5 things I should’ve been told when I was a rookie teacher

Fashion Junkies

Being a DoS is rather fun, especially if you like organising stuff, promoting changes (provided you have willing co-teachers, of course) and introducing new ideas. I’m fortunate to have colleagues who are always ready to listen to my wildest ideas and discuss them – and for this I thank you, guys! As with any job, DoSsing has its brighter and darker moments (they’re usually connected with observing lessons, something which I find the most emotional aspect of my job), but the thing I’ve always wanted to focus on is teacher training.

Now, I want to be a proper teacher trainer someday – attending conferences and travelling around the world being a Yoda to new padawans (I’m only 153 cm tall, so the role suits me). Seriously, that’s my plan for the future. Meanwhile, though, I learn and allow my fellow teachers to teach me how to train them. It’s slightly complex, I know, but you get the gist. Anyhow, being a DoS means also recruiting new teachers, and then training them to meet up the standards of our school – and this inspires me to share 5 things someone should’ve told me when I started teaching years ago.

Someone should have – but I had no DoS, and even though teaching runs in my blood, there are some things I had to discover by myself:

1 Get organised

Contrary to what some people might say I’m not anankastic, but I do appreciate when everything is in order. I’m not planning to encourage you to join me in my orderly madness, but I’ve found out that organising classes may be extremely helpful. I wrote about lesson planning and how important it is for me, but I want to emphasise one thing: improvisation in teaching is unavoidable, however our students need to know where they are (with regards to the course and their general development) and what they may expect next. Creating syllabus for my course and preparing smaller chunks beforehand gives me possibility of improvisation within frameworks in which my students feel comfortable. If I bring in a game or a project, if we start to discuss a new topic, they may be sure it will come useful later on. Also: organisation is vital when it comes to explaining grammar. Many lessons have I observed where this particular area was rather neglected.

2 Atmosphere is key

That is true not only regarding private language schools – most people (kids and adults alike) don’t like studying, but they like having fun. You won’t be able to put irregular verbs in their heads with a shovel – but you may create atmosphere in which they’ll find the task less tedious. Everyone who’s ever worked with children knows they don’t learn because they like it – they learn because they like their teacher and want to please her. Surprise, surprise: that’s the general truth. When people feel comfortable in the classroom, they associate learning with positive thinking and they actually feel like learning.

3 Teach, don’t preach

Now, here we may spot the difference between schools and private language educational sites – in the latter you don’t have to moralise your students. It may be quite difficult, especially when you’re teaching teenagers, but try to cut off pieces of advice that are really unasked for, like “if you don’t do your homework regularly you will have problems in the future” or “how can you expect good results if you’re always late?”. I mean, everyone knows that, it’s been repeated by everyone and hasn’t changed anything – so why annoy people with those comments? I’m not even talking about criticising someone’s opinions, because I firmly believe we may only refer to the way someone expresses themselves (“I don’t think you should use such a strong word”) but not the idea itself (“So you think women should stay at home and take care of family instead of working? Well, I don’t really agree with this, but it’s your opinion, right”).

4 Keep your distance

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally” – Miguel Ruiz

Sometimes students laugh behind your back. Made a slip of the tongue? Yup, they’ve noticed it. Freudian slip and blushing? Even worse, I know, but hey – the only thing you may do is, simply, getting over it. My very first lesson (teaching practice as a uni student) included me teaching  a question: what time it is? for a good 3 minutes before I realised something was wrong… oh, right, syntax! It was 15 years ago and I still remember this feeling… But now I’ve got enough chill to smile over it. Made a slip of the tongue? – I do a proper facepalm and shake head over my own carelessness. When it comes to Freudian slips I usually ignore them. The rule is simple: if you laugh at yourself first, you save yourself the embarrassment when your students laugh at you.

5 Don’t sweat it

I remember how emotional I was over my teaching, my students, their tests, their issues, other teachers, my principal, my students’ parents, their opinions, their views, personal dramas and oh, so professional “You should have done this instead of what you did” – and worse, how I wanted to please them all… My advice is: chill. Talk it over with someone (like your DoS, that’s what they’re for!) and they’ll probably tell you this: even if you’re a super-organised, extremely friendly and absolutely communicative person with impeccable language and interpersonal skills, there will always be some negative opinions about you. So take it easy, do your job and aim to do better – but for your own sake, and not because you want your student’s papa appreciate you.

Now, that’s all from me – but if you are a teacher, maybe you have some good ideas I might share with my own rookie teachers?

Bored on your summer break? Let’s make a board game!


You might have noticed I like games. Role playing games are the best, sure, but board games are also fun, especially that they are usually easier to adapt to teaching environment (although I have been thinking about introducing RPGs to my language school…). I am lucky to work with teachers who share my view on games and possibilities they create in the classroom and quite often we just discuss new games and how to use them in class.

Dixit is a well known game and I think everyone has already played Story Cubes. I still find Once Upon a Time a great teaching aid bringing in fun, and Mystery of the Abbey is the game everyone loves (I guess due to the possibility of cheating, huh). It may be financially difficult to buy all the board games we’d like to have, so I create them with my students – be that a simple pattern or a complex adventure (Deadly Islands – love this idea).

We’re getting more and more games in our school, but still there are some beyond our reach – too complex to explain in class, not communicative enough, or simply – impossible to buy (out of stock, waiting for second print, huh). And since we all know that desperate times call for desperate measures, we basically change the official ideas into DIY games.

One of the games we recreated was When I Dream – a beautiful game by Chris Darsaklis, impossible for us to buy (EDIT: you can now buy it here), but easy to adapt to teaching needs. What we need is: a lot of “dream-cards” with random words (always nouns – paper, knife, book etc.), a sleeping mask and some “role cards”, namely “fairies” and “imps” (and, optionally, “tricksters”). We made the cards using own imagination, business card paper, pen and a laminator – and that’s it, we’re ready to play!

We start with assigning the roles – one player is a Dreamer, so he wears the sleeping mask. The other players are secretly given their roles (good fairies or naughty imps – there should be more fairies than imps). Then the “spirits” draw a dream-card with a word and try to describe it to the Dreamer using one word each – fairies will try to help the Dreamer by giving most obvious connotations, however imps will try to mislead the Dreamer by using other words to keep him off-track. The whole round lasts 60 or 120 seconds (up to you and group’s level) and the Dreamer may guess the word at any time – the word is then placed to the fairies side (if the guess was correct) or to the imps side (if the fairies didn’t win). I usually write the words the Dreamer says on the board, as they will come useful later on.

After some rounds like this (4-6 words), the Dreamer is allowed to take off the sleeping mask and story-tell his dream using the words he guessed (the words on the board really are helpful then) – but he doesn’t know yet which words he guessed correctly and which not.

Then the Dreamer and the fairies get a point for every card in the fairies pile, when the imps get one point for every card in their pile. The Dreamer also scores one point for every word he used during his storytelling (he might actually use the words he should’ve guessed before, so he’ll score point for them as well).

Optionally you may include a trickster who changes sides as the games goes by, sometimes being a fairy, sometimes an imp – the tricksters gets points according to how well balanced the two teams were at the end of the round, gaining extra points if they managed to equally balance the two piles.

This game is extremely easy to understand and absolutely fun to play regardless the language proficiency level. It helps students to revise vocabulary, and by forcing them to react quickly (they don’t have much time to come up with nice connotations) it makes them actually start thinking in a foreign language which is one of the most difficult aspects of learning a language.

What I find nice about this game is its ability to adapt to various languages, so that you may create versions for all the classes you need. It may be used as a nice warm-up or a funny cool-down, with all age groups and in any type of classes.

I hope you’ll try to give it a go – let me know if you had fun Dreaming 🙂

7 free online courses in July

7 Free Online Courses

Summer break is perfect for online courses – you don’t have to do lesson preparation, your mind is free to wander: now’s the time to study! I do realise not everyone is a die-hard fan of online courses like yours truly, so my shortlisted courses are rather summer-like, short and pleasant. Whether you’re a Director of Studies or a teacher, I’m sure you’ll find something for yourself. The course I recommend most is definitely Coaching Teachers (and it’s suitable for DoSes and Teachers alike, trust me), it gave me really good feedback on my own awkward behaviour during after-observation appraisal – very useful!

1 What is leadership by Deakin University

This course will explain what leadership is and how the concept changed over the years.  It will investigate the role model of a leader and how to use personal power. It may be really useful for those teachers who are DoSes at the same time or simply struggle with maintaining discipline in the classroom.

It starts on the 10th of July and lasts 2 weeks – so it’s pretty short.

2 English in Early Childhood: Language Learning and Development by the British Council

The course focuses on children’s language acquisition, effective communication and measuring not only progress, but also challenge we create for the youngest learners. It may be really useful not only for EFL teachers, but also parents who very often want to make their children take up an opportunity in educational possibilities.

It started on the 3rd of July and lasts 6 weeks, but with estimated 2 hours of work per week seems rather a light course.

3 Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics by Universiteit Leiden, Meertens Instituut (KNAW)

The course is useful if you want to get a fairly quick introduction into linguistics. This may also be a nice idea for those who have finished their universities, but want to revise their knowledge. Yes, there will be Chomsky in the curriculum. The interesting things is that the level of English in this course is very low, so this is something your students may enjoy.

It started on the 3rd of July and lasts 6 weeks. The amount of time you’ll need may vary, depending on your knowledge of the subject.

4 Get Organized: How to be a Together Teacher by Relay Graduate School of Education

I’m a firm believer that organization is the key to success – mind, I love improvisation, but within some organised frames. Now, this course is designed for classroom teachers who juggle time-sensitive tasks and exhausting teaching schedules. With an eye toward long-term sustainability, The Together Teacher examines the purpose of planning ahead, provides tools for tracking time commitments, deadlines and tasks, and helps teachers develop a personal organization system that interacts with their day-by-day practices. Sounds purrfect!

The course starts on the 10th of July and lasts 6 weeks (there are a lot of things you need to organise apparently).

5 Teaching Adult Learners by Central Institute of Technology

The course focuses on how to engage adult learners through collaborative learning, instructional skills and design, as well as looking at the role technology is playing in terms of promoting engaged learning environments. It is recommended for those teachers who change their scope of teaching from young learners to adults.

It began on the 3rd of July and lasts 4 weeks.

6 Coaching Teachers: Promoting Changes That Stick by Match Teacher Residency

This is the course I took before even starting my journey as a DoS – and I recommend it to everyone. The course focuses on learning and practising strategies for coaching teachers to make meaningful, long-lasting improvements in their instruction. You will learn what the Four Horsemen of Observed Lesson look like and will never be surprised during post-observation assessment.

It starts on the 10th of July and lasts 5 weeks.

7 Learning Mindsets & Skills by Match Teacher Residency

My pick of the month! Following the success of the previous course (Coaching Teachers) I’ve decided to study with MTR once more. The course is designed to explore underlying concepts behind Learning Mindsets & Skills as well as the the practical applications of those concepts in various educational environments. Sounds lovely!

It started on the 3rd of July and lasts 3 weeks – nice and short.

I hope you’ll find something that will suit your needs and interests. If you pick Learning Mindset, let me know, that would be lovely meeting online!

If you know any other interesting courses – share them with me, and together we shall rule the MOOC world!