Wednesday, June 16, 2021

How to become a great English (ESL) teacher?

 

How to become a great English (ESL) teacher?

Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession. Done well its repercussions can reverberate through generations. If you’re reading this article you want to do it well so follow these evidence-based guidelines to set yourself and your students up for success.

Set High Expectations

Set high expectations in your classroom from the outset. Students live up or down to expectations, so show and tell them clearly how you expect them to behave.  

Be Prepared and Create Clear Classroom Routines

Create clear classroom routines so that students know what to anticipate and be ready to transition from one subject or task to the next swiftly and smoothly. You are a model in the classroom, if you are organised and well-arranged it will implicitly teach the value of these traits to the students. 

Cultivate Positive Relationships

The brilliant Russian psychologist and educator Vygotsky, and many others following him, have shown that learning is a social activity. The relationships that you form with your students, therefore, are of primary importance in the teaching and learning process. This means that attention must be given to these relationships and ‘work’ done on them so that this aspect of teaching is not merely left to chance. Students often need the teacher to value and care about them before they care about school, so cultivating positive relationships is important with every learner.

Effectively and Efficiently Manage the Classroom

Research has clearly shown that a well-managed classroom has a positive effect on students’ social and academic achievement. Use the least disruptive method to reorient students back to their work if they get off track but remember that you must at all times use management techniques that respect students’ human dignity.

If there was one key to classroom management, it would be engagement. If students are interested and challenged by the classwork you give them often there is no need for any form of management at all!

Develop and Maintain Strong Content Knowledge

An eclectic approach is the best method for teaching ESL. Gone are the days where only grammar translation was used as are the days when only a communicative approach was recommended. Now we know that what works best is mixing it up, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The latest research also confirms that using students’ other languages in the classroom as resources for learning can be immensely beneficial.


Keep up-to-date with what is new in your field by reading articles or subscribing to an academic journal and make friends with other teachers as discussions with other professionals can be very rewarding.   

Cultivate a ‘Community of Learners’

This means creating a classroom where everybody in it feels like they belong and that everyone there together forms a community. A code of conduct drawn up with your students is a good way to agree collectively on what is and what is not acceptable behaviour and to make clear that respect and kindness is expected. 


Forming this sense of the class as a ‘community of learners’ is especially important in language learning classrooms because many factors (affective or emotional factors, and sociocultural or attitudinal factors) can have a great influence on language learning.

Affective Factors which influence Second Language Acquisition

These include self-esteem, self-efficacy (belief in oneself), willingness to communicate, absence of feelings of inhibition, risk-taking, anxiety, empathy, extroversion and motivation.

Sociocultural Factors (Teacher’s Views and Students’ Views)

These include culture or way of life/collective identity, attitudes and stereotypes.


All of these factors are activated and enhanced when the students in the class feel a sense of belonging, that all members are valuable and that making mistakes is ok.


The environment of the classroom should help students feel good about themselves, confident that they can be successful in learning English, brave to take risks even if they get things wrong, and work towards cultivating a shared understanding and empathy between students.

Teach second culture acquisition (language and culture are entwined)

Remember that teaching a language means teaching a culture. Teaching English as a Second Language means teaching English to students who already speak one or more language. When we teach a language we also teach the culture that is attached to this language because language and culture are intimately entwined. 


Consider for example, what you would have to teach a class of 12-year-olds in the Philippines if you used the expression fur baby. This is a term that has a cultural element, it is not immediately obvious from the words used what it means, it cannot be understood without understanding that some people love their pets so much that they consider them to be like a child of theirs.


Languages change and develop as they come in contact with various cultures and age over time.


When people from a particular culture begin to use a language they adapt it to their needs and it begins to reflect their unique culture more closely. Take for example the term cousin-brother in Indian English. Familiar relationships are very important in India and cousin wasn’t considered a precise enough term so cousin-brother and cousin-sister were developed in English to reflect the Indian culture in the language. 


Languages change and develop across generations too. I remember seeing a young child looking very perplexed, glancing from the computer screen to the mouse whilst watching a video of the song “Hickory, dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock…” She had never seen a real mouse before and the computer mouse was all she knew. So while mouse used only ever referred to the living creature it now refers also to a hand-held device used to control a computer as well.

Teachers must teach the different varieties and registers of language that will suit different communication contexts

When we teach English we have to be aware of all of this and teach what we mean by the words that we use and how students will be seen through the choices that they make. You would be doing your students a great disservice if you did not teach them that they should not meet a potential employer with “Hey bruh” (unless they are perhaps in the music industry). Movie watching may have students believing that this is a perfectly fine way of greeting someone and it is through teaching that we expand students’ linguistic repertoire to include both casual and more formal ways of speaking and writing, the different registers that students will need in different situations.

Become a life-long learner

Never stop learning, from your students, from your colleagues and from the wider ESL community. As long as the world and the people within it, its languages and cultures change, the ESL profession will be continually developing. This makes it a difficult thing to get a hold of but also a fascinating thing to be continually trying to understand, enjoy doing so, enjoy the process and enjoy your students, and this will make you a great ESL teacher.


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