When a Teacher Becomes a Student: Reflecting On Your Teaching Practice
During the second half of my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to serve as an English Language Assistant (LA) at the English Language Institute (ELI) at my alma mater, the University of Florida. In this role, I worked with another LA and one faculty member (often a Linguistics professor) in leading a class of roughly 15 students every semester. One of the first pieces of information the first professor I worked with gave me was on the importance of assessments at the ELI. Students at the ELI were placed in classes based on their proficiency level in the language, which included evaluations in speaking, listening, reading and writing. The most beginner level students started at level 10 and the most advanced students graduated from the ELI once they successfully passed level 60. Unfortunately, a common issue at the ELI was that students had to repeat levels. Upon discovering this, I attempted to understand why this was a recurring issue among so many students and what my role as an LA was to help as many of my students as I possibly could.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Shannon P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
My Surprising Discovery
The way in which this transpired was that I observed this trend among different groups of students to see if there was a common factor. It was during my observations overtime periods that I realized it was some of the most fluent speakers who were the ones that were not passing their assessments. I eventually discovered that this was because these students were still having trouble with comprehension and writing skills. After seeing that some of my own students needed to repeat levels, I started to reflect on the activities I was carrying out in my own classes to see what was helping them and what was failing to help them with their language weaknesses. For my last level 60 class, I started to implement podcasts, Ted talks, music, and news clips and I found that this challenged the students enough to help them improve their comprehension skills. The reason I am providing this detailed example is that I believe it is in these moments that we, as teachers, can learn and find new ways to adapt our teaching techniques and objectives to meet the needs of our students. Once we understand that in order to succeed at teaching one must be able to evaluate themselves, then we will have met our true responsibility as educators and lifelong learners.
Also Read: Do TEFL teachers need a second language?
Being Supervised and Assessed
As English Language Assistants, we were required to undergo quarterly evaluations in which our supervisor would sit in on our class while we were teaching. Our supervisor would then schedule a meeting with both LAs to give us feedback on our teaching. As I think back to that time, I have realized that some of the most pivotal moments as an English language teacher were when I would implement the feedback my supervisor gave me into the class. It was in these moments that I was able to directly witness how it made a difference for my students in their overall learning experience. To constantly be self-evaluating oneself is not an easy task and at times may be uncomfortable, especially when you realize you are doing something wrong. Nevertheless, self-evaluation through self-analysis is vital in a teacher’s professional development. From my experience talking to highly experienced teachers in the field, I have learned that there is always going to be room for improvement, no matter what one’s qualifications are.
Just as students who are eagerly pushing themselves to learn a new language, teachers should be constantly and periodically checking in with themselves to see what areas of their teaching style they can modify. Not only are technical skills important to be self-assessed, but also mindset and motivation. A teacher who is consistent with their reason to want to teach English in the first place, or their “why”, should revisit their initial intentions and refocus themselves in order to avoid remaining in a stagnant state. In this type of state, they would no longer be fostering creativity within the classroom and would not be going above and beyond to help students reach their maximum potential. As teachers, it is important for us to develop the ability to be flexible and identify differences in student pace and learning practices. I hope in my future experience I am able to facilitate a student-centered approach with the understanding that in any given classroom, there are many levels of development—all of which require patience and accommodation to ensure an optimum learning experience. One class might not be identical to the next one and it is often necessary for teachers to examine their work from previous classes to see how they can re-structure their lesson plans and overall approach for their own development and their students’ development.
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