Category Archives: *For Those New to Teaching ESL

“What would you say if you were interviewing for an ESL teaching position?” (A question from a reader)

job interview

When I’m on a search committee, while we are interviewing an applicant, I can’t help but start thinking about how I would answer the interview questions myself.  It’s actually a good values clarification exercise (although perhaps best not to mentally practice it while interviewing someone).  So I appreciate Kevin’s question.

Instead of writing out a script of what I would say, I’ll explain what I would include, in general, in my response to some of the more commonly asked interview questions.

Question 1: What is your philosophy of language teaching and learning?

Everything that I do in my classroom is based on the premise that language learning is about skill development. Speaking, writing and reading a second language involve using skills. And just like learning other skills, for example, driving a car, playing tennis, or learning a musical instrument, ESL students need focused practice to develop their language skills.

The teacher’s role in helping students develop their skills is to find or produce activities that will engage students and that are at the right level of challenge for them.  The teacher is like a coach, setting up and introducing the practice session and then stepping back and being ready to offer support and guidance.

Also, just like when developing any skill, when learning a language, students should be given opportunities to make mistakes and to learn from them in a non-threatening environment.  This means that the teacher needs to relinquish being the center of attention.
(For more about this, see Introduction to Teaching ESL: Student-Centered Approach)

Question 2: What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing ESL teachers?

I think ESL teachers often have an image problem.  Their image of a teacher is someone who stands in front of the class talking to the students and conducting the lesson with all the students’ eyes on him or her.  In fact, I recently heard a teacher say that she felt like she wasn’t earning her pay if she wasn’t in front conducting the class.  So the challenge is to break this image and realize that our job is to engage students in developing their language skills and for this to happen, the teacher has to stop being the center of attention.  Teachers are doing their jobs when their students are learning how to write better by actually writing in Writing class, or read better by reading in Reading class and by speaking in Conversation class. Students will actually progress faster when the teachers are on the sidelines giving support.

This doesn’t mean that teachers should never talk to the class as a whole. But we should realize that we are still good teachers even when, or especially when, we are not talking and when students are engaged in an activity.

Question 3A: Let’s talk about how you teach conversation skills.  What is your approach?

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Common Grammar Mistake: “She hopes him to get a haircut.” 

Questions

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

I recently put my students in small groups, gave them a list of sentences and asked them to identify which were incorrect and to correct those. Several of the groups either thought that this sentence was correct or believed that there was something wrong with it but couldn’t correct it:

  • She doubted him to go to the party on Friday.

Surprisingly, these were advanced-level students who were stymied by this. In fact, when they asked me to explain the problem, some of them asked me, “Are you sure it’s wrong? It sounds right to me.” I imagine that the reason for their confusion is because they are familiar with the pattern of Subject + Verb + Object:

Actually, this is not a difficult grammar structure for students to learn, even lower level students. Basically, I tell them that after certain verbs, they should write “that” + subject + verb.  (Technically, the word “that” is optional, but to keep it simple, I tell them to write “that.”)  Although the formal term of this structure is “noun clauses,” I don’t expect them to remember that. If they can remember which verbs are followed by this structure, they’ll be fine.

These are some examples of this kind of mistake:

Mistake: She doubted him to go to the party on Friday.
Correct: She doubted that he would go to the party on Friday.

Mistake: His parents worry their kids to get into an accident.
Correct: His parents worry that their kids will get into an accident.

Avoiding unnecessarily complicated explanations (and handout exercises)

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Surprising Insight: Avoiding Eye-Contact can Improve Comprehension

eye contact

A good reason not to be upset if students don’t look directly at you during a lesson or conversation.

If you need to have an important conversation with someone like a friend or co-worker, your discussion could be deeper if you go for a walk together rather than sit face to face.  And the reason for this isn’t connected to physical exercise.  It’s about eye-contact and thinking.

If someone doesn’t look at us during a conversation, we may think that they are not interested in what we are saying, or that they are feeling embarrassed, or they are hiding something or lying.  If students are not looking directly at a teacher, the teacher might think that they are not paying attention.  Actually, there could be a completely different reason why someone is not making eye-contact.

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Teachers: How To Sleep Well After a Class With a Couple of Troublesome Students

Classroom management

Why teachers’ brains tend to dwell on the  “disruptive” students rather than on the “attentive” students after class.  And what we can do about it.

I can have a class composed of 14 engaged students and two or three inattentive ones and guess whose faces I’ll see when I go to bed at night.  Right, the “slackers.”

I was interested to discover that I’m not the only teacher who has this happen to them.  This led me to try to understand the reason and investigate what to do about (in order to get a good night’s sleep.)

Why we tend to dwell on the troublesome ones and what to do about it.

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