After years of daily classroom routine, teachers tend to do things automatically, without even noticing that they do these things that way. These can be even bad habits (talking to students while continuously wandering about the classroom, using monotonous tone when giving feedback or just repeating ‘good job’ even after a mistake, etc.) and a supervisor after a classroom observation can (and should) help notice and correct them. However, there is a long list of good habits we usually do without thinking about them. When in 2011 I was asked to coordinate 12 teachers and recruit new ones, I had to realize that these good things are not so obvious to everyone.
So I’ve put together a quick list and I’d ask all future or freshly recruited teachers to take a look at it before they enter their demo lesson or their first real lesson:
- Use the board: Sicily has taught to many of us that we cannot take for granted to have a black/whiteboard in the classroom in a public school (mind in a public office where you are supposed to teach clerks). But if there is any, let’s at least give if for granted that the teacher makes good use of it. Write onto it: every new word, a new grammar structure and its analysis must go onto the board. Students might recognize a word, but they need to see it and write it down in order to remember it (or its spelling). The board is your saver even in critical situations: you can play games at it even with bigger classes (spelling race, Hangman, Pictionary, Blockbusters, etc.) or you can draw on it and elicit a word without changing into students’ L1. A good part of your lesson preparation should be spent designing your whiteboard plan.
- Use the course book (or any other material your students have): you might not be so lucky to have a book to follow (which makes life easy), but if your students were given a course book, why not to use it? What sense does it make to give them loads of photocopies and leave the books untouched? Have you ever seen those copies at the end of the school year? You don’t have to teach the student’s book from cover to cover, but you will definitely find a good text to read, an excellent grammar explanation with exercises or a great picture to describe. Take advantage of them.
- Keep eye contact with your students: I had never thought that I would need to explain this to new colleagues, but when I got promoted I had to acknowledge that due to nervousness or cultural habits some teachers talk to students without looking at them. I remember some university lecturers doing the same while walking up and down in front of the auditorium. However, language teachers teach effective communication to their students, so when talking to your students, sit down and look into their eyes. You will be surprised how easy it will become to maintain their attention.
- Pay attention to ALL students: Your aim is not to get the correct answer from one student, but to make sure that ALL students will know the correct answer (and be able to figure it out on their own) even if they don’t speak up right after your question. Very eager students will make you feel comfortable, because they make sure that there won’t be any silent moments in your lesson. Nevertheless, they lead you to a disaster: their eagerness will definitely demotivate the other students and this is not what you want. So keep all your students active. If one answered the third question in a row, give him/her a couple of minutes to relax and call the other students. This also leads to another point:
- Learn your students’ name: I have a German first name with a Hungarian surname and I live in Italy. After years, I don’t really mind if somebody calls me something different from my name, but similar to it in sounding (Emma or something like that will do it). So perfection is not the main issue. But after the first couple of lessons, you should be able to recall your students’ first name. If not thanks to your memory, then put a blank sheet onto your desk and jot down the students’ names in their sitting order while taking attendance at the beginning of the lesson and use this cheat sheet. You might be able to know them by heart before you need to mix them up for the next speaking activity.