The Things Nobody Teaches You

This post is inspired by Sandy Millin’s and Mark’s posts here and here on the same topic.

Here it is, my own list of things I wish I were taught before starting my job.

Manual double-sided printing
In some cases, like when your office printer is not smart and modern enough, you might need to do double-sided printing manually. It’s not as difficult as it seems. I just had to mess up once or twice before I figured out how to put the sheet back into the paper tray so that the other side print was situated the way I wanted. Easy-peasy!
I wish I did not have to waste the paper though.

Feel free to break the rules
The one rule you remember best after doing your CELTA is not to do things any other way apart from that way you’ve been taught. A year and a half after finishing my CELTA I was still using those massive and detailed lesson plans for every single lesson I taught. It only happened by accident that two weeks ago I realised I didn’t need them anymore. I forgot to print out my lesson plan and had to teach without it. It was much easier than I expected (I should thank the unified curriculum with prescribed lesson structure for this). Now my lesson plan is as minimalistic as possible:

LP_after_edI still have no idea why I haven’t tried it earlier. Habit is second nature indeed…

Frist aid kit
Always bring a bottle of water and painkillers with you into the classroom. Ladies will understand.

In the office
Make sure to get tissues. You might also want to have an infinite stock of plastic folders, sticky notes and paper clips. Oh, and rubber bands!

4-colour pen
IT’S A MUST! If it also has a pencil and eraser in it, it becomes invaluable. Luckily, Japan has them everywhere 🙂

Teaching university students
University students are unique learners that have both teenager and young adults characteristics combined, which means that while you can expect a generally more mature attitude, it’s still worth adding some funny pictures and game elements (like o-hajiki, for example).

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2018 Resolutions

I keep being traditional and dedicate my first post in 2018 to the magical power of goal-setting.

So here are my teaching goals for 2018:

  1. Semester Project

First of all, I have to continue and finish writing my Semester Project which focuses on motivation, group dynamics, and gender-unbalanced groups and is based on a dialogical teaching journal I have been keeping this semester (thanks Ann Loseva for being my TJ pal!).

  1. Review the lessons for Spring semester and think them over

I have many ideas on how to make them much better so technically I’m going to re-write every single lesson – there’s never too much work, huh? 😀 I’ve already finished composing a preliminary alternative lesson plan for Lesson 1 ‘Introduction’, and it was inspired by this post written by amazing Sventala Kandybovich. I’ve also heard about active listening from Ann during one of our RP meetings. Together, these two events ignited an idea of a lesson plan. I want students to think about communication and the roles of listener and speaker. Then we’ll look at the communication skills they have to learn as a part of the course curriculum. I hope that this time, I can introduce them to these skills in a more meaningful way which will result in a more active and thoughtful use.
I’m also thinking about different activities I could use for other lessons. I’m especially interested in brainstorming, critical thinking, learner autonomy, and guided discovery.

  1. New Level

I signed up for teaching Level I students whose English is Upper-Intermediate (or even higher sometimes as I heard). I know it might be difficult, but I’m eager to unlock this new level and get more experience. It seems like I’m a workaholic and an extreme ELT enthusiast…

  1. Conferences

One more achievement I’m aiming for is to become a conference presenter. For now, I’m mostly concentrated on poster presentations as probably the most accessible form to start from, but I’m thinking about workshops as well… and I have some ideas… I hope I can write more about it when they come true!

As for personal goals, I hope to travel to some new countries and explore some new places.

Let’s do it! Yosh ^_^

2017

It’s the end of 2017, and my Reader is getting filled with various end-of-year reflective posts. I am no different from all other bloggers who feel it’s an excellent opportunity to look back and think a bit deeper of what has happened so far.

I met 2017 in my hometown being a newly hired employee of a chain eikaiwa.
I’m meeting 2018 in my husband’s family house in Japan being a relatively newly hired university EAP instructor.

It’s been a long journey full of amazing moments. I’d like to have a quick look at those which seem the most important to me (ranked in order of importance):

  1. Getting a university job (February): This is definitely the best thing that has happened this year. It’s my dream job, and I can’t express how happy and grateful I am. It made all other things that happened afterwards possible. It also boosted my professional development by giving me an opportunity for various experiments and improvisation within my classroom (for example, I’ve been investigating the influence of self-reflective feedback on students’ performance and trying to implement tiny bits of learner autonomy). It filled me with inspiration and strengthened my passion for teaching. I’m full of ideas about things I want to try next semester, and I can’t wait to do it!!
  2. Writing a post for the TEFL Equity Advocates (August): I first heard of Marek when Matthew Schaeffer and I were looking at a job ad poster hanging in the corridor in front of our office. It was an examiner job for some Japan-based English exam (I don’t remember which one). To apply for it, one had to be either a JET or a NEST aged above 30 y.o. I said it was ridiculous, and Matthew said that I could file a complaint with the TEFL Equity Advocates. I googled it as soon as I had free time and was lost for this world for the next several hours until I read every single entry that seemed interesting 😀 Several months later, I contacted Marek via e-mail and asked if he would be interested in featuring my story in the Teacher Success Story blog. He gave me the green light, and here it is, my first (but not the last I hope!) contribution to this amazing project. The response to this post was incredibly heartwarming.
  3. Blogging (from July): I’ve been blogging about my daily life and job on a Russian website called diary.ru for 7 years, but blogging about your job thoughtfully is quite different I must say. When I just started this blog I wasn’t sure if anyone would even find my posts interesting or if I will have anything to write about. And then it appeared that I have a lot to say and that there actually are some people who are interested in what I’m saying. It was quite a relief 🙂 And last Thursday, my blog was featured in the Top-50 TEFL Blogs post on Feedspot. My head is full of ideas, there’s still so much left to write about, and I didn’t even notice how blogging on ELT became a significant part of my professional life. I’m lovin’ it.
  4. Giving demo lessons for the CELTA course in St Petersburg (August): Going back to where I did my CELTA was so nostalgic and revived so many sweet memories. It gave me a chance to compare my CELTA-time self with the current self and see how much has changed since then and how far I’ve moved. If you’re interested in seeing what kind of lessons I taught, you can find the lesson plans here (vocabulary) and here (reading+speaking).
  5. Attending the JALT conference (November)Another inspiring experience I’ve had this year. I met some fantastic ELT professionals there and attended several highly interesting workshops. You can read more about it in this post. BTW, I filed a proposal for a poster presentation for the PanSIG conference in May, so fingers crossed!!
  6. Participating in the review contest organised by EFL Magazine (December ~): First of all, thanks to this competition I had a chance to chat to Erzsébet Békés, one of the most inspiring nNESTs in the ELT field. Secondly, if I win, I’ll have a chance for my review to be published in the EFL Magazine (not an opportunity to miss, right?). I’m still in the process of writing it (it’s a review of this remarkable book called Teaching in Low Resource Classrooms), and we’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you updated, guys!

This is it. This what my 2017 has been like. It’s just one day left now, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 is going to give me!

I wish a happy New Year to everyone, and may your dreams come true!

Magic in the Classroom

This post is inspired by Zhenya’s post on livening up the classroom’s standard routines.

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  1. Post-it notes: The way I use them is not different from the ways described by other teachers. For example, when I want my students to write a possible topic for a discussion, I use these sticky notes. Then we stick them to the desk, and students are able to draw a circle on them voting for the topic they like the most. I also use them as a seta arrangement tool: by writing numbers (1 and 2) and letters (A and B) it’s possible to multiply the number of different seat arrangement combinations.
  2. Dices: I love board games, and I wish I could let my students play it more often… The last lesson of our course is a good opportunity to have some fun, so there’s always a board game at the end, and these colourful wooden dices are irreplaceable!
  3. The Bomb: It’s my ultimate favourite muhaha. I LOVE how students react when they realise it ACTUALLY makes the ticking sound. I remember one student dropped it when it ‘exploded’ in her hands. However, despite this incident, they all laughed and seemed to enjoy (especially boys). For those who don’t recognise where this beauty comes from, check Pass the Bomb board game 🙂 The bomb is an amazing tool to liven up any review activity (e.g., vocabulary, FL, grammar, etc.).
  4. Masking tape: Every lesson, my students fill in self-reflective check-sheets and set a goal for the second discussion. After the second discussion, they check if they achieved their goals or not and then stick the check-sheets into their textbooks. To make this process a bit more exciting (and to reward my students for the work they’ve done) I give them some cute masking tapes like these two. Sometimes I bring thematic stickers like Christmas stickers, etc.
  5. Some strange tiny objects: What are they??! Technically, these are the rubbers but in my classroom, they become chips that my students use when they play board games. I usually let students choose which ‘chip’ they want to use, and these three are the ultimate favourites (the fish-looking one is actually taiyaki, Japanese pastry snack). The others are mochi, onigiri, bamboo, tomato, melon, and aubergine.
  6. Timer: I use it so that I don’t have to depend on watch / clock. First of all, I HATE having anything on my wrists. Second, I don’t like the necessity of constantly checking my phone to end an activity on time. The timer is the easiest solution to these problems 🙂 Just don’t forget to change the battery when the time comes! And the beeping sound it makes when the time is up helps you to catch your students’ attention quickly.
  7. O-hajiki: All Japanese kids used to play this game where they have to hit one glass stone with the other, and whoever gets closest to the ‘main’ stone gets more points (or something like that). Whenever I take the bags with these stones out, students get excited and say ‘nostalgic!’. I use them as chips to cover some phrases in the check-sheets so that students (and I) could keep track on their FL use. The only drawback is that some students (usually boys) try to use o-hajiki the way they used it when they were children so make sure to keep an eye on those students who get too nostalgic and excited.

 

This is it! I hope to see your lists as well 😉

My Happy ELT Story

Wow, almost a month has passed since the last time I posted here. I remember I wanted this blog to be a weekly one… oh well 😀

Anyway, today’s entry is a special one: it’s done as a part of the monthly Reflective Practice meeting organised by Ann Loseva. It’s usually something like a discussion table but this time we decided to write it down and exchange our stories. Time flies fast, and now we’re just a wee bit less than 2 weeks away from the New Year so why not to reflect on something good that has happened this year? So here it is, my happy ELT story of 2017.

Continue reading “My Happy ELT Story”

JALT 2017

Last Sunday, I went to a conference for the first time in my life, and I absolutely LOVED it!! It was JALT 2017 conference, the biggest one in Japan.

In this post, I want to tell about the most interesting parts of it.

  1. Creative Writing: Essential, not Supplemental by Malu Sciamarelli

This was the best of all! I can’t measure the level of inspiration it gave me. Malu started with a short presentation aimed to highlight the difference between creative writing and expository writing (she involved us into brainstorming the antonyms for the characteristics of expository writing). Then she talked briefly about the benefits of regular use of creative writing in the classroom for both students and teachers. And then there was time for the tastiest part of any workshop – practice! We tried writing a poem, a recipe, a haiku…

That’s what I got:
Continue reading “JALT 2017”

Teacher Autonomy (Not That One You Think of Right Now)

So today I’d like to talk about teacher autonomy.

A quick glance at the results of Google search, and you get to know that the concept of teacher autonomy ‘refers to the professional independence of teachers in schools, especially the degree to which they can make autonomous decisions about what they teach to students and how they teach it’ (c). However, it’s not the teacher autonomy I’m going to talk about.

When I started at my current workplace I felt like I had spent more time teaching while being observed than teaching on my own.
When I first entered the room to teach 8 university students I felt so unprepared. To be honest with you, I was really tempted to run back to my programme manager and ask him ‘hey, are you sure it’s a good idea to leave me alone with them?’
When I was planning my lessons, I always sought for an approval from someone more experienced than me.
I felt I lack teachers autonomy, or the ability to make my own professional decisions, even minor ones, without being approved.
I still feel I lack it sometimes. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, and there’re other teachers who have a similar experience (or had it at some point).

It was a couple of weeks ago when I realised that I should be persistent and shouldn’t give up on my ideas.
We were in the middle of planning Lesson 6 about advantages and disadvantages. I had a wonderful idea of presenting this topic by using ‘2 Kinds of People’ cards (I’ve already mentioned them here). It seemed perfect. I could write a long and thorough rationale justifying my choice if anyone asked for it. However, I still didn’t feel 100% sure, and I showed it to my programme manager first in order to hear what he says. He said it seemed cool, and I felt relieved.
When I think about it, I ask myself why I did it. Why couldn’t I go on with this activity if I was sure it’d be successful (and it was)? Simply because I think of myself as someone not experienced enough yet? Why? The performance of my students proves that most of my teaching decisions were good. What is there inside of me that says I’m not good enough?
Also, for this lesson, I made a dialogue comparison activity. I wrote the dialogues myself and felt really proud of my work. However, some people said it might be a bit too difficult for lower levels, so I ended up borrowing another dialogue comparison activity from my colleague. I didn’t quite like the dialogues and what they were focusing on so I tried to change it several times but somehow failed – they would always become as difficult as my dialogues were while I wanted something very simple! At the end, I just tried using the dialogues as they were. After three lessons I realised I just couldn’t continue using them. They didn’t introduce the function the way I wanted to introduce them. And I finally did what I should’ve done from the very beginning: I started using my dialogues for all levels. I gave it to one of my lowest levels. It was challenging, but I just asked them more questions and guided them more carefully to the understanding of the function, and it worked!! They totally nailed it. So I underestimated them and myself – well done!
Why couldn’t I do it from the very beginning? I still don’t quite get it, but it taught me to defend my teaching ideas – not from other people but from myself.

Sometimes it’s better to rely less on others and rely more on yourself.
Sometimes it’s better to make your own mistakes because from them you learn. After all, it’s always easier to remember the right way of doing things if it was you who messed up, not someone else.
It’s important to get detached and obtain teacher autonomy which, for me, is the ability to make your own teaching decisions without seeking a compulsory approval from your seniors.