Ajarn Dynamo

Before you teach

What every teacher should do and know before opening day

Before beginning this first installment on teacher help and needed materials, let me introduce myself. I am "wangsuda," sometimes-frequent poster on www.ajarnforum.net, and a teacher of English, math, and science here in Bangkok. I have been teacheing for over five years now, starting my career in the USA teaching American literature and composition to high school students. After three years of teaching in America, I moved to Korea and taught TOEFL exam preparatory classes, as well as EFL/ESL classes. In 2003, I moved to Bangkok to continue teaching. I now work for a government school in their Mini-English Program. Through all this, I managed to earn a dual subject teaching credential (English: EFL/ESL specialization, and math) in California, as well as a Korean teaching credential. Why do I state this? Because I want you to know that there is experience and education behind what I write. Is what I advise guaranteed to work? Nope, you must put it in practice OR adapt what I suggest to fit your own needs. I do hope that these articles give you a solid foundation with which to build your own teaching career. Let us now begin with what every teacher should know and do before the first day of class, and what every teacher should prepare for during the first week of class.

It is October, and time to search for that perfect teaching job here in Thailand. Before you go out looking, be prepared for the interview. There is no better way to prepare than by reading the information located at http://www.ajarn.com/Jobs/interview.htm. In this article are tips on looking your best for that first impression and the hard-hitting questions you should ask before signing on the dotted line. If everything is in order, then sign away! Congratulations! You are now an EFL instructor! So what should you do now?

The first thing every teacher should do before starting a new job is to inspect; inspect beyond the usual school tour that is part of most interviews. Ask to be taken to the classrooms you will use. Look at where you will teach. What do you have? Are there whiteboards or chalkboards? Do you have any type of technology to aid you in teaching? Is there air conditioning? Are you moving to several different classrooms, and are they far apart? Take notes! Ask questions! The better informed you are, the better prepared you will be on that first day. Additionally, ask about the course material. Schools saying, "oh, the students will have everything they need" is not an acceptable answer. Learn what the course books are and where they can be purchased (or where they are stored, if the school supplies the books). Ask to take a course book home with you, and read it. Learn what you will teach. Remember, the better prepared you are for day one of the new term, the more "face" you will gain. Now do not stop here, there are supplies you need to obtain!

Regardless of what your school or organization states, ALWAYS have your own supplies ready and with you at all times while at work. What you need to prepare is a "teacher toolbox," containing all your supplies. In a regular tackle-box container, you should have:

Whiteboard markers in at least three colors. Bottles of refill ink for said markers are also recommended and rather cheap. I find that the Sakura brand of markers is very long lasting, and very easy to refill. So far this year, I have only used one set of colored markers - they last forever! Oh yes, do not forget whiteboard marker erasures!
Pens and pencils. Try to keep at least five extra pens near you at all times, as well as five "2B' pencils for marking computerized grade sheets. This category also includes felt markers for grading (black or blue), and liquid paper or correction tape.
Stapler and staples. I have yet to teach at a school ANYWHERE where I have easy access to a stapler. Get your own. Stay away from the smaller staplers that use the #10 refills; they really are not worth anything. For all school stapling needs (from one sheet to 20 sheets) obtain an Elephant Brand #DS-45N stapler and at least two boxes of #35 staple refills.
One box of assorted clips. Like staplers, they are never around when you need one; just get your own.
One box of paper clips.
A glue stick.
A decent pair of scissors. Schools usually have the small, "made for kindergarten" types, and they are crap. Get adult scissors.
Your own hole punch. The Power Stone PS-20 is small, and can punch up to 10 sheets of paper at a time.
A calculator.
Markers for overhead projectors (nothing worse than having access to an overhead projector and having nothing with which to write).
Post-It notes.
A floppy disk and CD-W (if you have computer access).
A pad of lined, A-4 paper (at least 100 sheets).
A ream of unlined A-4 paper (optional).
Rubber bands.

Yes, this is a big list, but all is obtainable at the larger stores (Big C, Tesco-Lotus) and can be purchased for under 1000 baht. There are pros and cons to purchasing your own supplies. The pros are that you are ready to teach on the first day of class WITHOUT searching for supplies and making lame apologies to your students as to why you cannot write on the whiteboards ("sorry kids, I didn't think I had to bring my own," is NOT a good impression). The cons? Your school might not ever buy you supplies if you show up with your own. My advice is to be prepared. Even when I taught in America, I always had my teacher toolbox with me, and refilled it from what the school supplied.

You have inspected the school, read the course book, and purchased the supplies you need. So what do you do now? Now, learn what kind of students you have, and how you will teach them. Generally, you will have below average or beginner level students (regardless of what your school tells you). This next part of the article gives you tips and suggestions in identifying less-proficient readers and strategies in teaching them, identifying below average English language learners and strategies in teaching them, and ends with general suggestions in teaching EFL.

Characteristics of Less-Proficient Readers

Less-proficient readers read and process what they have read at a slower rate than most of their peers. Less-proficient readers are likely to have some or all of the following characteristics:

• Slower reasoning processes; less likely to see cause-and-effect relationships and to make inferences, draw conclusions, transfer learning, or generalize based on several experiences.

• Difficulty recognizing and using contextual clues to assist comprehension.

• Shorter attention spans and less motivation to learn.

• Difficulty with following directions.

• Difficulty retaining what they have learned.

• Poor work habits and difficulty working on their own.

• Less confidence and creativity than their peers.

• Poor organizational skills.

• Difficulty sequencing.

• Less confidence when reading orally.


• Provide a stimulating environment to help keep students' attention.

• Use direct teaching; have a clearly defined goal (more on this in the lesson-planning article).

• Break learning goals into smaller tasks and teach in increments.

• Provide many practice opportunities.

• Provide immediate feedback to avoid having students "learn" errors; give encouragement to build confidence.

• Provide high interest, low-level reading materials for practice.

• Pre-teach vocabulary to build confidence.

• Preview unfamiliar concepts.

• Reward steps of achievement; use a progress chart to indicate improvement.

• Ask for and provide frequent summaries of reading material.

Characteristics of Students with below average english language abilities

• Short attention spans; easily distracted from tasks.

• Trouble with abstractions, such as humor, figures of speech, maps, and diagrams; they are concrete learners.

• Difficulty understanding cause and effect; reduced capability for problem solving, reasoning, drawing conclusions, making inferences, and generalizing; also have difficulty transferring learning from one situation to another and with sequencing.

• Communication problems with peers.

• May show a lack of judgment.

• Willingness to accept the authority of others.

• Dependence on others to assist with tasks.

• Like and need routines.

(pre-beginner or beginner) English language abilities

• Break down tasks into smaller tasks. Sequence the tasks.

• Give simple, clear directions; make the teaching objective clear.

• Provide many opportunities to practice; use computer-assisted instruction, peer tutoring, and much guided practice.

• Provide immediate feedback so that errors are not "learned."

• Have whole-group responses, such as responding in unison, so that responses are offered from all students.

• Incorporate good work habits with learning tasks, such as emphasizing the importance of following directions, working cooperatively, and providing satisfactory work.

• Use a variety of teaching strategies, as well as visual, audio, and concrete materials.

• Assign smaller, less time-consuming tasks. Use concrete examples.

• Use direct teaching. Provide students with more time to complete work.

• Introduce key words before reading; provide guided notes that will help students through the assignment.

• Use a reward system. Help students keep track of achievements on a progress chart.

• Follow a familiar teaching procedure or pattern. One procedure is to model and explain the steps of a task; then repeat the steps, pausing between steps to allow students to tell what to do next.

• Include students in whole-group discussions; then review questions with individual students after the lesson.

general strategies for efl/esl teaching

1. Make the directions brief and specific. In some cases, have students repeat the directions for completing the task. Present the directions orally, in written form, and on tape. Have extra copies of the written instructions available or provided on the computer with enlarged fonts.

2. Provide well-organized study guides. Add prompts to the guides, highlighting or underlining important points and key words and ideas. Tape-record chapters of reading for students to take home or use books on tape available at local libraries. Have students keep assignment notebooks.

3. Use peer tutors and collaborative learning situations.

4. Teach vocabulary and important information before reading. Build on the students' range of knowledge and experiences. Make connections to the students' lives.

5. Review important information from previous readings or lessons before continuing.

6. Present information in a variety of ways to address different learning styles or intelligences. Include tactile and concrete presentations.

7. Teach to fill in specific gaps in knowledge. Direct instruction works well.

8. Break the learning goal into small subtasks and teach these sequentially. Teach prerequisite skills when needed.

9. Focus instruction based on specific objectives. For example, block off parts of a workbook page or an assignment to focus on one skill or idea.

10. Slow the teaching pace and allow extra time for students to complete tasks.

11. Use a reward system, such as earning special privileges. Have students help keep track of their achievements on a progress chart.

12. Provide many practice opportunities. Simple repetition works best in many cases.

13. Provide immediate feedback. It keeps interest and motivation high and lessens the chance that students "learn" a mistake by not noticing correction made later to their work.

14. Evaluate student work by focusing on specific learning goals for that student.

15. For evaluation, give tests orally and accept oral responses, or highlight the questions that are most important for students to answer.

Wow! A lot of information to learn and much to buy BEFORE your first day of class! For those who have completed a TEFL course, much of this is review. For those who are the "dive right in" type, read carefully and realize what you are getting yourself in to! For the November start date of the new term, my next article will detail lesson planning, complete with your very own lesson planning guidelines. Postscript: I would like to thank Dr. Albert Jones, Charter College of Education - the California State University of Los Angeles, who helped me compile these teaching suggestions. His lectures (and the notes I took on said lectures) during my graduate work in education are the foundation of this article. I would also like to thank Dr. Edward R. Fry, author of ­Inclusion Strategies.


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