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  • The 3 F’s of Super Teaching


    There are many different styles of teaching.  You’ve got the teachers that stand at the whiteboard, give a 15 minute presentation, and then utter the classic phrase “Now open your textbooks to page x.”  You’ve got your university professors who can lecture for 45+ minutes.  Different strokes for different folks.  

    But neither of these styles will serve you well as an ESL teacher.  In my own opinion, they don’t serve that well in any teaching format, but that’s strictly a personal opinion based on my experiences as a student.  Having never been a university lecturer on an extended basis, I can’t say what I would do in that situation.  Back to the matter at hand: if you want to be a Super Teacher then it is important to
    incorporate 3 fundamental elements not usually found in most learning environments into your classes.  
    These are the abilities to make your class

    Fun

    Fast-paced

    Flexible


    Fun

    There are two different ways to have fun.  The first is someone entertaining you, the second is getting
    involved yourself.  In order to have a fun ESL class, both ways should be present.  

    Entertainment

    I have written a separate article on “entertainment fun” called “Make ‘Em Laugh”, which goes through how to make people laugh in greater detail.   However, for the purposes of this article I will quote Super Teacher Brian Steinbach who recently noted after observing me teach that “you have to be the biggest show in the classroom”.  This is a very clear, succinct description of what needs to happen.  You have to be very engaged, very energetic, very dramatic and very responsive to the students.

    Getting Involved
    Having parts of your lesson be interactive is always a good, easy way to have some fun in the classroom, especially when teaching children.  Almost all language contains some element of “action” which is an invitation for acting things out, impersonating, and puzzled faces.  All good fun.  If you aren’t ready to be the biggest show in the room (that does take some time to get comfortable enough to do) then having the students interact with each other and you within the context of the lesson targets is an excellent way to create fun in the classroom.  

    A note on fun:  Some people may read this and think that fun has to be present in the classroom all the time.  They nearly kill themselves striving to make every minute of every lesson entertaining.  This is not necessary.  A few laughs or smiles every 5-10 minutes is fine.  Even just a few minutes of fun out of the whole class is sometimes fine.  The way to know if your class to fun is to look at the students.  If they seem bored on a regular basis then you need to up the fun quotient.  The other way to know is if they show no enthusiasm or excitement at the very beginning of class.


    Fast-paced
    We’ve all had teachers who taught very slowly.  They showed little, if any, passion for the material and how it related to their students.  Teaching in an engaging manner requires familiarity with the material and knowledge of how to get the students interested in it.  It also requires teaching with a bit of zip in your step.  If you are into the lesson, then most likely your students will be too.  Being into the lesson should automatically lead to a fast-paced class.  Showing very little interest in what you’re doing will quickly lead to an uninterested classroom.

    A fast-paced class doesn’t mean moving through the material quickly or hurriedly.  It means injecting energy into a target.  It means covering a target thoroughly and completely, but doing so at a level of intensity that keeps everyone’s attention.  Randomly asking every student in the class “What’s your name?” is an example of fast-paced teaching.  The students already know the question but they don’t know who you are going to ask next.  You’re bouncing around between the students, with just a split second’s pause between them.  Who will you ask next?  The students are engaged because you’ve put a fast pace to the target.

    Fast-paced teaching is especially important when doing review.  This is an ideal time to quickly call up students (“Go, go, go!”) and get them to act out various targets (“Where do you want to go?”  “I want to  go to the supermarket.”  “Run!  Run to the supermarket!  Stop!  Sit down please.  Next!”)


    You will know if you are succeeding in teaching a fast-paced class when none (or very few) of your students look like they are day-dreaming or not paying attention.  


    Flexible
    The most difficult element to master is how to make your lesson flexible.  Flexible means being able to accommodate most questions, ideas or responses, both verbal and non-verbal, from your students into your overall lesson.  It means thinking on your feet, knowing the students and being able to come up with clear explanations or good alternatives to the original lesson.  

    The most basic component of flexible teaching is being able to recognize when something in your lesson isn’t working.  The students seem lost, they are uninterested, or they move through the material with unexpected mastery.  What do you do?  You have to be able to switch gears and guide the class in a different direction.  Watching a teacher continue their original lesson plan when it is clearly not working is a painful thing to watch, akin to watching a train crash in slow motion.  You can see the students start to disengage in small groups, then the small groups begin to talk with one another, merging into larger units.  Soon, even the most attentive students can’t help but become interested in what is going on behind them.  Then somebody says something funny and it’s all over.  Every teacher has experienced this at some point.  The best thing to do is learn from it and try to prevent it from happening again.  

    Being able to teach with an increasing amount of flexibility is something that is learned through experience and effort.  The better you get to know your students and the material you more will know about what does and does not work and when it is necessary to make on the spot changes.  The most important thing is to be very open to the idea of flexible teaching.  Many teachers are extremely dogmatic about their lesson plans.  They put in a lot of time and effort into making them and they are going to teach them, come hell or high water!  Putting in the time and effort to create a good lesson plan is a good thing, as it will prepare you very well in terms of knowing the material of the lesson.  However, being unwilling to deviate from the prepared lesson in any way is like building a house of cards on top of a volcano.  Flexibility is a key element of successful ESL teaching as it will allow you to accommodate the volcano (your classroom) on days when it is feeling a bit grumpy, difficult or even overly energetic.  

    Incorporating Fun, Fast-paced, and Flexible teaching into your classroom lessons will help you become a Super Teacher.  It will produce results for both you and your students.  It will allow you to improve your teaching skills on a daily basis and assist your students in learning at a pace and in a manner which is most conducive for them.  

    The biggest catch in all this is that most schools do not cultivate, or even allow, an environment where this style of teaching can take hold.  Most schools are increasingly autocratic and bureaucratic and cannot envision allowing the teacher so much time and space to develop.  It does take time and a personal commitment from the teacher to develop these skills and you have to be willing to perhaps accept less productivity at the start of a teacher’s contract in return for a much larger output at a later date.  From my own experience, the rewards far outweigh the potential costs.  Both students and teachers are much happier and an exponentially larger amount of actual learning takes place.  My suggestion is that before you sign on to teach with any school you check to see how they ask (usually require) their teachers to teach.  If you find a place that will give you the freedom to develop and also offers the support you may need along the way, then you know you’re in for a good teaching experience.