To be or not to be (yourself)

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In his book, Jim Scrivener advises teachers to “be themselves”. I really respect those who can be both teachers and themselves at the same time. I’d rather not, thanks 😉 I support a more Shakespearean approach, simply, the classroom is a stage, I’m an actress and as a bonus, I also write the script 🙂

I remember vividly that when I started teaching I was 23 and I was lost. I barely knew what I was supposed to do in the classroom and I was thrown into the environment expecting me to be a professional. A piece of advice like “be yourself” wouldn’t have helped me at all, how can you be yourself when you’re 23?

Well, a blessing in disguise, my parents were teachers (yeah, they both taught Maths and dad used to be my teacher at school, I grew up in hell 😉 ) so I picked the only strategy I could have thought of – to pretend I actually was a professional and that I knew what I was doing.

Surprisingly, it worked well. To be honest, it still does, because my style of teaching includes a lot of acting, luckily, it’s the type of performance I can run. I am an entertainer, a show runner, just to keep my students interested in the lesson, as simple as that.

To be honest, I don’t really believe in teachers being themselves. We’re only humans, after all, having our good days and bad days, but I’m not convinced that students should ever spot the difference during the class. Playing a role I feel comfortable in helps me hide insecurities and pretend I’m totally enjoying myself. Even when I am experiencing some tough stuff at the same time.

I don’t mean we have to play absolutely confident roles, I have no problems with admitting I don’t know all the things my students want to know, that I need to double check some grammar issues (articles!). I just believe teachers are professionals and no student should ever suspect their private life might be somewhat messy 😉 and while it’s quite a truism, assuming a role makes it way easier for me.

Also, accepting teaching as some kind of performance helps me detach myself from teaching right after I leave the classroom. You know, the audience is gone, the lights are off…

…and I may comfortably get back to my real life as the Evil Empress of the World 😉

batman

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Quick review: “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

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Being a teacher means you have to learn at least as much as you teach, so when my language school got a copy of “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener I had to borrow it for a while. It’s easy to read and logically organised (I love properly organised handbooks) and, naturally, I’ve decided I might share some of my thoughts on the book.

Let’s put this straight: this book is primarily for the beginners, new teachers who struggle in the class, have lots of questions, doubts and uncertainties. Had I read this book 10 years ago it would’ve helped me so much, as the things mentioned here are exactly those my professors never bothered to mention. However, I believe you can always learn something new.

And learn something new I did 🙂

The book is divided into seven sections:

1. The classroom

Basically, it’s about the classroom as a place, how we can organise furniture, arrange stuff so it suits our teaching needs best. It’s a really nice idea, it even has pictures (yay!), and for all of you who, unlike me, do not struggle with a tiny classroom, it could be a chapter full of useful tips.

2. The teacher

This chapter focuses on a teacher, how we can work on our behaviour, body language etc. to make teaching smoother and, what’s important, more learner-oriented. There is, however, one thing I can’t agree with: when the general rule given by the author is ‘be yourself’ – I’ll write a separate post on why I believe a teacher shouldn’t really be oneself, especially a fresh one 🙂

3. The learners

It’s a short analysis of who the students are and how can we communicate with them. Naturally, you can find them some things that seem obvious to an experienced teacher, but, as I mentioned, this book is mainly for the beginners. And, to be honest, there are some things about the students we tend to forget – and it’s nice to be reminded what.

4. Key teacher interventions

Still staying in the learner-oriented environment, this chapter focuses on some specific situations that may take place in the classroom. Most of the ideas here are really good (eliciting, questioning, signposting – my favourite thing, why haven’t I ever thought of putting the day plan on board so that my students know the agenda? must definitely try this!), but the subchapter ‘Being catalytic’ made me laugh – let me just quote an example of a dialogue:

Student: Should I enter for the First Certificate exam?

Teacher: What do you think?

Student: I’m not sure. There are some problems.

Teacher: Tell me what the problems are.

Student: Well, my mother will be in hospital next month, and I won’t be able to work on my English so much.

Teacher: How will that affect your studies?

Now, if I were a student and my teacher asked me that question, I’d at least question his sanity, not to mention empathy. Really, Mr Scrivener, would you EVER go with a scene like this?

5. Facilitating interaction

Ever had the problem of getting students communicate in English with you or with each other? You’ll find some useful tips here. Personally, my favourite part is about validation of students’ answers, how to stop doing this automatically, but make students more involved in the task.

Also, this part includes some brilliant ideas on how to make random groups. I loved the techniques of dividing people into groups based on favourite colour, music etc. Will definitely use it in my classroom!

6. Establishing and maintaining appropriate behaviour

Each and every teacher has some problems with discipline at some point. This chapter includes some useful advice on how to deal with misbehaving students. I’d recommend this chapter chiefly for the fresh teachers who still struggle with this particular area. Getting your own ways and methods certainly takes time and is quite a painful process, but some ideas in this chapter may significantly shorten it.

7. Lessons

This section focuses on in-lesson teaching, warm-ups, cool-downs, ways of running tasks and approaches to materials and resources. Now, I find those tips really nice, there’s never too much of warm-ups and cool-downs!

Overall, I believe the book is worth giving a try even if you’re an experienced teacher; some new techniques and approaches are always useful, plus it’s good to revise your own classroom management – after a long period of teaching we must be careful not to get stuck into a routine, even if it’s working well with our students. Some ideas encourage you to leave your comfort zone and try something new – each section finishes with some ‘Questions for reflection’, where we can relate to our own environment and think some ideas over.

Enjoy 🙂