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Climbing above the teaching plateau

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When we first start teaching it feels, in the words of the teacher educator, Rick Smith, ‘like trying to fly a plane while building it’.

Everything is challenging and there are just so many things to keep on top of. With experience, however, teaching gets easier as we find ways of doing things that work for us and our students.

But what if we then get a bit too comfortable? How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as teachers? Here are ten questions that could help you climb above that teaching plateau.

  1. What would your least favourite student say about your lessons? Is there any truth in their opinions? (Are you really sure?) What could you do differently that might change their opinion?
  2. Are you sure that you are challenging all your students? What could you do to challenge those who are doing best and those who are struggling?
  3. When was the last time you learnt something new? Try learning something from scratch. For example, basic computer programming or a completely new language. What do you learn about being a student that you can apply to your lessons?
  4. When was the last time you observed another teacher? If possible observe a colleague, or, if not, watch a lesson online.
  5. What do you think you couldn’t teach without? If it’s possible in your context, try teaching a lesson with no technology, or no paper, or no lesson plan.
  6. Record yourself teaching and watch it back later. What do you notice about how much talking you do, how clear your instructions are etc?
  7. Think about one of your favourite teaching techniques. What evidence do you have that it actually works, or that it works well for all your students? Using an observer, a recording, a student survey etc try to find some evidence to support what you’re doing.
  8. Do any of your students have special needs? If you’re not sure, some probably do as it has been estimated that around 13% of all students do. Try to find out more about common difficulties such as dyslexia, and make some changes to your teaching to support these students better.
  9. How can you do less? This might sound a strange question, but ask yourself how you can do less so that the students do more. For example, could they write their own comprehension questions for a reading text?
  10. What have you stopped doing? Think back, what activities and techniques did you use in the past that you’ve forgotten about in recent years? Was there a good reason why you stopped using them, or could it be time to bring them back again?