ll phone the parents next time. Normally, if parents are left waiting in the car park for their child, Mummy’s probably missing her favourite soap, or in a rush and it’s likely she’ll phone the school to ask why. It saves a phone call on your part and will probably get the kid a ticking off.
13. Unless you’re a professor of Linguistics do NOT ramble, give dull mono-tribes or bore people to death with your preconception of what you think’s interesting. People aren’t paying you for that, and frankly, people don’t listen anymore, especially teens. It’s quite noticable in people’s body language and facial expressions; pay attention and you’ll see it. You’re prime job is evoking communication. You’re paid to teach; coax people’s confidence from them, correct when necessary, and then, only if they ask your opinion, give it to them. You’re creating an environment to allow people to be engaged. Lose sight of that, and you’ll fail.
14. Magic moments. Whilst taking my TEFL training my teacher was all about the Magic moments. Strive to create them and seek them out anytime you can. The perfect lesson involves dropping in a topic, putting your feet up and allowing the students to fight it out. You’re invisible, a shadow, an enigma; apart from the odd correction or working the board, THAT’S IT! It doesn’t happen that often with kids and teens, but when it does, it’s beautiful to listen to, observe and orchestrate.
And it conserves energy and allows to teach endless hours.
16. Don’t be Late. Look the part. Take it seriously. If you don’t, pack your bags and go.
17. End on a high. The Grammar sandwich. I always try and start and finish with a game with a little grammar squeezed in between. It’s the last thing kids will remember when they go running to their parents (who pay for the course). If parents are happy so is the boss who’s paying your bills.
18. Reading’s for homework. Unless it’s short, engaging and insightful and is used for discussion. Otherwise it’s redundant. People want to speak. Polish kids have roughly 5 hours a week of grammar, vocab and tests in their state school. In groups of 15. Don’t waste each others time reading an A4 sheet of text unless you want to be fired.
19. Don’t feel obliged to follow a book’s syllabus and fit everything in the lesson’s allocated time. Veer of course, spontaneity is a wonderful thing to observe if the students have your attention.
20. Learn to read people. Body language, gesticulations, mannerisms…etc. It’s good to know when people are bored out of their tears. If you see it, change tact. The worst teachers are those who aren’t able to listen, especially to themselves.
20+1. Last thing. As Kipling put it “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” You’re only as good as your materials. Or wisdom.
Teaching’s always a chore. But a wonder at times.
Originally published – 6th February 2017