10 Lessons I Learned as a New Teacher

During Fall term, I had the opportunity to teach six classes simultaneously, my largest course load yet. As one can imagine, this gave me many chances to screw up!

Here are the lessons I learned this term:

1. Control your emotions. I had the most difficult teaching moment of my life a few weeks ago when a student said something in class that completely shocked me. I made the mistake of letting my emotions get the better of me. Next time, I will stay calm and either: 1) ask questions designed to encourage the student to think critically, or 2) move on. Teachable moments are great, but not all moments are teachable.

2. Seek the light in your students. Immediately after the aforementioned experience, I was tempted to view my students in a different way. However, a close friend advised me to “always seek the light” in your students. To me, this meant that, no matter their personal beliefs, I should always give my students the benefit of the doubt and treat them as individuals in their own right.

3. Manage class time effectively. Every moment of class time is precious. For me, it has been helpful not only to estimate in advance how long an activity will take but to also alter the time spent on each activity during class based on how students are responding. Is this too easy for them? Do they need more practice? Are they bored? It’s good to be mindful of these things.

4. Integrate writing into each lesson. I have been using composition books in all of my classes. However, I made the mistake of not using them enough. I did an average of 4-5 writing activities in each of my classes, when I should have done twice as many.  Next time, I will integrate timed free writing practice into each lesson. By giving students a time limit, I will ensure that their writing does not take up too much class time.

5. Be mindful of the learning objective. I like to give my students activities that allow them to be creative and have fun while using English. However, at times, I focused so much on creativity that I lost sight of the learning objective! Each activity should have a purpose. If this purpose is not aligned with the learning objectives of the course, then the activity should be scrapped.

6. Ask students about their learning styles. At one point during a class, I had a substitute teacher fill in for me while I was attending a wedding in the States. As soon as the substitute walked in, my students launched into a tirade about my teaching: I did not use worksheets like other teachers, nor did I put enough emphasis on learning new vocabulary. Further, some students complained that I did not write down the homework answers, grammar or new vocabulary words on the board. These complaints were a surprise to me, and I am lucky that the substitute teacher relayed them to me personally. On my first day back, I gave the students a short survey so they could tell me what they liked and didn’t like about the class. Fortunately, I was able to alter my teaching style to suit their needs. I could have avoided the complaints altogether if I had given them such an assessment earlier in the term.

7. Plan the entire term in advance. I needlessly rushed through the material near the end of term for several of my classes, not realizing that we actually had extra class time that I had not accounted for! I could have avoided this if I had properly annotated all hours of class time in my calendar.

8. Know when to be the teacher. In one instance, an entire class refused to take a quiz, telling me that they were not ready. I gave in and rescheduled the quiz. However, when the same thing happened again in the same class, I knew that I needed to respond differently. I called my teacher mentor and asked her what I should do. “Give them the answers,” she said. “What?!” I had never heard of such a thing. It seemed counterproductive. However, she explained that students in Morocco were accustomed to learning by memorization. She said that by reading the entire quiz to them out loud, giving them the answers, and then giving them a fresh copy of the quiz to complete at home, I would not only be exposing them to both listening and reading of the material that they needed to master, but I would regain control of the class. I did exactly as she said, and it worked.

9. Warm-ups are essential. There were several times this term when I felt that my class was dragging along. This was especially true for my Beginning Adult English class, which met on Fridays at 3:00pm, when my students were in a carb coma after their Friday couscous. For this class, I found that using strategically-placed warm ups (at the beginning of class and after the 15-minute break), games and communicative activities (especially those featuring movement) helped “wake up” my students and ensure that they were engaged in the lessons.

10. Expect the unexpected. It is no secret that lessons often do not go as planned. Therefore, it has been helpful to me to plan extra games in case we have additional class time and bring extra worksheets just in case students need more practice. Further, carrying blank slips of paper is a great idea, as they can be used by students to write and then practice orally what they have learned with their classmates.

I am grateful for these lessons learned, and I hope that they will be useful to you too!

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