Unless you’ve just emerged from the cave, or live in other parts of the internet, you’ll know that Buzzfeed loves numbered lists. There are social marketers on the internet who do research on what attracts our attention, and weirdly, people love numbered lists. Of course, new teachers need to know more than just five things, so other than knowing how to unjam a photocopier is and learning where the toilets are, here is a short list. I’ll do more in the future.
1. Be flexible
Life happens, and nobody is a robot. We don’t live in Toyota production lines, and nothing important in life happens according to a schedule. Just go with the flow. If your boss says to you, “I’m sorry I forgot to tell you, there’s a free-talking class and there are eight students. You’ll use this textbook, and it begins in ten minutes”, don’t freak out. Bosses are people who are busy, they have many things going on around them, and they have to deal with a lot of things to deal with. Be tolerant and get on with the job you’re paid to do. I’ve found that some of my favourite ideas occurred when I just had to wing it. I’m not saying my best teaching ideas always came spontaneously in class, but when under pressure, you discover new things. For instance, many, many years ago I discovered that students can just talk. No book, papers, whiteboard, twitter, or topic required. Put them in pairs, demo a small talk situation, and get them to get on with it. Change partners after a few minutes, and repeat. If they finish early, tell them “What?! Do you have such short conversations with your friends at lunch?!!! You must be the boring friend. Ask more questions!” Encourage them to really communicate, beyond what the textbook has trained into them.
A smile goes a long way in smoothing over difficulties. It shows you have patience, and that in the greater scheme of things, it’s not a dire situation; nobody’s going to die. It’s truly the best way of dealing with unexpected things. Also, be nice to the school admin; they’re the ones who build and defend your reputation behind your back. They’re usually under pressure and have a difficult job of it, too. So just be nice to your fellow humans.
Honestly, I hate textbooks. I’ll admit I used them like a crutch when I began teaching, but they are soooooo dry. Textbooks are designed to look great, they have wonderful pictures and great page layout designs, but the actual content isn’t so hot. The topics avoid offending anyone from any culture, and so taboo topics, and other non-mainstream topics are avoided. So, issues like race, human rights, sexual orientations, love, death, and others are never addressed, including key vocabulary and language students might need to deal with related issues. For instance, Japanese students looooooove food. It’s like it’s legally mandated that all Japanese TV channels show 23 hours of people eating food. Yet, when I ask my students what food they like, they reply with “I like お好み焼き”. Who outside of Japan would have a clue what this is? Students should not be trained into an insular belief I see affecting so many. Students and teachers don’t believe they need English, and think that words like shnkansen, kyoumuka, takoyaki, genki, and others can legitimately be used in “English”. Students need to see what real English looks like, and that there is a plethora of ideas out there, that doesn’t exist here in Japan. I’ll admit this is a very Japan-centric post, but I haven’t seen such a mentality when I was in Korea or Taiwan. So, use the internet, and show your students that there’s a huge, huge repository of information and ideas in English, on the internet. There really is much, much more information on the internet in English, than in Japanese. So, inspire them to take full advantage of being bilingual by spending maybe just five to ten minutes a lesson on inspirational things you or they find on the net. Get them to guess what inspirational quotes mean, they’ll use their dictionaries, and learn a new way of thinking about life. You also get to explain some culture specific background that textbooks completely avoid, too. There’s thousands of these pictures being shared on Google+ and Twitter.
4. Give your students time to think and talk
Some teachers forget that they just need to let go. I’ve seen teachers talk to each student one at a time. If there are nine students, eight students are bored out of their brains waiting for their turn, and the speaking to listening ratio is 10% and 90%. If you have students working in pairs, then the speaking & listening ratio in the lesson is something like 45% & 55% (including 5% is you giving instructions and demos). It’s important to set up a talking or conversation activity, and say, “off you go”. Students will be quiet for a moment. In that time they’re thinking about what they need to do and their first words, and they’ll get started. If not, perhaps you didn’t demonstrate or set up the activity well enough, the level of the activity is too high, or some other problem. The other thing to consider is is that if the room is deathly silent, no one will want to be the first to break that silence. You could consider having the window open to allow the white noise of the traffic to provide some masking noise for the first speakers, or have some classical music playing quietly in the room.
5. Why not play music in class?
Depending on the class, I’ll play classical music or jazz with no lyrics in a class. Music is beneficial for many reasons. For most people, playing music while studying organises their thoughts and allows them to focus. It also provides a masking noise, so for shy classes, it is easier for the first person to start speaking, and the rest of the class will follow. Depends on the students, it can become an impetus to talking about music and related topics, which is perfect for conversation / communication classes.
If you could add a few more things to the list, what would they be?