Category Archives: *For Those New to Teaching ESL

Avoiding Writing-Teacher Burnout: Save Your Time And Energy With This Effective Method For Giving Specific Feedback.

Many teachers mistakenly believe that spending their precious time and energy writing long comments at the end of students’ papers is what Writing teachers should do.  As one instructor wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “I am an English professor, and responding to student writing is what we English professors do…For 25 years, I have diligently, thoughtfully, and fastidiously written comments on my students’ essays. In my neatest hand, I’ve inscribed a running commentary down the margin of page after page, and at an essay’s conclusion I’ve summarized my thoughts in a paragraph or more.”

This instructor decided to stop writing comments on her students’ paper after she came to this realization: “Most students seemed to spend little time taking in my comments on their papers. They quickly skimmed, looking for the grade, and then shoved the papers into their bags.” Her solution: Instead of writing comments, she decided to meet in her office to discuss her students’ papers one-on-one.

For most ESL Writing instructors, meeting with students in their offices is not a realistic option. At the same time, writing long comments at the end of papers is often a waste of time and energy, just as that professor discovered.

Fortunately, there is another option for Writing teachers.

A much more practical and yet effective way to provide specific feedback

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Give your colleagues some brain pleasure. Ask them for help.

Cover Asking help Shot

One day, a colleague, Sarah, who was relatively new to the ESL teaching field, told me about two grammar questions that one of her students had presented to her. (*If you are curious, you can see the questions and my explanation at the end of this posting.) She said that after class, she had spent quite a bit of time searching for answers on the internet but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask me.

It turned out to be a fun interaction and a kind of puzzle for me to solve. On my drive home after classes that day, I realized that I was feeling great, but I didn’t think that there was any specific reason for it. A while later, I happened to come across some research that perhaps explained my exuberant emotion. And it had nothing to do with it being a Friday.

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Recommendation: Ask these important questions when you are interviewing for an ESL teaching position.  (Spoiler alert: these are not about logistics and pay.)

Ask

 I once interviewed for an ESL teaching position at a school in Switzerland. I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place to live and teach for a couple of years. The type of courses and the type of students that I would teach seemed like a good fit for me.  On top of that, it included free housing.

Fortunately, during the interview, I asked a question, and after hearing their response, I immediately knew that teaching there would have been a disaster for me.

During the interview, I answered the typical questions that they asked.  Then near the end of it, the interviewer (director) asked me if I had any questions, so I asked, “What are you most proud of about your program?”

The interviewer answered, “We believe that one of the greatest features of our program is how much time students get to spend with their teachers.  The teachers’ housing is right next to the student dorms, so there are lots of chances for students to interact with teachers outside class and in their homes. The housing location also makes it easier for teachers to supervise students outside class.”

I enjoy interacting with my students in class and when I run into them outside of it, but I was certain that I would quickly burn out under those conditions. The next day, I withdrew my name for consideration.

A positive impression I got after hearing the answer to that same question

During an interview at a different program at a college, I asked the same question, “What are you most proud of about your program?” That time, I was very impressed by the response.  The interviewer said that ESL program is considered an integral part of the college.  In other words, unlike ESL programs on many other campuses, this one is not separate from the rest of the campus.  In fact, the ESL instructors are even encouraged to serve on college committees.” That clinched my decision to accept the position when it was offered to me.

Two more important questions to ask when you are being interviewed

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“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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