It’s been almost fifteen years since you started teaching. In fact I think at this point back in 2002 you were busy trying to complete the IH London CELTA pre-course task and trying to make sure you had enough cash for the course fee. If I remember rightly, the original plan was about five years?
Well, here we are now and it’s been a bit longer than that. I’m writing to you because, well, it’s mostly Joanna’s fault because she started it, but you can also blame Sandy as that’s where I saw the first of these posts; retrospective letters to our past selves – tips and advice across the years of experience.
I’m tempted to say “Don’t change a thing!” I like where I am now and what I’m doing now and all of the people that I’m with. I worry that my advice will act as a causality loop in the space-time continuum and that when I click “publish” on this post, that this iteration of me will disappear to be replaced by one where I am either ruler of the known Teflverse, or where I gave the whole thing up and went back to the office job I started teaching to escape. Of course that would create a paradox in which I never sent you the advice in the first place – so we’ll probably be alright…
When I think back now to the things you struggled with on that CELTA course and in those first few years of teaching, there are probably a few things I’d suggest.
1) Take your head out of the books more. You have a tendency to focus in on the material that’s in front of you, to look at the pages of the book and spend hours figuring out how to make it work. Remember the 50% rule (which I think Nick K. will tell you in about six months) and try not to spend more than 50% of lesson time in the planning and preparation. Also, just try to not teach the book so much? You can use the book as a syllabus if you want, a guide to what language to teach and in what order, but you don’t necessarily need to teach the book. After all, you are meant to be teaching the students.
2) It’s OK to not know and it’s OK to tell the class “we’ll come back to that later”. (As long as you do). Especially if you’re being observed (and yes I am thinking of one or two very specific situations you’ll come up against soon). Ignorance is not a crime, but refusing to acknowledge your ignorance is. If a student asks you about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for modality – confess you have no idea what they’re going on about! It will at least stop the tutor at the back of the room from holding his head in his hands and weeping…
3) Get out and about more. This will be difficult in some places because of your timetable, but you are going to spend a lot of time in some fantastic places and you will regret it later if you don’t take advantage of them.
4) Do more of the things you want to do. You will run around a lot thinking things like “I don’t have time for this” and “I can’t do that because I need that hour for something else.” This is foolishness. You still think like that now, but you’re slowly getting better at not doing it. If you mostly do the things you want to do, you will find that the things you have to do get done anyway – probably to the same standard as they would have done had you given them more time, but with less procrastination involved.
5) Start blogging. Now. I mean it. OK, I’ve just checked and WordPress won’t be released for another year and you are about to disappear behind the Great Firewall of China for two years, so you’re off the hook for now, but as soon as you get to Poland, you need to start blogging. You will discover a fantastic community of ELT teachers, thinkers and writers. You will find that writing about it helps clarify your own thinking on a number of teaching aspects. Basically, you’ll really enjoy it…
There’s probably more I could say, but these things are really the only things that feel important enough to write down. So it’s off down to the inter-dimensional post office for me, and if the world hasn’t melted by the time I get back, then we’ll know that either (a) time travel doesn’t really work, (b) time travel does work, but in so doing all you really do is add another layer to the multi-verse, (c) you didn’t listen to a word of it…..
Take care (and don’t eat the sea cucumbers! They’re disgusting!)