Many language teachers, and you may be one of them, begin their teaching career with a TEFL course, and then head into their exciting new life in the classroom.
These pre-service courses can be intensive and tough, and often do a pretty good job of preparing teachers for the classroom. The mistake is for a teacher to think that the course, even a really intensive one, has covered everything they might need for classroom success.
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. But once a new teacher gets going in the job of teaching, aspects of classroom practice become relevant that were maybe not highlighted (sufficiently) during the course.
Continuing your professional development
For example, during many TEFL courses, the concept of a 'fun' classroom is promoted, and it seems to make a lot of sense. It's only once we get our own class that the collision between 'fun' and 'classroom management' become (painfully) obvious. With this realization comes the need to find a balance between fun and the logistics of running a room full of energetic youngsters who have the potential to misunderstand the intentions behind the activities.
This is why teachers need to continue their learning once they are qualified. The term for this is Continuing Professional Development (or CPD). We can think of CPD as having two stages: the first is becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, or rather the successes and failures of what is happening in your classes, and the second is finding out how things can be done better (or even just differently).
For the first stage, the goal is to become (critically) aware of what is and isn't succeeding, and for this, reflection is the key (for more on reflective teaching, check out Roseli Serra's good introduction here. To support the process of reflection, teachers in this stage may find it helpful to 'observe' themselves. There are self-observation sheets available to help a teacher self-monitor. This process can be supported with a video of the lesson (or even part of it).
In the second stage, the teacher needs to explore the other ways there are of doing things. Comparing yourself to the guy in the classroom next door is one commonly used option, but there are better ways of finding out new ideas, techniques and approaches.
Sharing with other professionals
To find out more about what other professional teachers are doing, we need opportunities to share with one another. How? Well, getting together with other, dedicated teachers is the goal. Did you know that the ThaiTESOL conference is held in January? The ThaiTESOL conference brings together teachers, trainers, material designers and other members of the language teaching community for two days of sharing, discussion, input and eating. This year it's being held in Bangkok and if you have time, you'll discover a profusion (yup, a veritable plenitude) of presentations, plenaries and discussions on a wide range of topics which are relevant to our jobs as English teachers in Thailand. In addition to the conference, ThaiTESOL arranges other activities too, like workshops and has a series of publications.
If you read this too late, don't worry. Try the CamTESOL conference in Cambodia which is in February. Or how about GenTEFL in Bali in May, or AsiaTEFL (again in Bangkok) in June? You can get a pretty complete list of the conference circuit here The conference circuit gives you a good reason to get out of school, you meet a lot of other like-minded professionals who are focused on finding solutions to classroom problems, and you can get a lot of new ideas. If you are the schoomzy kind, it's an awesome way to network. If you aren't schmoozy, go with a friend. There's always food too! Did I mention the constant flow of snacks?
Reading and growing
Possibly a bit more convenient than conferences is the option of reading what others in the field are saying. By reading these Ajarn blogs, you are engaging in CPD, and hopefully learning things that can inform the development of your own teaching practice. If you find this a good option, and I guess you are since you've got this far in my blog, I'd like to introduce you to another excellent source of useful reading material: Humanising Language Teaching, which is a free online magazine for teachers of language.
HLT is available every two months, and each issue is usefully divided into sections. For instance, there is a section for teachers of young learners, another for secondary school teachers, and one for adults and ESP. There are also lesson ideas, poems, letters and cartoons. There's something for everyone.
In the December 2018 issue, teachers of young learners can read the two articles on designing materials. Secondary level teachers might be interested in the article on reading comprehension strategies. There are articles on 21st Century skills, including a fully prepared lesson for a creative project (with material) on 'life as a journey'. Or why not start with this short but insightful article on the 5 principles of a successful classroom by Malaysian teacher Lisa Ng?
If you go back to the October edition, check out this article on working with large classes (60 students) of young learners (9 year olds). Want to try something with technology? Have a look at Nicole Turman's quick read on phone apps for the classroom. While you're there, find out what the Roger Federer club has to do with teaching English, what Gabrielle Luoni has to say on giving adults explicit feedback on spoken errors, and whether puppets can be used with adult learners.
Teaching can be a lonely profession, but there really is a lot going on for us to get involved in to help us continue our growth and development. No teacher can afford to believe that they are 'qualified' once they have a qualification – our learning as teachers never really ends. If you want more on this, you can read what the British Council have to say about CPD here, or you can check out TEFLnet's Big List (oh yes, and it really is a big list) of CPD for ELT. Otherwise, just keep reading the helpful and insightful Ajarn blogs, like Richard McCully's excellent one on lesson planning.
Steve Louw is the lead trainer of the popular Chichester College TEFL Course in Bangkok.