Dealing with the deep end: Teaching practice tips – CertTESOL or CELTA

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One of the notable aspects of initial teacher education courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL and Cambridge CELTA which can be daunting for new teachers is the fact that you have to jump into classroom teaching from an early point, usually in the first week of a four-week course.

This in-at-the-deep-end approach has been the subject of discussion for some time, and there are varying opinions as to its benefits and drawbacks. However, whichever course you opt for, you will have to stand in front of a class and deliver your first assessed lesson at some point. This can be a scary prospect even if you have teaching experience under your belt, but centers will always try to ease your way into the classroom through preparation work and a supportive approach to your teaching practice.

Why do we throw you in at the deep end?

The rationale behind throwing new teachers in at an early stage is that the biggest barrier to performance on this type, of course, is confidence. The sooner you can confront the nerves and stage fright that we all inevitably feel at some point, the sooner you can break through that emotional barrier and start focusing more objectively on what you are (and are not) doing during your classes.

Another reason why it can be beneficial to get teaching after only a couple of days of input is that it somewhat reflects the realities of the teaching profession. In a weekly teaching load, the ability to drop everything and jump in to cover an absent teacher, change your plan for the day, or deal with unexpected situations on the fly is simply part of the job, and a good teacher should be flexible and confident enough to deal with what the job throws at them.

What kind of support do you get for your first observed lesson?

Centers manage the induction into teaching practice differently, but any good provider will recognize the Deep End as something which can cause stress and anxiety, with trainees not feeling that they are ready, that they are not good enough, or that they are an impostorin the professional environment of the classroom. These feelings are absolutely normal and persist beyond the course into the start of teaching positions. It takes a few first classes with new groups, or in new environments, to become comfortable with walking into a new room full of students.

Both the Trinity CertTESOL and the Cambridge CELTA include guided observation tasks in their first weeks of the course, meaning that you will have the chance to sit at the back of a classroom to observe a lesson taught by a qualified and experienced teacher. On the CertTESOL, you are most likely to observe the same students that you will go on to teach for your first lesson and forms part of a formally assessed task – the Guided Observation Journal. 

This period of observation can give you a lot of important information about the students, approaches, and methods that students at different levels are working on, so a good way of breaking down the anxiety about your first lesson is to observe the students in the class, not just the teacher, and imagine how you would approach the class if you were the teacher.

Think about the students as people, with likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, and engage with them personally. This will help you to appeal to their ways of learning and give the opportunity for you to find out more about what makes them tick.

After a lesson which you have observed, it is a good idea to hang back and chat with some of the students to get an idea of their language performance in a more natural setting. Think about how you will need to grade your language so that they understand you, and find out some of their interests – you can use these in your teaching to appeal to them further in class.

Knowing how to talk to language learners at different levels is a huge benefit to new teachers, and avoids the dreaded wall of blank faces which often greets unprepared first-timers as they stammer through their first lesson, leading to student difficulties from the off. The more you think about who the learners are and what they can do, the better prepared you will be to go in and meet them as their teacher.

How do you know what to teach in your first lesson?

Any good initial training course will include timetabled lesson planning time, where you will receive guidance on the content and methods you would like to use in your classes. For the first couple of lessons, you may be given a lesson to teach, and have quite an in-depth meeting with a tutor to discuss how to plan out the lesson, and any difficulties that you should anticipate.

As the course progresses, however, this support may be slowly withdrawn until the ideas come more from you, and you may only have to ask a couple of questions to get the plan together. During planning meetings, take notes and ask lots of questions – the tutors are there to help you, so take advantage of that in the allotted time for planning, as you may not have the chance to meet them later.

Also Read: Why should I take a level 5 teacher training course?

Planning for success – be a scout!

A final way to beat the first-lesson nerves is to plan thoroughly and precisely. As the scouts say, fail to prepare, and you prepare to fail. Pay close attention to any input sessions you have about lesson planning, staging, and stating clear lesson aims and objectives. Pay close attention to each of these important aspects of lesson planning, and make sure that they match up to produce a realistic and clear lesson outcome, and you will have the vision to carry through the lesson in a clear direction.

A good lesson aim should include a language function, the exact language area you are teaching, and a clear context. With these three aspects planned,  you will be able to visualize the lesson more clearly.

In terms of staging, it is a good idea to plan out not only the stages, activities, and tasks that you want to use but to script out the parts of the lesson where you are in control of the class. These stages are:

  • during the presentation of language (key teacher questions, ways of checking new language, items that you will drill), 
  • when you give instructions to the class.

The language you use during these stages of the lesson is fixed, so plan out your teacher language and stick to it. Refer to your notes during class if you want, but dont let this get in the way of your interaction with students.

During other, more student-controlled stages of a lesson, be prepared for the unexpected. Allow space for questions and comments from the students (which you cannot plan, obviously), and allow time for correction and discussion of new language during post-task feedback sessions when students are reporting their ideas back to class.

These are just a few tips to help you find your depth and make the deep endless daunting in your first couple of lessons. You will receive many more during the first few days of your training course, so pay attention to the sage advice from your experienced tutors, be prepared and get to know the learners you will be working with. A bit more effort paid to your teaching early on will pay dividends as you get more confident in your classroom work later on.

Posted On: November 30, 2020.

Author: Tom Garside

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