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A Letter to My Younger Self

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Young woman thinking as she writesMeghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. In this piece she writes a letter to herself about things she wished she knew when she first started teaching.

Dear Younger Self,

As you have probably realised by now, teaching is hard work. On top of a full teaching load you have to deal with homework, exams, misbehaving students, staff meetings and (gasp!) students’ parents. You are experiencing a lot of uncertainty and ups and downs, sometimes even on an hourly basis. You may feel that you don’t have enough time to plan the spectacular lessons you dreamt of when you were training to become a teacher. I remember what it feels like to be a new teacher, so I would like to offer you some simple advice that can help you deal with some of the challenges you are currently facing.

Choice: First of all, don’t be afraid to give your students choices about their learning. As a teacher, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of being the decision-maker, judge and jury in the classroom, but allowing choice is an important part of helping students become autonomous learners. By having your students make some decisions in the classroom, you can also increase their involvement and enjoyment of your lessons. Start with something simple, such as allowing students to choose which questions from an exercise that they would like to answer. You might also consider asking them how they would like to carry out an activity – individually, in pairs or in groups? Homework and projects are other areas where choice is a possibility. If you want them to get more practice with past simple at home, give them some options and take a whole class vote, for example:

  1. Write a short composition about your last holiday.
  2. Record yourself talking about what you did last weekend.
  3. Prepare a ‘past simple’ quiz for your classmates.

This allows you to cater to different learning styles while encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. For learners who are not accustomed to being given choice in the classroom, this new responsibility may come as a shock to them and they may struggle to come up with ideas or even try to ‘cheat’ the system. But with a bit of persistence and optimism on your part, you will be amazed at the wonderful ideas your students can come up with.

Aims: While the amount of material you feel you need to ‘cover’ over the course of a week/month/semester may seem overwhelming, it’s important not to lose sight of the aim(s) of each lesson and (even more importantly) how best to help students accomplish them. When working on a new grammar point, stop and ask yourself whether you should spend an hour on mechanical drills or whether it would be better to get students really using the language in a more communicative activity. If the aim involves developing students’ reading skills, try not to get bogged down explaining every vocabulary item. At the beginning of the lesson, write your aim(s) on the board and be sure that you give students enough time and opportunities to reach those aims.

Checking Answers: Although it is an inevitable part of the language learning classroom, answer-checking tends to be monotonous and teacher-centred. You might have found yourself spending so much time checking answers that you had little time left for anything else. Instead of acting as a human answer key, give some of these ideas a try:

  1. After students finish an exercise, have them check their answers with the person sitting next to them, behind them or across from them.
  2. Go over problematic answers only.
  3. Assign a specific number of questions to small groups. When they finish, have them put their answers up on the board. As students are working, alert them to any answers that might need revisiting.

My last piece of advice to you is this: don’t be so hard on yourself. When the students aren’t as enthusiastic as you had hoped or an activity doesn’t go as well as you had planned, don’t take it to mean that you are not good at your job. Discovering what works and what doesn’t in your lessons is part of becoming a good teacher and the experiences you are going through now will be a source of knowledge and an important point of reference for you in the future. It’s okay to slow down, relax and enjoy your lessons. You’re doing just fine.

Sincerely,

The More Experienced You

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what teaching advice would you give?

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

11 thoughts on “A Letter to My Younger Self

  1. I would advice my younger self that it is ok to have down days in the classroom and everything will be better for me if tou think about and reflect on my teaching.
    Thank you Meghan for this article. You are an awesome teacher trainer and presenter and personalky you are so sincere and nice.
    Hope to see you in many other seminars.
    Cheers,
    Gorkem from odtu kyod

    • Hi Gorkem,
      I think you that you have offered a great piece of advice. As young teachers, we may not be mentally prepared for such down days and tend to take it personally. If we do take the time to reflect on what happened (or what didn’t go as planned), sometimes we realize that little changes can make a big difference. The way we set up an activity, give instructions or even the degree of independence we offer our students plays a big part in determining the success of an activity. I think we also need to realize that sometimes these ‘down days’ are quite normal and can be due to a number of factors including time of day/week/year and other things going on in students’ lives.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Meghan

  2. Thank you so much for your useful pieces of advice! Cristina

  3. Dear Younger Me,

    Firstly, make sure you prepare lesson plans. It feels great to be prepared all the time.

    Second, technology is awesome. You have got to make more use of it.

    Finally, students are students no matter what their ages are, and that’s why they love playing games and having fun while they are learning.

    Ayşe (Öz) Güneş
    (from Zirve University)

    PS: Meghan, I loved your article. Hope to see you again.

    • Hi Ayşe,
      I very much agree with your advice on lesson planning. It is important, especially when we first start teaching. Just the act of putting our ideas down on paper helps us mentally work through the lesson. I would also add that it can be useful to write out the phrases/words we will use during the lesson. Sometimes we don’t consider how we explain something or give instructions, although clear and simple classroom language can help students understand and learn better and can help us as teachers reduce the need for L2 in the classroom.
      Thanks,
      Meghan

  4. I would advice my younger self that you don’t have to teach everything in coursebook.
    They are not holy books in which everything is useful and right.It is sometimes ok to skip or modify some activities according to your classes specific needs.Secondly,I wouldn’t become a chalk in hand teacher striving to explain everything in detail,acting like a walking dictionary around.By this way I would have less teacher-addicted ,more autonomous students.Moreover, in checking answers I wouldn’t echo myself repeating what the student has just said.I felt at that time that they understand better ,but it was in futile.It just increases Teacher Talking Time (TTT) decreases Student Talking Time (STT).Last but not least,I wouldn’t only appreciate I-tools and classwares ,I would also look at the quality of the material I am teaching as the very first thing .In this century we need bring up kids that communicate in English, not just looking at the board and colourful I-tools.

    Whoops! What a long piece of feedback for me :)

    Cheers,
    Ferhat Karanfil

  5. I would advice my younger self that syllabus is just silly bus which we rush to catch up with it.I shouldn’t teach and learn myself in order to catch this silly bus.Also, coursebooks are not holy books in which everything is useful and right.It is ok to skip or modify some activities according to your classes specific needs.Moreover, I would not only appreciate the I-tools and classwares,but also I would look at the quality of the material as the very first thing.We need to bring up kids that are communicating in English not just looking at the board and colourful I-tools.In addition ,I wouldn’t act as a chalk in hand teacher,striving to explain everything,acting like a walking dictionary which turns out to be more teacher-addicted ,less autonomous students.Last but not least,I wouldnt echo myself by repeating what students has just said in checking the answers, I felt that I had more control on class this way but it was in vain.It just increases TTT(Teacher Talking Time) and decreases STT(Student Talking Time) and makes grammar much more boring.
    Whoops! What a long piece of feedback it is:)
    Cheers.
    Ferhat Karanfil

    • Wow Ferhat!

      Lots of great advice (and probably a lot of it that even experienced teachers need to remind themselves of from time to time). I agree with you especially on your advice not to feel the need to explain everything in detail. When we explain things in class, some students may not ‘get it’ immediately and that’s quite normal. However, it is easy to panic and feel the need to keep explaining until understand. Being able to practice the language and develop their own personal connection to it is important for students. It is through these communicative activites and repeated exposure and practice to the language that helps students fully understand. Great advice!

      Thanks,
      Meghan

  6. Dear my older self.. I am young, strong and enthusiastic to learn how to and what to teach.. I think I am young enough to …….

    just kidding..
    so nice to read..
    thnx

  7. ‘A letter to myself’ is a fantastic idea! I plan to try it in my language class.Thank you Meghan for sharing such a great thing.

  8. Bogna teacher
    Reading your fantastic letter I would like to share with you with the idea I came up completely accidently while reading. So, do you find challenging for your students to WRITE A LETTER TO THEMSELVES ( practising future tenses ) :))
    best from POLAND

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