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Coming of Age as a Teacher

Teacher in classroomAnna Parisi is course tutor and materials designer for teacher development courses at ACCESS, in Greece. Anna has extensive experience in syllabus design and producing supplementary materials for private language institutions in Greece. Ahead of her webinars on 27th and 28th January, she gives us a preview of what she will be talking about…

I envy new teachers!

When you are a new teacher, everything you do is new. While ‘learning the ropes’, you constantly take risks and experiment, evaluate and take decisions. There are so many surprises: your students surprise you, you surprise yourself. It can be highly stressful but exciting because it’s an on-going process of observation and discovery.

We call this ‘enthusiasm’.

And then, routine starts settling in. We know we have to cover the curriculum no matter what, finish the book, and after so much trial and error we know what works best ( well, most of the time) so why take risks?  We change our routines when something goes seriously wrong or when we are bored out of our wits.

We call this ‘experience’.

Occasionally, both enthusiastic new teachers and experienced old-hands attend conferences, listen to experts and take notes. Later, we may use 1 or 2 ideas in class but generally we find ’there is no time’, ‘you can’t do this in the real world’ as real students often respond in a different way to what we want them to.

We also share fabulous ideas and photographs on the social media; we follow gurus and mentors online in search of general truths and successful practices. But still most of our issues in the classroom remain unresolved, and out of date or over-demanding curricula remain in place.

In the meantime, there is so much that goes unacknowledged, devalued or ignored: teachers’ tacit knowledge, the knowledge that teachers have acquired through the years but find it difficult to articulate or transmit.

While PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) have helped in this respect with sharing lots of ideas, thoughts and insights, teaching lives as depicted online have left a lot feeling they are missing out on developments or even with undeserved feelings of inadequacy. This wealth of ideas from teachers, trainers, authors is a host of wonderful recipes but not a better diet overall.

The gap between theory and practice remains as large as ever, published material sometimes seems to come from a parallel universe, and although everything takes place for the good of students, they are not part of the decision making and are not even asked what they think some or most of the time.

For teachers to take control and have greater professional responsibility over what we do, small scale teacher-led research is the next step in teacher development.

Why research?

Research is by definition questioning, challenging preconceptions, discovering, experimenting. Teacher-led research is action taking place where the action is: in the EFL classroom. If we, teachers, would like to see change and improvement then we are the best placed to initiate and undertake it. If we want greater autonomy, we will have to seek and welcome greater responsibility.

If we believe that we, teachers, should be involved in curricula change then we ‘need to take a critical and experimental approach to our classrooms’ (Nunan 1989). Solutions to practical problems in the classroom can rarely be imported from outside the classroom. It’s the teacher who is best placed to investigate and resolve issues by taking some course of action.  By researching our own classes we can better understand our own classroom procedures. We can become better able to assess what actually happens in the classroom as opposed to our own assumptions about what happens.  Teacher-led, classroom based research also means consulting our students, understanding and catering for their differences.

But what does teacher-led classroom based research involve?

Carrying out research should be a collective project, not a solitary task.  It’s really about discovering, sharing and transmitting knowledge, problem-solving. It’s an integral part of teacher development. Carrying out such a project can be a collective experience inclusive of all teachers in all stages of professional development. Teachers being part of this experience is the heart of a collective, teacher-led research project.

In the upcoming webinar, we’ll look at some of the basics of teacher-led classroom based research and how it can transform our teaching lives. You’ll be surprised! You can register for the webinar here.

References

Nunan, D.  and Bailey, K.M. 2008 . Exploring Second Language Classroom Research : A Comprehensive Guide. Boston: Heinle

Nunan, D. 1989. Understanding Language Classrooms . Cambridge : Prentice Hall International


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Recognition and motivation

Audience applaudingFiona Thomas is an EFL blogger and Director of Education at Net Languages, a large online language school. Here she considers the importance of recognition and motivation for teachers to excel at their jobs.

How appreciated do you feel in your job? It doesn’t matter what position you hold, everybody likes to feel that their colleagues, boss and people they are responsible for appreciate them when they work hard and do their job well. However, too many teachers and managers suffer from the frustration of feeling that what they do goes unrecognised and unappreciated.

Why is recognition so important? Frederick Herzberg spent much of his professional life researching what motivates people in the work place. His findings show that when a person is recognised for a high level of performance at work, this has a powerful effect on motivation (Herzberg, 1987).

He distinguished between what he classified as hygiene factors and motivational factors. Hygiene factors are those factors which need to be in place for us to be able to do our job.  If these factors are not satisfactorily covered, they will cause anxiety, distract us from our job and lead to demotivation and general dissatisfaction – e.g. if we do not earn enough money to cover our general needs and expenses, we will not be able to focus on our work. However, these factors do not actually motivate us – e.g. if we are given a pay increase (money is a hygiene factor), the effect of the pay rise on our motivation is, in theory, very short-lived. We soon get used to earning more money and as a consequence, its effectiveness in terms of motivation is soon lost.

Motivational factors, on the other hand, are factors which make a difference to how the worker feels about their job in a longer lasting way. Herzberg cited the following areas as motivational: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These, therefore, are the areas that language schools need to focus on in order to motivate the people who work there. And of these factors recognition is arguably one of the easiest to apply.

Recognition needs to happen all the way down the hierarchical ladder of any organisation, from Directors to DOSs and other managers, to level coordinators and to teachers. If the person who is directly responsible for us does not seem to notice or care when we perform outstandingly, we understandably feel unappreciated. This in turn can affect our work performance to the detriment of the organisation we work for.

Recognition from colleagues or those higher up the ladder can also be very effective at motivating us. This, I believe, tends to happen most in a climate where there is a general sense of well-being and appreciation within an organisation. People who work in an environment where recognition is part of the institutional culture are much more likely to reciprocate in kind.

Interestingly, people often receive more recognition from their PLNs (personal learning networks) than from the place where they work. The growth in online PLN communities has helped to provide the support and recognition which helps teachers and managers to develop as professionals, especially when this is lacking in the institutions that employ them. It seems, however, such a wasted opportunity that this potential is not exploited positively by these organisations.

It is somewhat ironic that teachers are trained to give praise, recognition and encouragement to their students (sometimes in excess, according to Jim Scrivener, but this is part of a different debate). However, when these teachers are promoted to management positions, they tend to forget to apply the same good practice to the people they are now responsible for. Managers seem to have become so busy directing or managing in their new positions that they forget to apply the same basic effective principles they used when managing students in a class.

If we strive to have vibrant, high-quality language organisations, the motivation of students, teachers, managers, and all other staff is an essential part of good management practice. If we accept that taking the time to recognise good work can make a significant difference to people’s levels of motivation, then language organisations would be well advised to make sure that the recognition of people’s merits, initiatives and hard work becomes part of their institutional culture.

Reference:

Herzberg, F.I. 1987, ‘One more time: How do you motivate employees?’, Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct87, Vol. 65 Issue 5, p109-120

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Have your voice heard! Become a guest blogger for @oupeltglobal

Close up of hand writing on paperWe like to keep this blog as up-to-date and relevant to you, our readers, as possible. With that in mind, we’ve always strived to keep our list of guest bloggers fresh and varied, as well as give people a chance to share their opinions and knowledge.

Well, now we’d like you to share yours!

Whether you’re a seasoned blogging pro, a complete novice, or just want some more exposure for your own blog, we’re welcoming submissions from anyone for the chance to be featured here as a guest blogger. Plenty of people have already written for us and (we hope) they’ve all enjoyed the experience.

What’s in it for me?

There are lots of reasons why blogging for a big publisher like Oxford University Press is great for your personal and professional development.

  • The opportunity to reach out to a huge audience of teachers and language professionals around the world – our blog is read over 1,000 times a day; every article is shared with our Twitter audience of over 6,500 ELT professionals and our Facebook audience of over 24,000 teachers worldwide; and our ELT website receives approximately 1 million views per month.* How’s that for exposure and networking opportunities?!
  • It’s great publicity for both you as a professional and your website or blog. It could help you attract new readers to your own blog and connect with like-minded individuals around the world.
  • It’s valuable experience for your personal and professional development. Teachers and language professionals who take an active role in online professional development feel far more supported and enthused to take what they’ve learned into the classroom.
  • It’s not every day you get the chance to work with one of the world’s leading educational and academic publishers!
*Audience numbers accurate as of 29/05/12.

How can I get involved?

If you’ve written an article that you think might be suitable, or you have examples of previous work that you’d like to show us, or even if you just have an idea for an article, you can get in touch with us at elt.marketing.uk@oup.com with ‘Guest blogging’ in the subject line and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Are there any rules I must stick to?

There are no rules, as such, but here are a few guidelines as to what we’re looking for and what we think works best on an ELT blog:

  • Articles must be related to English language teaching or learning, education in general, technology in education, etc. If in doubt, take a look at our Categories page to see if your idea fits in with our themes.
  • Articles should be helpful and provide something of value to the readers. We won’t publish anything that is promotional or commercial in nature.
  • Posts should be about 300-600 words and have an interesting title.
  • If you want to include images in your post, please make sure that you either own the images, or you have permission to use them. Creative Commons search is a great website where you can find images that are licensed for commercial use.
  • Please check your spelling and grammar. Of course, we’ll work with you to improve anything that isn’t quite right, but the more accurate your post is to start with, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to use it.
  • If your article is chosen to be published on the blog, we’ll ask you to provide a short biography and a photo for our Guest Bloggers page.
  • Send your article to elt.marketing.uk@oup.com with ‘Guest blogging’ in the subject line to help us find and respond to your message as quickly as possible.

And that’s it! We can’t wait to hear all your fantastic suggestions and read your great blog articles.

Many thanks,

Oxford University Press ELT
Global Blog Team

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