Jun 14, 2012

'So, it's good for new teachers'

Yesterday I took part in an online tutorial as part of the conversations series on WizIQ. They host people from various fields of teaching and it is hosted very capably and courteously by Dr Nellie Deutsch.

There were a few technical hitches at my end, despite all the effort I had been making beforehand to make sure everything would work smoothly. I had to change microphone after 5 or 10 min of faffing around with plugs and dials and buttons and things, and my video connection never worked at all as I discovered later. I felt like I was in an isolation chamber.

Never mind, the people taking part could see Nellie and the live chat board seemed to be pretty active with people joining the class and asking me and each other questions and making comments. It's a very good format for this kind of discussion–next time I'll make sure I can keep track of the comments as they happen, but Nellie was very good at summing up the most relevant questions and posing them to me.

At one point Nelly invited Jesse davis - a teacher who had worked with SpeakYourMind in Japan - to recount his experiences and one of the things he pointed out was how that after having taught in Japanese English schools where he'd been pre-much dropped in a room left to get on with it and pretty much just amuse the students, he had learned with SpeakYourMind a great deal about basic classroom skills and classroom rapport and was given for the first time a set of criteria by which he could assess how learning was proceeding.

In the chat-box a comment soon appeared, “so it's good for beginner teachers". I couldn't tell from the context whether or not the implication was “it is only good for beginner teachers ", but that is a comment that I have heard in the past.

First of all, if it is a good method for new teachers, that's great! It's designed to be teachable - to be intuitive and straightforward enough for people who have the right teaching qualities, but not the experience, to be able to do a decent job right from the start.

Being good for new teachers is a far better thing than not being good for new teachers. I don't know exactly what percentage of teachers currently working in schools around the world are in their first year, but I imagine it's a significant amount. It's also very common for a teacher's first year to be almost their last year: in fact, the figures claim that on average TEFL teachers have an average career span of 18 months. So in this kind of context, being able to provide a method that helps new teachers work well becomes a very important asset.
Good teachers are, however, a school’s greatest asset of all.
In our own experience we have been lucky enough to have very high retention rates of staff over the years–fairly seldom over the last 10 or so years have we had teachers who have only done one academic year with us. The same applies to most other schools using SpeakYourMind in other countries. It may be the case that teachers stay simply because it's an easy option–they enjoy their place of work, so what reason do they have to leave? But I'm pretty sure that teachers stay largely because they very much enjoy the teaching and I'm sure that if you ask them they would certainly say they have grown as teachers because they have been able to see potentials within the teaching method and the material which simply were not accessible to them as new or relatively new teachers.

Teachers don't have the challenges that they would have working in more conventional environments, such as being able to improvise activities or having to prepare materials and presentations, even though this can be a burden more than a challenge. But teachers do face a challenge every time they open the door and walk into a classroom. The material is there for them -- the same material they've used hundreds of times – but because it's a very direct, personal, individual-to-individual lesson format, the lesson itself will be unique. The challenge comes in the dynamic nature of the lesson, the moment-to-moment assessments and decisions, the responsiveness to needs and moods, and the ability to emotionally and intellectually engage students.

I'm certainly not naive enough to believe that every teacher will be happy working with what is, after all, 'a method' There are teachers who need to have free rein and there are teaching situations where that is appropriate -- but the idea of SpeakYourMind is to be able to give students as complete a lesson as possible when the time for learning is limited. And apart from the classroom teaching itself, I think one of the things that keeps experienced teachers interested and fresh is the sense of reward they get from seeing real results from students over time. So, if the people you teach are satisfied, that will be important to any teacher – new or not.

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