Ajarn Dynamo

Preparing for school (part one)

Welcome to April! - school is definitely finished

Welcome to April! School is definitely finished; grades are turned in and now all we, as teachers, have to do is relax, right? Wrong! This is the time to start getting yourself ready to face the trials and tribulations you will face in the next school year. To help you accomplish the tasks needed in preparing for the first days in school, these next two articles (April and May) will detail what should be done in insuring a successful school year beginning. First, let me outline the parameters of the next two articles. First, a recent scan of the ajarn.com jobs board showed a large increase in the number of school wishing to hire teachers for EPs (English Programs). EPs generally have small classes (20-35 students), teachers generally have between 35-100 students, and teachers see these same 35-100 students all year. These articles are directed to those who work in EPs. Second, this first article will be divided into two parts: new hires and returning teachers, as the tasks for each are different. Let us now delve into what newly hired teachers should do before that first day of school.

Congratulations, new hire! You have just landed one of the higher paying jobs in the TEFL industry! Now what do you do? First, organize your teaching supplies. In a previous article I wrote (entitled "Before You Teach"), I listed the necessary articles every teacher needs when setting foot into a classroom. Read that list, and see what you need. Find out how many of those items your school is providing and how many you have to provide. Once all the necessary supplies are gathered, assemble them in one place (either in your home or in your classroom).

The second thing you should do is get hold of the material you will teach. Become familiar with its contents. Identify areas that might be difficult for you to teach and start learning it. Find out if the school uses pre-made worksheets along with the texts, or are you required to make your own? Start blocking out a teaching time frame of the materials. Estimate how long it will take you to teach the material and start forming units. In other words, start planning your lessons. Nothing is worse than a teacher unprepared to teach, so be prepared.

Many EPs have dedicated classrooms for EP students. If you have a dedicated classroom, then this third item is for you. Visit your classroom before school starts, and organize it as you see fit. Arrange the desks as you want, put English language posters on the wall, and if you teach young students (M-2 and younger), add some color to your room. Make it different. Post your class rules at this time (see my article entitled "Class Rules"). If you want, move all your teaching supplies into your room and place them in your desk. While at your desk, organize that as well. Make sure your supplies are where you can easily get to them. Place a couple of pictures on your desk. Students love to see pictures.

Finally, do a dry run to your school. In other words, pick a weekday and go to your school during the morning rush hour. Find out how long the travel time is and what alternate routes are available to you. Make sure that you know exactly how to get to school and exactly how long it takes you to travel.

Well new hires, that should keep you busy for a while. Good luck to you in your new position. Now let us look at what returning teachers should do before the first day of school.
For returning teachers, the school break can be a time of self-assessment; that is, examining what you did last school year and finding ways to improve it. So how is this accomplished?

First, examine what you taught. Did you have extremely successful lessons? If so, what made them successful? Are the elements of a successful lesson transferable to all lessons? Did you have unsuccessful lessons? What made them unsuccessful? How can you improve them? Speaking of lessons, now is the time to go over those old lesson plans (you did save them, right?). What materials can you add or subtract to make your lessons even better? Can you re-organize your lessons into a more logical progression for better learning? Are there educational game that you can add to further lesson understanding? While refining your lessons, find out if your school is adding or changing the learning material you use. If there are changes in the learning materials, change and adapt your lessons now, to be ready for the new school year. In short, take what you prepared last school year and make it better. Get your lessons written and perfected NOW, so that the school year is easier for you.

For all teachers, the school break can be used for self-improvement. Self-improvement is easy and can be done from the comfort of your own home. For those serious about teaching, here are some books that can help you become a better teacher. These books are available from amazon.com.

1. "The Structure of Schooling," by Richard Arum and Irenee R. Beattie (ISBN 0-7674-1070-X). An excellent source of various readings for those in the philosophical and sociological aspects of education. A good read for those in secondary and university education. Topics highlighted in this book include school stratification, class, race, and gender, student behavior, and adolescent subcultures.
2. "Building Classroom Discipline," by C.M. Charles (ISBN 0-321-07691-5). An excellent analysis of the most popular classroom management philosophies. Included in this text are complete analyses of discipline philosophies and methods of practical applications for the classroom.
3. "The First Days of School," by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong (ISBN 0-9629360-2-2).A collection of ideas, methodologies, and strategies for surviving the first week of school.
4. "So Much to Say," edited by Christian J. Faltis and Paula Wolfe (ISBN 0-8077-3796-8). A collection of articles dealing with current research and applications in ESL/EFL education. Topics include curriculum planning, language literacy, and sheltered content teaching.
5. "Teaching Writing in Middle and Secondary Schools," by Margot Iris Soven (ISBN 0-205-18897-4). If you teach writing in your class, then this book is a must. It covers the theory, research, and practice of teaching writing. Topics include teaching the writing process (includes grammar and sentence structure education), evaluating and responding to student writing, and designing writing assignments.
6. "Pathways to Understanding," by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman (ISBN 0-9665022-0-5). This book explores the different methodologies of creating a learning-focused classroom through individual and group activities. It includes learning models for all levels of students and includes activities for English language learners.


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