I love TEFL del Sur. A teachers’ organization organized by teachers for teachers with no marketing angle, no sales pitch; professional development pure and simple. I’ve been to many excellent sessions at conferences where the ideas are beautiful but I’m often left wondering, would it work in my less than perfect classes? I wanted to get in to the difficulties of working with primary classes to lay bare some of the challenges and to share some possible solutions. Above all, I believe that what makes a difference is how much we care about our students.
I never pretend that the ideas I share at conferences are new or mine; they have been collected, used and practiced and I thank all those who have helped and continue to help me in my endeavours.
“Welcome to the jungle!” In this metaphor we teachers are a kind of crazy, environmentally destructive scientist that’s well equipped, prepared to have to dominate the environment and ready to get in close and personal. We can’t get the closeness and we can’t work effectively if we can’t control the classroom. This is what we’re here for, it won’t happen by magic!
One key strategy is to hope for the best but plan for the worst. How do we plan for a class that doesn’t go according to plan? Well, we need to think about our minimum objectives. Is there something that we should get done early during the class? If the students can be productive early in the class (also when we tend to have more control), then we can all relax more later on. So many lesson plans build towards a glittering communicative event at the end of the class, perhaps we can turn this around. I like to consider the whole experience to be a communicative event, not just that final speaking activity. Also, hoping for the best and planning for the worst, we can plan for multiple exits, where the lesson can finish at many points in the plan and still feel like a successful whole. That way no class is ever a failure.
As well as the plan we need, I believe to think about the human level; yes, plan, and also care. Care for all your students, be patient, be the adult, try to love all your students, especially the most challenging, and go beyond. For me this care and love is most clearly seen through my attempts to build relationships with the individual students.
Neither planning, nor caring constitute a never-fail recipe for a successful class. These are just a couple of ideas that take into account that we all have some good days and some days that are, well, not so great. Some days students achieve loads and other days they achieve very little. If I know what I want out of each class, I can enjoy the good days even more and cope more easily for the bad ones.
So, getting back to the jungle and the poorly behaved scientist… can we ever really beat nature? Probably not, but we can create enough space for us and our students to work, learn and enjoy the process. Of course it’s a challenge, I hope an achievable one. Are you up to it? Can you enjoy it? Go for it, enjoy it, good luck!
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