Taking responsibility - learning from example

Before I started my MA in Linguistics, I had already been teaching for a few years. The British Council in Sri Lanka and Paris had been instrumental in my career development, as by the time I reached my graduate classes at Columbia, I had completed by CELTA and TYLEC, over 700 hours teaching all levels and ages, as well as IELTS examiner status. Without sounding like an advertisement, the BC, to me, was the best place I have ever worked in terms of my career development. I had two teaching qualifications, examiner status and I had monthly INSETT meetings where experienced teachers would share new teaching activities, things that worked for them and ways to get more out of the textbook. The British Council, by far, has teaching training and teacher development at its best.

Line management is crucial to developing as a teacher. No man is an island, and an isolated teacher is no way to grow and progress. I was very lucky that I had wonderful and experienced teachers to constantly learn from; they were not always my line manager, but the senior teachers would always support me when I would take on Young Learner classes or levels I was not so experienced with, giving me tips and tricks and encouraging me to try new things.

Line managers, like any other kind of manager, are there to help you realise your potential, help you notice your areas of strength and weaknesses, and help you be a better teacher. They challenge you, advise you and make you feel valued - if they do not, look for someone who will!

Formal observations feeds into the role of the line manager, and the key to learning as a teacher. I remember I was taking on a teen class for the first time. I had heard lots of feedback from other teachers in the teachers' room about how challenging teens could be, so I was a little apprehensive. A senior teacher, knowing how anxious I was, suggested I observe a colleague who was very good with teens. After that observation, I decided that in order to be a better teacher, be prepared and really engage my students, I HAD to learn from others who had far more experience and knowledge than me. It's almost like watching a TED talk - you can have some career-changing ah-ha moments!

A very good example of how this helped me was in something as simple as the Dictogloss. As part of my MA, I had to do a practical teaching class, where I was observed and had to observe others. Many of my classmates were new to teaching, and based most of their knowledge on the theories we were learning since they had no practice to reflect on. When it came to my turn of presenting a new activity to the class, I chose the Dictogloss. For those of you who know it, it can be really fun....IF it's done right. Like dreamy, light, fluffy meringues, it can easily fall to pieces.

(Read about the Dictogloss here: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/dictogloss)

I never read about the Dictogloss - I was lucky enough to see the magic happen in one of my formal observations. And yes, it did not go right the first time, but every time I did it, I learned how to make it better until I was able to do it and the students really enjoyed it and learned from it. Many of my classmates were frustrated that even after my explanation and sending them to the website above, they could not do it successfully and gave up. One of them came for a class, wanting to see it being done in class, and learned so much from it that they used it in theirs.

Formal observations are like paying it forward - if you've learned any tips and tricks, from classroom management to forgotten activities from the textbook, it's important that that information is shared with less experienced teachers.

I think we can all remember when we were just starting out as teachers - it can be quite scary. Line managers and formal observations should be used as tools to help overcome your fears, learn some exciting and engaging ways of learning and learn from others. And that's probably why you are reading this blog!

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