Steve has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 30 years, and is currently a lecturer on the Master’s in TESOL program at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok.
The first days of the new school year
A new term usually means meeting new students
As you move into a new year with new classes, you may be considering what sort of impression you want to make on the students when you have your first lesson. What exactly should a teacher do in the first few lessons considering that these first impressions are so important?
Writing on the board
Where do you stand as a teacher?
Classroom management problems are more likely when a teacher is not keeping an eye on the class, so turning your back to the students is not a good idea. Teachers do that when they write on the board.
Classroom dress code
Does a teacher need to look like a teacher?
As teachers in Asia we are part of the 'tribe' of professional educators and are therefore expected to look like we belong. I think that many experienced teachers here will agree that the effort pays off.
A no-fail student policy has its plus and minus points
Teachers argue that disallowing a failure grade undermines their ability to get on with the job of educating their students.
A good teacher
Who gets to decide what it means to be a 'good' teacher?
I have to admit that it is easy and tempting to think about teachers in shades of 'good'. But perhaps the reality is that there is no such thing as a good teacher. Or, if you are a glass-half-full sort, every teacher is good (in their own little way).
Is there a place for rewards in the classroom?
Having classroom management problems? Try using candy as a reward for good behavior or good grades. Kids love candy, so it works great as a reward. Or does it?
Tin Tin in the classroom
The success and failure of eliciting
Questions form a crucial part of a successful lesson: they increase student participation and involvement, give the teacher valuable information about what the students already know, help to focus students' attention, and improve the teacher-student relationship.
10 go-to games for young learners' classes
Your kids will love them!
With a repertoire of 'fun' activities that are easily executed, new teachers can more easily build a working relationship with their classes. These games are not just a matter of filling time; they help re-engage a distracted class, they recycle vocabulary, get students using the language.
A parent has complained
Sometimes teachers feel like although they try, they simply can't please everyone
There are some schools where a complaint from a parent has the power of Mjölnir. In these schools, teachers live in abject terror of parents. A call from administration to say that ‘One of the parents in your class has called…’ represents a death knell. Bong!
Who is worth working for?
In search of the holy grail.
Is there a Holy Grail of ELT jobs? Why are some teachers happy, while others suffer under a yoke of abuse? Who are these employers that are spoiling our fun?
Food and the classroom
Language teachers need nutrition expertise too!
Our students eat. That's a good thing, except that after sweet snacks things can get complicated. This is most noticeable (for me, anyway) with kindergarten children who can't inhibit their impulses. The cause?
A suitable resume
Perhaps, the process of preparing a (good) resume is not so simple after all.
Getting a good teaching job starts with a resume or a Curriculum Vitae. We all know how it works, and what to put into it, right?
Sharing the classroom
Let's consider some of the possible reasons why good relations in the teaching team is important.
I've come to believe that putting two teachers in the same classroom needs careful planning, and even then, the clash of egos is a minefield. It only takes one wrong step. With the cultural dimension added in, especially for a newcomer, things can become noxious frighteningly quickly.
Classroom observations: what can be seen?
The difficult role of the observing teacher
Observed lessons are never representative of a teacher's practice. The teacher and students are unnerved by my presence, and things feel stilted. Even when the lesson does go well, I know I'm seeing only part of the whole.
Variation in the classroom
Problems with a mixed-ability classroom
Every one of my students is different. There are huge differences in what they know, what they can do, and what they are interested in. How am I supposed to teach them?
Phonics: what is it really?
Some of the myths associated with teaching phonics
Some teachers are really sold on phonics, and believe it's everything that a beginning reader needs. Unfortunately, it's not true.
To find the 'right' teacher, you first need to know what the 'right teacher' means.
If you're a school looking for a teacher, or a teacher looking for a school, there is someone out there for you. But if you're looking for more than a one-night stand, find the one you feel you can comfortably talk to.
Getting to grips with ed-tech (education technology)
What aspects of technology I've found work well in the classroom
The remote classrooms and lockdowns have forced me to revisit my rather antiquated and technophobic ways. I have had to face this technology-classroom-teacher-student dialogue in all its digital reality.
Why do so many schools not recognize the importance of a good teachers' room?
It's in the staffroom that teachers grow their own skills, expand the range of the school curriculum, coordinate their efforts, and construct a coherent school culture. School administrators (who don't teach) are not aware of the power of a good staffroom.
Plagiarism, copying, theft, piracy and cribbing
Helping students find a way to avoid it
It can make a teacher’s blood boil to discover that a large proportion of the students have exactly the same content, including the grammar errors in sentence 4, all probably copied from Phoom – the star student of the class.
Thoughts on a post-Covid classroom
How important could those computer screens become?
We may find that our dabbling with online education has changed the way people think about computers as a medium for teaching and learning.
Covid and teaching online
Overcoming your personal online teaching crisis
Teachers have found unique ways of overcoming the challenges, resources that would usually have gone ignored are being freely shared among teaching groups, and some teachers seem to have embraced a re-examination of what it means to have a classroom.
Stars and candy
When rewarding our students for their efforts works ..... and when it doesn't.
Children aren’t pigeons. Learning isn’t simply habit formation reinforced by a teacher with an unending supply of stickers and stars. The fact is, we can’t induce children to do our bidding for long by offering a reward or issuing a threat.
The art of knowing what's going on in your classroom at all time
A withit teacher can see when students are not paying attention, which students can’t follow the lesson, when students are becoming restless, etc.
“I don’t like Teacher Nick.”
Is it important for a teacher to be liked by the students?
The argument goes that happy students learn better, are more willing to buy into a lesson, and feel better about being in class. Being liked is important!
Just between you and I
Grammar rules or conventions
I’ve been in staff-rooms populated by language teachers who have taken grammar matters very seriously. There have been disagreements that have led to accusations of idiocy, the casting of aspersions, attacks against character, flying fists, spilled blood, death threats, and dagger-laden glares.
Student attrition in ESP courses
A group of Stanford researchers have done some fascinating work on why some students can handle the pressures of study and see the value in sticking with it. Their term for this is academic tenacity.
Movies in the classroom
Showing movie clips to students can be a fantastic teaching tool
Instead of showing the whole movie, we can focus on a clip from the movie – for the purposes of the classroom, you can get a lot of mileage from just a few minutes lifted from a movie.
Continuing professional development (CPD) for English language teachers
There are plenty of ways to help you improve as a teacher
In reality, there is only so much that a training course can squeeze into the time available, and there is only so much a beginner can learn about teaching before actually starting to do it.
The four tendencies
Identifying your students' expectations
We are all constantly subject to a variety of inner and outer expectations. At school, our students impose inner expectations on themselves ('I want to be the best in the class'), while teachers, etc are sources of outer expectations.
The slaughterhouse called marking
It's boring, thankless work, right? Should we even bother?
Hunting down every error is hard on a student's ego, but also very time consuming for a teacher faced with a full class-load of papers. But there are ways around it.
Get your students reading with an activity they will really enjoy!
It's easy to see why 'create your own adventure' series are great for younger readers. The 'chunks' of the story are short, there is a heavy focus on action and by actively involving 'you' in the plot flow, it encourages engagement in the story.
Classroom management muscle
Lessons from Arnie in Kindergarten Cop
Let us spend this blog investigating the question of classroom management. To do so, I'd like to use a visual example from a movie, something we can all relate to in some way.
Educational policy: what can a teacher do?
Will the ministry listen to anything we have to say?
'Government policy' is a major concern to many teachers here, and rightly so. When policy undermines our classroom practice, things can get frustrating.
Theory vs practice
Who takes precedence, the theoretician or practitioner?
Who really knows the answers to the questions about education - the teachers who are in the classrooms, or the 'experts' working quietly in the halls of academia?
Triggers in the classroom
How to grab attention
Now classroom management is a complex thing, and identifying the reasons for the students' lack of attention is sometimes hard to do while things are descending into chaos. The real issue is what to do about it when it happens.
Do they do foreign accents?
Using fun technology to help student pronunciation
Because of way the speech recognition technology diligently transcribes sounds, the virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant that students have in their phones offer an interesting way for students to get feedback on how they are pronouncing their words in English.
Trump gives himself a 10
The subtle art of self-evaluation
Not a lot of teachers I know use self-evaluation, and perhaps for good reason. There's a worry that students aren't qualified to self-evaluate, that it's the teacher's job (and duty) to allocate and distribute scores in some objective way.
What if you were the Minister of Education?
A fun challenge to see if you, as a teacher, could do better.
Could you create the 'perfect' educational environment? In these positions, you'd have the power over some of the issues facing us every day as teachers, but not all. Some problems can only be addressed higher up the chain, at the ministry level.
Our experiences as students guide us as teachers.
It's painful to watch teachers model themselves on the teachers they specifically didn't like - a case of "Okay you lot, if you aren't going to listen, I'll do what Mr. D used to do to us in form 1. I hated that I was becoming Mr. D with my own students.
Do you teach pronunciation?
If you choose not to, your decision is easily justified.
When the class is struggling with remembering vocabulary, fighting with grammar rules, and also grappling with the whole notion of motivation to study English, taking time to perfect pronunciation seems like a real stretch of the imagination.
A question of vocabulary (part two)
Getting to grips with Google N-gram
If time and resources allow, another way of handling questions of vocabulary is with the Google Ngram Viewer - a really useful tool for English language teachers!
A question of vocabulary
Helping students suffering from synonym-itis
It's such a pleasure to have students who are motivated to learn, and curious about the language. However, there is the little problem of how easily these enthusiastic learners can catch you out with curveball questions.
Phones in the classroom - a teacher's curse?
Should teachers tolerate telephones in the classroom?
Telephones have become an integral part of modern life, to the extent that they are an intrusion and compromise the long-term goals for our classrooms. I present the following arguments to support my position.
A cog in the wheel
The eternally pointless blame game
The participants in a school's operation are called stakeholders. Parents, teachers and students are perhaps the key stakeholders. Any (or all) of these contribute to, and can have a say in how things are run in a school.
My students don't even try!
The power of expectations
During my training as a teacher, we were told never to call a student stupid. Or lazy. Or bad. Or any other such pejorative. It seems like a sensible prescription, right? Criticize the behavior, not the person.
Teachers in the movies
Fictionalizing our reality
I love watching movies about classrooms and teachers. A lot of movie classroom scenes are blatant parodies of the real thing, which makes them strangely insightful.
Let's start with Chinese household appliances
I had always taken teaching and learning lexical sets as a given - but perhaps in language teaching, there are no givens: it's a constant search for ways of doing things better.
The curse of the native speaker
Let's face it - language learning is stressful stuff. There are words to memorize, grammar codes to figure out, rules that can't be broken, messages that have to be decoded and recoded, strange contortions of the lips and tongue, and frustration as everything comes out back to front.