With another semester of teaching under my belt, I think it’s safe to say that the cobwebs have been well and truly shaken off. I haven’t even taught swimming in more than 18 months but it has been at least four years since I actually taught English. There are some differences this time around but there’s a lot that I’ve been able to transfer over from my past experience. Saying that, there’s still been a lot to learn, or at least a lot that I’ve been reminded of, during these twelve weeks of classes.
Variety is the spice of life.
As tempting as it is to plan a lesson that can be used with all three year groups, it’s not worth it. I teach all three years of the English licence (or undergraduate degree) and I try to have a common theme or topic through all of them. However I’ve learnt that the time I save by having the same lesson plan for each year group, just with modifications for level, isn’t worth the boredom I feel after a day or week repeating essentially the same content with everyone. There’s only so many times I can repeat something and stay sane and 14 times is way past that. Even with different year groups, the way my timetable worked out this semester meant I often had the several classes of the same year group in a row.
An example of a lesson where I managed to avoid this was the week I talked about the Olympic Games. That was my overall theme for the week but I had different sub-topics with each year group. With my L1s, we talked about the new sports that were added to the Olympics this year (surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate if anyone was wondering). With L2 we discussed the idea of having E-sports at the Olympics. This was actually super interesting as a lot of my students are into gaming so there were some strong opinions here! I gave L3 a little bit more of a challenge with the topic of the inequalities associated with and caused by the Olympics. The strategy is a little more work for me but has a much bigger payoff, for myself and for my students.
Fake it till you make it can be applied to the classroom.
This is one of my general life philosophies that can be applied to many situations. Lacking self-confidence? Fake it till you make it. Imposter syndrome? Fake it till you make it. Not in the mood to teach? Fake it till you make it. This semester has been a little up and down for me on a personal level which has meant that I don’t always wake up with the best mindset to stand in front of a class. There have been days when I have been so tired that I don’t have the energy to motivate the class, I’ve been on the verge of tears on my way in to work or woke up on the wrong side of the bed but when I step in front of the class I can shrug it all off and pretend everything is ok. And sometimes that has the knock on effect of actually improving my mood.
Topics I am interested in are easier to teach.
This one might seem obvious but it’s good to remember. With all the repitition I mentioned above, it’s so much easier when it’s a topic that I’m actually interested in or passionate about. Some of my favourite topics so far this semester have included a discussion on gender roles and gender norms as well as talking about Scottish history to coincide with St Andrews Day. This goes for the students as well. I asked them all at the start of the semester for some topics that they would be interested in because at the end of the day they are more likely to participate in a lesson that actually interests them.
Everyone has good days and bad days.
Everyone is allowed an off day or an off week – teachers and students alike. Sometimes a student will be having a bad day and not want to talk or just won’t be in the mood and that’s ok. You don’t always know what’s going on outside the classroom. I have gotten to know my students though so I can usually tell when it’s a one off or when it’s becoming a pattern. There’s also sometime a topic or a lesson format that doesn’t suit someone or just doesn’t work as well in general. It’s been a learning process for me over the course of the semester to get used to teaching at this level and some things have been a hit and some things have been a miss. I’m sure there will be more of that as I go on but I’m grateful for what I’ve learned so far.
You can’t make a lesson perfect – don’t try.
There are too many variables at play for everything to go perfectly ever single time. In the same vein, you can’t spend all week trying to recreate that one time the lesson went exactly as you wanted. You have to be able to go with the flow and give the students a bit of space to guide the discussions the way they want to. There are certains formats where the discussion comes a lot more from the students and I let them steer me through the topic at hand. This means that no two classes are the same and these are the ones that I enjoy the most.
Speak, speak, speak is priority number one.
I get to decide what I teach and how, including assessments. I knew straight off the bat that I wanted to encourage my students to speak as much as possible so this semester, and in the future, participation makes up 50% of their overall grade. (I also didn’t want them to be able to pass my class if they didn’t turn up – you have to attend the class in order to participate). A couple of weeks in I had a small issue with some classes slipping in to French a bit too much. I perfectly understand French conversation as they come in or go out, the odd exchange here or there and particularily when asking how to say a word in English but beyond that everything should be in English. What’s the point in an oral English class otherwise? I communicated with my classes that it didn’t matter how much they participated in class, if it wasn’t in English then it wouldn’t count towards their final grade. I even told them that I didn’t care if they weren’t talking about the assigned topic, as long as they were speaking in English. We got back on track after that.
Now it’s the holidays I’m going to take some well deserved rest until the end of the year. I don’t start teaching again until the 17th January so my plan is to spend some time at the start of the new year preparing some lessons in advance and getting ahead of things. I’ve learnt a lot this semester and I’m ready to take it into next semester and make my teaching better. I already have lots of ideas and I’m excited to get back into it!