Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Three Things I Like about my Teacher

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

I really hate getting up early in the morning to exercise. When my alarm goes off, I curse my love of buttered bread and cheese and begin the (sometimes 15 minute long) process of talking myself into lurching out of bed. On Friday morning, my internal discussion is a little easier because I really like the new teacher in my early morning Total Body Workout class.

I’ve given some thought to why I like her so much. (After all lunges are so much less awful when I have something else to think about!) There are things I certainly don’t love about the class. I often don’t care for the music she chooses. She’s not the perkiest instructor I’ve ever had. The workout is hard and I absolutely loathe the cardio stuff she has us do. The gym is hot. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. So, I really had to think about exactly what it is about her that appeals to me so strongly that I don’t mind getting up on a cold Friday morning and going to the gym. In the end, it really boils down to 3 (pretty mundane) things.

1. She starts the class on time.

It’s a small thing, but, as it turns out, it makes a big difference to students like me. I’ve been going to this particular class for a few years, and in that time, we’ve had several different instructors. They all started the class on time the first few weeks, but as the students trickled in later and later, they often delayed starting the work out until a majority of the students came in.

Even though I am occasionally one of the latecomers, this really irritates me. First of all, it’s disrespectful of the students who actually made the (sometimes superhuman) effort to actually get to the class on time. Second, it shortens the length of the class time. And, third, it doesn’t encourage any of the chronic latecomers to make an effort to come to class on time.

I’ve thought about how this impacts my own classroom management. I always (really, truly, always) start class on time. Not 3 minutes late. Not 5 minutes late. On time. When my students paid for the class, they paid for a certain number of hours of learning. Part of my job is to make sure that all of those hours are as valuable as they can be. Those students who are in their seats when the clock chimes get the full benefit of the class. We do a review activity and then start the lesson, regardless of how many (or few) students are present. As students trickle in, they join the activity or wait until we start the lesson. I don’t get angry at chronic latecomers. I am aware that promptness is a cultural construct. I am also aware that some of my students have very busy and difficult lives. However, they all learn very quickly that if they don’t come on time, they will miss fun, important learning time.

2. She is loud.

What a difference it makes to actually be able to hear instructions! The previous instructors either had quiet music that they talked over (not very motivating) or they had loud music that drowned out their voices (confusing and frustrating). This instructor figured out how to get the microphone working and the music playing at the same time. We can hear her AND bop along to the music at the same time.

The connection to our ESL and EFL classes is simple; it’s frustrating and confusing for our students when they can’t hear us. This makes even more of a difference for English learners than for other students because quiet speech makes the difficult listening process so much harder. I mean, they often already have to struggle to understand what the teacher is saying, why make it harder by speaking quietly? It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry winds up wearing the puffy shirt because he is dealing with a “low talker.” Sometimes, when I observe teachers, I think they would be surprised to find out just how difficult they are to hear at the back of the room, especially when they sit down. I hear teachers best when they stand and project. After all, if our students can’t hear us, what’s the point in talking?

3. She provides regular, clear feedback.

I’ve taken exercise classes where the instructor simply does the exercises along with the class in the front of the room. While there is nothing wrong with teachers serving as a model for their students, even when there are mirrors in the gym classroom, I can’t always judge whether or not I am doing the movements correctly. I really like that our new instructor models the activity and also walks around and offers positive and corrective feedback to each student in the class. I like being told that my downward dog is in good form. I also like being reminded not to push my knee out over my toes when I do lunges. That’s one of the reasons I come to class and don’t just work out at home by myself.

The same goes for our teaching. We shouldn’t just be modelling and explaining at the front of the class. We should be wandering around as our students work, offering praise and helping out as necessary. We should set aside some time during choral repetition to quickly go around the room and have students individually pronounce difficult words so we can offer individualized feedback. Students come to class to learn, and part of that means being told what they are doing well and where they need to improve. Specific, timely and clear feedback is such an important part of how we can help out students.

So, these are three reasons that I like my new Total Body Workout instructor. It doesn’t mean that I ever leap out of bed singing a happy song, but I do tend to grumble less on Friday mornings. I hope that these same things that I try to also do in my own classes will have the same effect on my students.


Comment from cindy sadur
April 24, 2018 at 1:26 pm

I like your analogy to the work out class. I, too, am an avid workout /gym person, and everything you said about why you like a particular class holds true for me as well. I t totally makes sense!

Comment from Tamara Jones
April 25, 2018 at 5:13 am

I’m glad the post struck a chord with you! Thanks for commenting!

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