Observations and Feedback

If you work as a teacher, you’ve probably had your boss or advisor observe one of your lessons. If you did a CELTA, you were observed by your instructor. What did you take away from it? Have you ever sat in on a colleague’s lesson? Was it a useful experience?

At the next Springboard get-together we’re going to talk about what’s effective in these encounters and how we can use them in our professional development.

We’ll also set out a framework so that you’ll have the opportunity to benefit from this experience with others.

Come meet, greet, and put a spring into your work on Thursday 27th October, at 8:00 pm.

We’re meeting at The Fitting Room in Welle 7. Hope to see you there!

Teachers wanted:

Hi everyone,

I’ve just received an email from Margrit Balmer, from Flying Teachers, who’s looking for a teacher in Graubünden. If you’re interested, get in touch and I’ll be happy to forward you her contact info, or follow this link for the application form: https://flyingteachers.recruiterbox.com/jobs/fk068ef.

And keep an eye out for the next Springboard get-together, coming soon!

Best,

Dave

The grass is always greener on the other side

Today I ran into a teacher I met once at an ETAS workshop and we got to talking about work. He asked me if I had enough work and I said, at the moment, I do, but that with January coming up, I can never be sure. Teaching freelance for private language schools always involves uncertainty and there’s always a shuffling of the deck as some courses end and others may or may not start. I thought about how I’d like to work for a school like the one where he works. Teaching at a “Berufschule” means there is a steady course load. Curriculum is designed with longer term goals in mind, not one-off lessons created to keep students signing up for another six months.

married_greener_grass_750Meanwhile, however, he complained that he misses the days when he taught at a private language school, working in companies and learning so much from the various groups that he taught. It can be so stimulating to go into varied contexts and we as teachers learn almost more from the students than they do from us. It also constantly challenges us to customize our course objectives and this creates intrinsic motivation for ongoing professional development. For him, teaching twelve courses, each with 24 students, is gruelling. Teachers are faced with designing and grading three tests per semester, strict fixed course objectives, and lots of pressure to get their students to pass.

So I realized that although I loathe the inconsistent paycheck, the pressure to keep clients happy, and the uncertainty that I face every six months, I shouldn’t take for granted the advantages that I have. Every job has it’s perks.

We all have our complaints. What are the good sides of your job?

And if you work at a “Berufschule” or state school, do you know of a job opening? … 😉

Share your comments below!

Teachers as workers

I recently joined a Google+ community on this very topic. The founder of the community page, Paul Walsh, wrote this about his and Nicola Prentis’ rejected proposal to set up a Teachers as Workers IATEFL SIG. One thing he said particularly resonated with me:

A lot of us are fully-paid up members of The Precariat, a term first coined in a book by Guy Standing in 2011 to describe a new class that has little social protection, low or unsecured wages and no trade union representation. This precarious work  leads to precarious life, with individuals unable to form stable occupational identities.

If you also feel that we need to do more to make ELT teaching a sustainable career path, I recommend signing up for their newsletter, following them on Twitter or joining the Google+ group.

What do I look for in a school?

This is related to Fabienne’s “What do I look for in a teacher” post, but it’s in no way intended as any kind of reply. Hopefully just starting a new conversation or continuing it from a new angle. 🙂

If we’re honest, there are two stages in school-choosing. In the first stage, the main consideration is really, “Do they have hours?” “Do the hours fit in my existing schedule?” If the answer to either of those questions is “no”, then that’s the end of the consideration. The more complicated part of school-choosing is after the end of the first year when we have to decide whether we want to keep working at this school or start looking for new hours at a new place. Here’s what matters most to me (and I’m interested to hear what matters most for you in the comments): consistency, professionalism, and good atmosphere/colleagues.

By consistency, I mean how far in advance can I know my schedule? When a course is booked, how certain am I that it will run? By professionalism, I mean two things: am I treated as a professional (ie, do I have an appropriate amount of freedom in my lessons) and is the office run professionally (is the admin work completed efficiently, is the communication handled well, are the wages paid reliably without undue effort on my part)? The atmosphere and colleagues are also important, but I find it easier to work with someone who’s good at their job but I don’t get along with rather than the other way around. Ideally my colleagues will be both professional and nice, although I have been in situations where they were neither.

What about the money? Money is important too, of course. But typically I’m working in 2-3 schools and I don’t get a lot of offers for a 100% position. So if I did get a new offer, I’d be using the above criteria to decide which school to cut, rather than whichever one pays the least. Simple things like being able to plan my schedule and not having to deal with a bunch of repetitive paperwork add up for me and these are the kind of places I want to stick around. The grind of doing work I don’t like takes time out of my life that I’m not paid for anyway, and these kind of factors motivate me to look for something new anyway so I may as well get rid of those jobs first.

The many stakeholders in an in-company class

One sometimes-overlooked fact about private language teaching, and especially in-company classes, is that the instructor must be aware of a much broader set of needs than just the students’. Of course, as teachers, we always pay attention to the learners’ needs (or what we think they are) but sometimes we can lose sight of the other stakeholders.

The learners

Obviously, we need to acquaint ourselves with the needs of each learner in a group. We want to know where and how they use English, what problems they have and why they decided to take the course (among other things). This will help us choose materials, design a syllabus that covers their needs and keep them motivated.

The teacher

We are stakeholders in our classes as well! We need reliable scheduling and location information as well as something more general which is related to stakeholders 3 and 4: we need to get paid.

The company HR or training director

Many times the course objectives will be shared by the learners and the training department who is paying for the lessons. But it is our responsibility, as the leader of the class, to be sure that this is actually the case. If we do not provide good value, as defined by the person who pays the invoices, and if we do not know what that is, we’re going to run afoul of stakeholder 4.

The school

The school needs to sell courses to stay in business, and they especially want to get repeat business. The only way they can do that is if the courses meet the needs of all the other stakeholders. The school administration should certainly keep you informed about the company’s needs and requirements, but it’s our responsibility to get in touch with our admin if we are unsure about anything. If I lose a client because I didn’t provide the value they wanted, I’m probably not going to be trusted with too many more clients. Whether I like it or not, there is definitely a customer service aspect to teaching in-company classes and I need to be a team player if I want to get more hours with my school.

Conclusion

It’s not always easy to keep everything in harmony, but sometimes we have to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good and give the students good lessons in order to give them more lessons.

Have you had any problems with groups like these? Tell us about it in the comments!

ETAS PD Day

Do you feel like you work to live? Or do you live to work? I often get caught up in the trap of working to live, which is to say, I count the Francs instead of the experiences. In the end, this just makes me greedy, jealous, and unhappy.

On the other hand, when I get to the end of the day and count the “aha” moments that my students had, the improvised activities that went off perfectly, the diligently planned lessons that accomplished all the objectives, or the communication strategies that really helped, it feels so right that I do what I do.

This feeling is magnified after an ETAS event like the one I went to this weekend in Sargans. It was the professional development day for the English Teachers Association of Switzerland. Attending a talk, or participating in a workshop that teaches me about second language acquisition, grammar, corpus studies, classroom management, new technology, or teaching strategies reminds me why I love teaching English.

ETAS events also lets you acquire things that will directly lead to increased job performance and earnings. The networking opportunities might lead to your next great job. The publishers will give you books that make your prep-time shorter. The workshops will give you activities that bring new life to your classroom.

For one woman I met, who had arrived in Switzerland 24 hours prior, the take-away was probably more intangible. The day started with me asking her to volunteer to go up on stage for a presentation of the new website. It was a surprise for her, but helped break the ice. Throughout the day she got inspiration and connected with people like her. What was her take-away? Well, only she can say, but from the glow in her eye at the end of the day, I’d say she felt a big boost of confidence in the start of her professional life in Switzerland.

So in the end, if colleagues complain that they have to do professional development workshops and conferences on their own time, or that they can’t afford to pay the fees, I think maybe they’re forgetting that life is not just about money. Meeting motivated, like-minded people, learning from top figures in the field, and sharing experiences completely convinces me that it’s not about counting francs. It’s about gaining richness!

Were you at PD Day in Sargans? Or another ETAS event? Share your experiences below!