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Monday, June 19, 2017

How can ESL teachers encourage each other?

As ESL teachers, we are faced with hectic schedules, lesson planning, teacher meetings, and helping our students learn English. It can be both a stressful and rewarding experience. Throughout this process, we encourage our students to keep practicing their English, and to try their best. Yet, how do we stay encouraged?

Avoiding burn out
We will experience this at least one time in our teaching career. Burn out is when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed out. It can cause you to dislike or make you not want to continue teaching. This is when encouragement helps. If you are working with a staff of teachers, it’s important to encourage each other. Saying things like, “Keep up the good work,” or “You got this,” can be a boost to a teacher’s morale.  Sometimes offering assistance or advice can also be impactful. 

For example, there’s always that one thing we stumble on whether it’s explaining a grammar point, creating an in-class activity, or assigning homework. If you are a new teacher, this can be quite intimidating. Experienced teachers understand and can assist their new colleague. However, experienced teachers have the same challenges. Offering a helping hand really assures the struggling teacher that he/she can do well (even if they don’t know what they are doing)!

Teacher meetings
At most work sites, supervisors will have staff meetings. These meetings tend to be formal. However, teachers can have their own meetings where they discuss their accomplishments and frustrations. It’s informal and a way teachers can offer encouragement to each other. The best part of these informal meetings is they can happen over coffee or a place outside of work.

Always be honest. Teaching is hard work. It is okay to be honest about your hardship in the classroom. If you feel comfortable confining in a colleague about a problem, that’s okay. Trust is important. You want to share your difficult moments with someone who is non-judgmental and expresses empathy. You never want to pretend how you feel. There are ways to express your frustrations without being unprofessional. You may be surprised that you are not alone.

Ask your students for feedback about your teaching style. This may feel uncomfortable, but there are ways to get feedback from students without feeling embarrassed. Turn it into a lesson. For example, suppose you are talking about workplace issues and you are the supervisor. You may give a scenario where students are the employees and they must share their thoughts on a specific issue. In doing that, you can turn it around and ask, “So, just like you gave feedback to a supervisor, how would you give feedback to me as your teacher?”

This works if you are comfortable turning it into a discussion. If you don’t want to do that, you can assign students to write about their experience. This will allow you to not only check their writing skills, but learn how they feel about you and your teaching style. If you don’t receive positive feedback, try not to feel bad. You can use that to improve. I used to ask my students, “What can I do to make your learning experience better?” Students liked this question, because they told me what they wanted and in turn I learned how to improve my teaching style.  This is encouraging for both the teacher and students.

When we tell our students to try their best, apply that to yourself as a teacher. Stay encouraged and know that you ARE making a difference.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Teacher, I want to speak fluent English" How can students increase their English fluency?

"Teacher, I want to speak fluent English." This is a statement I've heard throughout my teaching experience. It's a good statement and students have the right to express this to their teacher. However, it can be a challenge to explain how students can speak fluently. Depending on the level of the class, developing fluency will take time and depends on the student and how the teacher conducts his/her lessons.
I am no expert on how to become fluent in any language, but with practice and patience, becoming a fluent speaker is possible. Here are some tips and ways I have used to help students in their journey to becoming fluent English speakers.

Practice speaking English every day

Before I begin a lesson, I would write “chit chat” (chit-chat means conversation) or "talk time" on the board with a question or topic statement. For example, on Mondays, I would write “How was your weekend?” on the board. Instead of standing in front of the class, I would sit down or we all sit in a circle and discuss our weekend. Sometimes, the conversation would expand from the weekend to a specific topic or event. Students liked our chit-chats because it allowed them to speak freely (formally and informally) about things that interested them. For lower level classes, I would guide the students by asking specific questions like, “What did you do last weekend?” If students were shy, I would start by asking, “did you do your homework this weekend?’ From the “Um…” comments or giggles, I knew their answer. The more students talk, the more fluent they will become. The best way to do this is by including topics students like to discuss. This will also reinforce their grammar usage, vocabulary, and sentence structure.
Field trips

Taking your class on a field trip not only helps students practice English, but introduces them to new experiences. Visiting the library, museums, or cultural events allow students to learn about people, places, and discover new interests. In New York City, we have so many things to see and do that even taking the subway is an adventure! When my students and I would take the subway, questions about the history of our transportation system, or reading the train map became an instant discussion. 

Restaurants are also a great way to practice English. Students get to try different foods, practice placing an order, as well as enjoy a delicious meal. For teachers, this is a nice way to incorporate the experience in lessons. I used to give homework assignments where students wrote about their field trip and why they liked or didn’t like the experience. As part of the assignment, students would read their homework in front of the class. This helped them practice presentation skills. Some students would present a menu or a subway map as part of their assignment.


Encouragement goes a long way. Students will feel frustrated. This is part of the learning process. If you have students that feel upset about not speaking fluent English, don’t despair. Encourage them to keep practicing and assure them that they WILL become fluent speakers. Don’t make guarantees. This is a mistake I think teachers make, because no one can put a time limit on fluency. Everyone learns at their own pace. Some students can speak fluent in a short amount of time, whereas for others it may take longer. However, if students feel encouraged to keep learning and practicing their English, they will become fluent in the language.

Another thing to keep in mind is, some students will be fluent in different areas of English. I’ve had students who were fluent in English writing and reading, but not in speaking and listening. There are many reasons and factors for this, such as, previous schooling, employment, or environment. This doesn’t mean those students won’t be fluent in speaking English, it may take some time and vice versa. As long as they feel encouraged through the process, fluency is achievable.