Letting Them ‘Roll With It’ – The Power of Exploration

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying video (well-worth a watch): 

I had this crazy idea, some years ago, to offer a Computer Games Coding after-school club for the students to take part in. I had absolutely no idea how to code, but I thought it would be pretty cool. 

I was rather the maverick back then. 

I picked up a book about coding with Scratch (check it out by the way – it’s brilliant) to read up on the basics, but I didn’t have the self-discipline to actually read that book.

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I picked up the book, but I didn’t read it!

I stopped after the first few pages. 

Around 20 students signed up for this club, making it one of the most popular in the school. I was two days away from teaching my first coding lesson and I was panicking – how could I teach this stuff if I didn’t even know how to do it? 

I decided on Emergency Plan B – I would share extracts from Scratch textbooks for kids (and my book that I’d bought) with the students through our school’s online learning platform. There were a number of games that the students could decide to build: Ghost Hunter, Boat Race, Space Mission, Chat Bot, etc. I decided to let them choose and build the games in pairs or small groups

It worked like an absolute treat! 

The teacher explores with the students 

In those early days I would call students to my desk one-at-a-time and I would ask them: “How’s the coding going? What have you done so far? Show me the blocks you’ve created.” – Guess what: the kids were teaching me how to code!

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As each lesson went by I picked up more and more tips and knowledge and I was able to help the students out with more complex problems. The club culminated at the end of the year with a big assembly in which my best coders shown the whole school the games they created. 

Go on the journey together

My message in this article is that it’s not always necessary to know everything about your subject, especially if you’re new to teaching it. When I first came to Thailand in 2008, I was much less knowledgeable about Chemistry than I am now (I was a Biology Teacher in the UK). The strategy I took was this – I will learn with the students

So, get some fundamentals under your belt and think of ways to get your students to explore the topics they are learning. Get your students to use source material to:

  • Create Google Slides presentations (these are great, by the way, as multiple students can work on the slides in real-time)
  • Create a class quiz (e.g. a Kahoot!)
  • Create infographics (don’t go with ‘posters’ – they’ve been done to death)
  • Create a website or blog (Google Sites is brilliant for this, and is yet another reason why schools should take on Google Suite)
  • Create models of the concepts (simple materials are all that’s needed – bottle caps, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, etc)
  • Create a table display (e.g. for a Science Fair)

Don’t forget to reward the effort in some way: house points, merits, certificates, etc. 

Try the I.E.S. Method

Introduce the topic to the students via some kind of engaging starter activity (see my blog post on starter activities for some ideas to get you started). Use the three As (Assign, Analyse and Ask) where possible.

Give the students a ‘menu’ of different ways in which they can choose to explore the topic in a creative way (e.g. by creating a collaborative Google Slides presentation, making a Kahoot! quiz for the class to complete, designing an infographic, etc.)

Showcase the work to the class (or allow students to showcase their own work) so as to provide acknowledgement. a sense of accomplishment and a useful opportunity for class reflection. Do this important step the next lesson if time runs out, Do not skip this vital step. 

Subject Knowledge Does Help

It is worth pointing out that it is always better to actually know the intricacies of the topics you are teaching. This always gives the teacher more confidence and more ability to help the kids.

The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential. 
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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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The IB Results ‘Scandal’ of 2020

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Originally published July 19th 2020. Updated July 23rd and July 26th 2020.

I’m very grateful to everyone who has e-mailed me to ask how they can support my work. If you would like to support my work, then you can purchase one of my great, value-for-money books from Amazon.

Skip to the end of this article to see links to external news sources and blogs on this topic (updated 26th July)

IMPORTANT DOCUMENT: IBSCA Letter to Universities (This is a letter that could be used to support an IB student’s application to university or college. It is from Richard Markham: CEO of the IB Schools and Colleges Association and spells out clearly the nature of the inconsistencies in this year’s IB grades.). This letter was e- mailed to every UK university on 20th July 2020 by IBSCA. 

It’s the story of the decade that’s had students, parents and schools up-in-arms – and it’s at danger of fading away if we don’t keep shedding light on it. 

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“An amazing book!”

So, what exactly happened?

Paula Wilcock, IB’s Chief Assessment Officer, answered that question in a blog post published immediately after the IB Results were released. After telling students to “focus on your two-year IB journey” and not worry about their grades too much, Paula finally describes how this year’s students were assessed:

In order to award a diploma or course certificate, following the cancellation of all external written components of our examinations for the May 2020 session, we asked students to complete their internal assessment (IA) coursework as usual, which were submitted to us by IB World Schools.

Following the submission of IAs, we used historical assessment data to ensure that we followed a rigorous process of due diligence in what was, and still is, truly an unprecedented situation. We undertook significant data analysis from previous examination sessions, individual schools and subject data.

International Baccalaureate (IB) students who were due to sit terminal examinations in April and May of this year were denied the chance to sit their exams due to the COVID19 pandemic. Instead, schools had to submit each student’s coursework (known as Internal Assessments or ‘IAs’), submit a predicted grade and, crucially, submit historical assessment data.

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Just to add a bit of context – the IB Diploma is an important pre-university qualification, and is a non-traditional (and popular) alternative to ‘A’-Levels that is widely respected the world-over.

The IB’s request for historical assessment data has probably been the issue that has caused the most contention in the wake of this story. Upon first glance, outsiders like parents and students may have thought that this meant that assessment data for each student over the course of the two years of their studies was submitted for analysis. However, what the IB actually asked for was the past five years of each school’s predicted grades and actual grades, in order to determine how accurate each school is at making predictions. 

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I personally think that this was an illogical step to take. Here’s why:

  • Teachers get better at predicting grades as time goes by
  • Teachers change year after year
  • Schools have to be accredited to run the IB anyway (so, why not trust the schools to do their jobs properly?)
  • Some schools have only been teaching the IB for a few years (less than five)
  • The accuracy of predictions a school made five years ago has no relevance to the accuracy of predictions made today

On top of all this, it doesn’t even seem as though the IB used a fair and consistent algorithm when assigning grades:

  • IAs (coursework) were graded down for many students, after having been assessed by experienced teachers in many cases (teachers who’ve been assessing coursework for years with no issues)
  • Students in the same school seem to have been marked differently – getting the same predicted grades and IA grades, but different overall grades

To boil it all down to one sentence: The IB seem to have assessed this year’s students inconsistently. In fact, the inconsistencies as so massive, that the UK’s exam watchdog, Ofqual, has started an investigation into the IB’s assessment methods for this year’s cohort and has asked for the assessement algorithm to be disclosed.

In a massive show of defiance and anger, over 20,000 IB students have signed a petition calling for ‘justice’. If one wants to get an idea of how deeply this resentment runs, then go to the IB’s Instagram page and look at the comments under the ‘Congratulations Class of 2020’ photo – scores of students telling their personal stories, and describing how they feel that their trust in the IB Organization was misplaced. 

Update (26th July 2020)

The playlist below is well-worth a watch. In a short series of interviews, a selection of IB students from around the world describe how they have been affected (emotionally, financially and mentally) by this year’s grading system (Courtesy of The International Student Podcast YouTube channel). 

Update (23rd July 2020)

There have been a number of interesting developments this week (but more still needs to be done to bring more attention this story):

  • The Norwegian Data Protection Authority (NO DPA) sent an official letter to the IBO requesting information regarding exactly how students were assessed. The authority has requested clarification on 7 key points of confusion (see the images below)
  • The IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA) – a support network of IB Schools – published a letter designed to be used to support any student’s application to university. The letter spells out what has happened this year, and makes it clear that many students (especially at the higher end of the achievement spectrum) have been marked down by the IB’s algorithms. You can download the letter as a pdf here: IBSCA Letter to Universities

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Norwegian 2

Norwegian 3

Norwegian 4

References and further reading

[IB Blog] – Advice from IB’s Paula Wilcock: Focus on your two-year IB journey [6th July 2020] : https://blogs.ibo.org/blog/2020/07/06/advice-from-ibs-paula-wilcock-focus-on-your-two-year-ib-journey/

[Times Educational Supplement] – Exclusive: IB grading being investigated by watchdog [9th July 2020] : https://www.tes.com/news/exclusive-coronavirus-ib-grading-being-investigated-watchdog

[Telegraph] – Ofqual steps in as thousands of students miss out on expected IB Diploma grades [12th July 2020]: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/12/ofqual-steps-thousands-students-miss-expected-ib-diploma-grades/

[Beijing Kids Blog] – Lower Than Predicted IB 2020 Results Spark Outrage [18th July 2020]: https://www.beijing-kids.com/blog/2020/07/18/ib-2020-results-sparks-outrage/

[South China Morning Post] – Hong Kong schools seek review of students’ poorer-than-expected results as International Baccalaureate grading sparks dismay, global petition: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3094692/hong-kong-schools-seek-review-students-poorer-expected [26th July 2020]

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How a TEFL Gap Year Will Benefit Your Future

You may be doing your TEFL course and teaching abroad as a ‘gap year’ before starting a career which you studied for at university. Many people will ask you ‘Why do you want to teach English abroad? Aside from a so-called year off, how will it benefit you?’. Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her thoughts with us.

A year of teaching abroad can benefit you in number of ways:

You’ll gain confidence 

So many parts of this experience will help you to gain confidence – from travelling alone abroad to a new place, to experiencing new cultures, to doing something new, to learning to speak in front of people.

Your communication skills will improve

Techniques learnt on the course and practiced in the classroom thereafter, will improve your general communication skills. You will be far more aware of whether or not you have been understood, and will adjust the way you speak and listen to people in general. You will also become more confident speaking to large groups of people, as well as on a one-to-one basis.

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Your time management skills will improve

You’ll become the master of checklists! There’s nothing like leaving behind your materials and wasting all your hard work and effort to make you more organised! Carefully planning your lessons according to a time schedule will also be great practice for time management.

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You’ll become more aware of other cultures

As you’ve moved to another country and are teaching students who are not from your culture, you will become acutely aware of the differences between cultures, and the pitfalls of dealing with people from other cultures. These include misunderstandings, doing things in different ways, and knowing that what is acceptable in one culture, may not be so in another culture. In the corporate workplace one day, this will be a valuable asset to have, particularly in jobs where you’ll be dealing with international clients.

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Networking

You will make friends for life – after meeting people you would never have met back home. These could be your fellow classmates on the TEFL course, your fellow teachers while teaching, or neighbours and other locals, as well as your students. Having an international network of friends and past colleagues can also advance your career in ways you may never know – as you never know where the future may take you.

You’ll mature and grow as a person

All the challenges and hardships of living abroad will give you a tough skin and mature you in ways that staying at home in a familiar environment won’t do. Moving out of your parental home is testing enough for many young adults – but doing so in a different country really challenges!

Well there you have it. There are many more reasons to sail away from familiar shores, but these reasons are ones that you can proudly mention in interviews and cover letters. So what are you waiting for? 

If you’re thinking of getting a TEFL qualification and teaching overseas, then Destination TEFL can help you!

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Teaching Overseas for the First Time: Advice From Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps and The Rogers Pedagogical Planner: A Teacher’s Planner for Serious Professionals)

COVID-19 has clearly had a devastating effect on the aviation industry. With international travel brought to a virtual standstill, some airlines have found themselves laying off staff, downsizing and even going bankrupt

This is, of course, an unprecedented and horrific situation for the airline industry as a whole. In addition to this, restrictions on international travel have caused ripples to permeate throughout a wide variety of other industries: not least international education. Some effects that have been experienced by teachers (some of whom are my colleagues) are as follows:

  • Teachers who were appointed to roles overseas cannot leave their current country of residence to actually start their jobs.
  • Dependents, such as spouses and children, are often not able to move abroad with the appointed teacher as it’s difficult for many countries to get the necessary clearance and paperwork approved.
  • Teachers who were ‘on the fence’ about teaching overseas are now regretting the fact that they didn’t ‘take the plunge’ and move abroad sooner, as now their ability to travel has been restricted.

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That last bullet-point is an interesting one. It’s an ‘imaginary’ scenario based only on the anecdotal evidence I could currently acquire – a number of my readers have written to me to say that they regret not having made the decision to teach overseas sooner. 

Whilst I cannot be sure that this is a systemic or widespread regret that applies to the teaching profession as a whole, it is an understandable and logical emotional response to COVID-19 that we can consider. I imagine that when COVID-19 is ‘over’ (will it ever be really over?), and flight paths reopen, we will see a surge in applications for overseas teaching posts. 

Class Q and A

In anticipation of this, I’ve conducted a rather unconventional experiment this week. As a teacher with 12 years of overseas teaching experience (11 years in Thailand, 1 year in China), I decided to post my top 5 suggestions/tips for teachers who are considering moving overseas to teach. I posted these tips in the popular Teachers in Thailand Facebook group, to see what kind of responses I would get. After a bit of distillation (tallying up the responses with the most likes), I’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive and balanced list of pre-teach-abroad tips for all budding globe-trotters (I hope!):

Rule #1: Try to learn the local language – even a few words will show others that you are trying and you’ll be respected all the more for it.

In some countries, of course, this won’t be necessary. If you’re a native English speaker moving to Singapore, Australia, America or the UK (or another English speaking country), then you may only have to learn some of the local colloquialisms and get used to some unusual dialect. However, if you move to a country like China, for example, it’s a whole different story. 

Sometimes, learning the local language is essential. When I worked in Chongqing, China; for example; very few people could understand English (Starbucks baristas tended to be the best speakers – so hats-off to them). I had to learn some Mandarin just to survive. Learning the local language does have other benefits, too, however:

  • Language and culture are often very closely intertwined. Learning the local language can help you to understand why the local people think the way they think. This can lead to better relationships, less frustration and more common-ground and mutual understanding.
  • When you at least try to use the local language, you are showing that you have some respect for the local people and the country in which you are a guest (more on that later). In my experience, this goes a long way to building trust with others (e.g. that hairdresser you have to see every week, or that bar tender you see on the occasional Friday night). People tend to admire you more if you show that you are willing to learn, and you don’t just expect everyone around you to speak your language and accommodate you.

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Teachers in Thailand Response

This rule was generally well-received. A noteworthy response that offers some extra-insight is given below (of course, remember that this is Thai-centric, but could be applied to any native language):

“I had the advantage of a thorough pre-field language training (it leads to some interesting conversations with Thai adults — like “how can my English get as good as your Thai” — but even if you have much less Thai than that it can still be a bridge-builder that can make your life easier — and fortunately, there are now FB groups designed specifically for foreigners trying to learn Thai. Take it easy, and you will gradually get better at it.”  – Edwin Zehner

Rule #2: Do not leave home because you are trying to run away from problems – finances, crime, family issues – get any of these issues resolved first before you move overseas (or your problems might travel with you).

I must admit that this was a tricky one for me to phrase correctly in one sentence, and it did receive a little bit of backlash in the Facebook group. Before I include a noteworthy response or two, I’d like to add an extract from my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management (final chapter), which goes into this a bit more:

Extract from THE QUICK GUIDE TO CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

SECRET NUMBER 46: Your Problems May Follow You When You Fly Away

If your motivation to leave your home country revolves around personal
problems you have such as debt, a broken relationship or family
issues, then don’t assume that all of these problems are going to vanish
as soon as the landing gear hits the tarmac in your new city. Certain
problems, especially those concerning money, can actually be
exacerbated when you leave your home country. Here are my top tips
for making sure that a problem at home doesn’t become a nightmare
abroad:

  1. Money: Think long and carefully about any debt-related or financial issues you have, and aim to resolve them before you board the plane. Many expatriates find it difficult to transfer funds back to their home country once they’re abroad, and this can have consequences in terms of meeting credit card and bill payment dates. You must ensure that you’ve inquired beforehand about the ways in which you can deal with your finances abroad, and you must remember to follow through. When one is residing in a foreign country, it can be easy to forget about the financial commitments you have in your home country. In the early stages, this can manifest as an awkward message or letter from your creditor, progressing to international criminal action if the issue is not dealt with. It might be a good idea for you to leave some savings in your native bank account which you can use to pay your bills and loans in the first few months of your new adventure. You may wish to get a trusted friend or family member back home to help you with this.
  2. Relationships: Don’t burn any bridges before you fly away. You may be travelling to an exotic new country to start a wonderful new chapter in your life, but you never know when circumstances may force you to return home to your native country. Try not to upset people before you leave, for example, by venting your pent-up grudges that you’ve had for years. You may also want to keep in touch with people at your old school as you may need to call upon them for advice, resources and help.
  3. Health: Try to bring all of your medical records with you when you travel, and have them deposited at the hospital you plan to use when you start at your new school. Whilst medical care provided overseas can be of an extremely high quality (especially when your school pays for private medical insurance as part of your package), it can be very difficult for doctors to suggest a suitable course of treatment if your exact medical history is unknown. If you end up spending a great deal of time teaching overseas, then you may find yourself moving
    from hospital to hospital, or even country to country! It is essential that you do not underestimate the importance of keeping your medical records safe, accessible and updated. Unfortunately, however, this is the one aspect of international teaching that is most overlooked by teachers.
  4. Crime: If you’ve committed any kind of serious criminal offence in your home country, then you almost certainly will not get a job at a reputable international school overseas. Most will require you to complete a criminal records check before you leave your home country but even if your school does not require this, you must still be upfront and honest about any criminal history you have. The ramifications for you can be severe if your school finds out about it later.
  5. Online: Clean up your online profile. Look at all of the social media channels you have, all of your blog posts, forum replies, comments and any other material you’ve submitted online. Also, remove anything that puts you in a bad light: international school managers are using ‘internet screening’ more and more often these days. Additionally, be very careful about who you connect with through social media, and never connect with current students. Whilst it’s important to keep in touch with your former students (through school-authorized alumni channels), you still have to be careful about what they can read about you, or from you, online. Your former students may be connected with your current students, and they can pass on information easily. You’ll also find that the student world of international teaching is just as small as the teacher world, and students in different international schools do communicate and connect with each other.

Q & A

I received some interesting responses about this in the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group:

“I do not agree with your point 2. We left SA because of a few of your nr 2 reasons and we soooo happy in Thailand!”

“Sometimes it’s impossible to resolve problems at home. Nonetheless you can be an effective teacher.”

I guess a balanced viewpoint on the issue is needed. A fresh start in a new country can offer you the chance to leave the past behind, and build a new future. My point, however, is that you should try to solve as many personal problems as you can before you move over. Avoid ‘burning bridges’ too – you never know when you might need to cross them again. 

Rule #3: Remember that you are a GUEST in a foreign country. Be respectful, and remember that for every action you undertake you will be scrutinized more excessively than the natives.

I’m not sure if being ‘scrutinized more than the natives” applies in EVERY country, but that’s certainly been my experience in Thailand and China – and that’s understandable. I am a foreigner. I have to be respectful of the local rules, culture and environment. 

I think it is important to realise that the world is an incredibly varied place. If you’ve lived your whole life in one country (as I did before moving out to Thailand in 2008) you’re going to find that your new home will be different in many ways. The most profound of these differences, however, is that people probably won’t even ‘think like you think’ on many issues. 

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Being understanding and accepting of the host culture and environment kind of comes with the job of being an international school teacher. If it gets too much for you, you can always move back home later (or to another country). 

Rule #4: Get as many qualifications as you can (and as much experience as you can) back home before moving out – it’ll all look good on your resume/CV and you’ll definitely use the skills and knowledge you’ve learnt.

International schools tend to have more difficulties recruiting specialists than, say, a domestic school in western country would. This, coupled with the fluid nature of international education (schools at different phases of development) means that you may be asked to teach subjects outside of your specialism. 

Before moving out, try to get skilled-up in anything pedagogical – accelerated learning techniques, Assessment for Learning, teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms training, etc. The skills you learn on courses like these will definitely come-in handy when you teach overseas.

Online learning is, of course, great for this. There a large number of high-quality, inexpensive courses available on places like edX, Coursera and Udemy. You can also take my Classroom Management Fundamentals certificate course with UK Ed Academy.

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Some notable additions

“Make sure your social media accounts are private and that your profile pic is respectable. Recruiters often check you out on social media. Do an in-class or hybrid course. There is so much to be said for REAL PRACS with real students. Do an intro video if you can – either just introduction, or even better of you in the classroom showing your rapport with students. Be punctual for any interviews!” – Rose-Anne Turner, Founder of Destination TEFL

“Get someone to proofread your c.v and covering letter. The number of applications we get with poor punctuation and spelling mistakes…” – Kate Lloyd, Director of Studies at London School of English, Ukraine. Check out her website for teachers at What Kate and Kris Did.

“Expect things to go a bit wrong/unplanned from time to time but make sure you’re flexible and ok with that” – Stefan Hines, Secondary Science Teacher

Rule #5: Kinda linked to number 2: make sure you are going overseas for the right reasons – to inspire and help your students, to gain teaching experience and to gain a unique cultural experience. You’re not coming over to have a big, never-ending holiday, or to find a local boyfriend or girlfriend (although that last one might be a nice by-product).

This is quite an important one. If you don’t have the right mindset before you come out, then you could be in for quite a shock. 

International schools (and local public schools) tend to have very high professional standards. In addition to this, there often comes the added pressure of being expected to perform well. Thing about it: your school has most likely paid for your flight, immigration visa, work permit and maybe even housing and a competitive salary. You’ll be expected to measure-up. 

Have a holidays at holiday time. Experience the local culture and food all that good stuff, but remember that you must be just as professional at your job as you were back home. 

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Reliability and Flexibility: Two Traits Every Teacher Must Have [An Interview with Gill Murray]

The idea that teachers should be role-models for their students is a complex one to grasp at times. What are the key teacher-behaviors that need to be adopted for modelling to be effective? Today, I’ve invited Gill Murray (Founder of Alba English Class Online and Homestay) to share her thoughts and tips for educators. Gill shares her perspectives on teaching from the viewpoint of a language school owner – a unique take that I’m sure my readers will find interesting.

Accompanying video:

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born and raised in Scotland, UK.

I don’t have a degree, which is the most asked question I get asked from potential TEFL students and teachers. I did a Higher National Diploma in Hotel Management (this is my second obsession: all things hospitality). 

I owned my own catering business, worked in recruitment and, I can happily say, I am the owner/teacher at Alba English Class Online and Homestay.

I started teaching as a Trainer in the hotels I worked in and was a Lecturer at Glasgow College of Food Technology for 3 years. While I was there, I was asked to deliver a 3 week course on Sales and Marketing in Moscow for new business start-ups.

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I have been teaching English for nearly 10 years:  face to face in classrooms, online via Skype and as part of my Homestay courses.  I spent nearly 3 years living and teaching English in a language academy in Spain and now live in beautiful Scotland. Focusing on conversational English, I concentrate on vocabulary and pronunciation. My lessons are relaxed and flexible, making students feel comfortable and confident about learning English. 

Why did you choose to become a teacher in the first place?

I had 2 career paths I wanted to follow whilst at school: teaching and hotel management. I chose hotel management and specialized in training people in the hotels I worked in. The process of delivering information to people to improve their skills, efficiency and value was our objective. Then, a chance meeting 11 years ago with a colleague in the work’s tea room opened the world of TEFL to me and I have been addicted to it ever since. I teach my own students online and face to face during my homestay courses, I do visiting classes online in other language schools across the world and I teach new TEFL Teachers how to teach online and I mentor them.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching?

Welcome to the best job in the world!

– Do a recognised qualification. Employers want to see you have the skills they need and that you have invested in their environment.

– Keep it easy to begin with until you become familiar with your working environment. We are so lucky to have so many resources available to us but it can be very confusing if you are new to it.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

– Have several income sources (e.g. regular hours from an online school, some face to face students, some from other platforms such as Preply or Italki). This allows you to have a steady income and avoid dips in student numbers.

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– Keep a database of contacts and students for future reference. I guarantee you will use them in your future teaching life.

– Try everything once and you will learn from that. The simplest of ideas can be your best ideas.

– Get a “character” to work with: e.g. an animal, a doll… I have a Harry Potter I use for everyone and it is a real icebreaker and lifesaver.

– Laugh and keep it fun!

What is your personal teaching philosophy?

Reliability and flexibility! This has been the way I have worked my whole life and it is fundamental to a good, strong teaching business. Lesson cancellations happen and you must be prepared to be flexible, regularly using your free time to do classes. Time differences mean early starts or late finishes but it all goes towards your reputation and business development. 

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Keep it simple and have fun! I have the privilege to teach other people how to speak my native language. They work hard earning money to pay for my classes so I give them the best class I can for the fairest price. 

With these 2 philosophies in place, you will never have an empty schedule. 

What changes do you see happening in the future with regards to the teaching profession?

I think we have just lived through the biggest change in teaching over the last few months with the Covid 19 situation. Classroom teachers and parents have been thrown into online teaching and they have all done the most amazing job. 

I think parents realise just how hard a job it is and have a new respect for teachers.

I think student teachers/qualified teachers will have online teaching training added to their skills base as this method will continue in the future.

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Online teaching of any subjects will continue to increase as people have now realised how convenient it is in their lives. 

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in your journey as a teacher?

To respect every student, their nationality and cultural differences. It all goes to build the relationship between teacher and student and improve their learning journey and yours.

To embrace the profession I am in and to experience as many parts of this profession as possible.

To listen to the student: for an idea about their mood during the class; to the information they share with you; for their response to your teaching and they understand what you are teaching.

What’s next for you and your career?

I am so lucky to be working in the profession I am in. I love marketing so I am always thinking up new ways to diversify my business.

Last year I started Homestay courses from my countryside home in Scotland. Students came to stay with us and immersed themselves in English with daily classes and excursions. I was truly surprised at how much the students improved in such a short time. After Covid, this will continue.      

I will continue to deliver online classes to current and new students.  Details can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Alba-English-Class-Online-and-Homestay-436805727098408/

I created my 2020 Challenge allowing me to give a free hour of my time to deliver a conversation class to students to allow them to speak with a native speaker. This has been a great success so far and continues until December. This had led to many new teaching contacts and new working relationships developing for the future.

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I am now offering coaching sessions to potential or new TEFL teachers where we discuss their career possibilities and goals. These sessions include real-life online classes with my students to alleviate any nerves  for the new teacher. I am there to support them and help with any questions.

Thoughts and reflections from Richard James Rogers

Thank you, Gill, for taking the time to share these really useful, unique and insightful tips and experiences with us. Some key takeaways for me personally were:

  • Treating your job as a teacher as if it were your own personal ‘business’ (for those of us who don’t actually own our own schools) is a great mindset to take-on. It ensures personal accountability so that high-standards of ‘customer’ service (i.e. service to our students and their parents) remains high. 
  • I really like the two foundational ‘pillars’ of flexibility and reliability as key philosophies to guide teachers in their practice. In my personal experience, it took me a long time to realise what profound, life-changing effects I was having on my students – effects that lasted well into adulthood. The creation of this blog and my first book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, involved me ‘chasing-up some of my old students who I taught at high-school and who were now in their mid-to-late twenties. After numerous discussions and interviews, it became clear to me that teacher reliability (in particular) was one high-effect characteristic that literally had the power to change people’s lives. I use the word ‘people’s’ instead of ‘students’ because I realized the ultimate truth that what we do as teachers affects our students well into their professional lives as adults. When we fail to be reliable, we can generate resentment that lasts for decades (literally). When we choose to be reliable, we can set students on a path to success. It really is that simple. 

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Assessing Students Through Online Learning: Four Ideas to Consider

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

In the wake of school closures resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic came a global frenzy of remote-teaching. Teachers all around the world were immediately presented with two major challenges:

  1. How to teach students effectively using online tools
  2. How to assess and give feedback to students accurately and efficiently via remote-learning technology

Most of the books and blogs I’ve read deal primarily with the first of these two challenges. In fact, I even jumped on this bandwagon with some blog posts of my own (here, and here and here) and by publishing my latest book: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (which also includes some advice for assessment when teaching from home).

100 Awesome Final Cover

This focus was understandable in the early days of COVID-19: teachers had to adapt quickly and schools had to put systems in-place that were safe and efficient to use. We’ve now reached a point, however, where we need to start thinking seriously about the ways in which we are going to assess our students and provide high-quality feedback whilst teaching from home. 

Thankfully, I’ve done some of the serious thinking for you. I’ve been testing a number of methods with my students over the past two months and I’ve distilled the mix down to to a few methods that seem to work best. 

Tip #1: Use screen-share functions to quickly assess, give feedback and offer guidance

Any kind of screen share in a video-conferencing tool can be amazing for providing quick feedback. I currently use Google Meet with my students, and I use the screen share in the following ways:

  1. To quickly see student work and offer some verbal feedback and encouragement (students share their screen with me).
  2. To guide students through a process, because by seeing their screen I can show them where to click and where to navigate.
  3. By showcasing excellent work with the class. Oftentimes I’ll do this by asking exceptional students to share their work via screen-share with the whole class.

Tip #2: Get your students to build website ePortfolios

Do you know what an ‘ePortolio’ is? It’s basically a website that each student creates. To this website each student uploads their work, either as photographs of their notes or more complex pieces such as Google Sheets, PDFs and Google Slides. 

Provided that you, the teacher, has the URLs for each students’ site, marking becomes a doddle. All you have to do is click through the list of URLs and mark the student work. With New Google Sites you can actually type comments onto the students’ websites (if the student clicks ‘share’ and then shares the site with you). With other platforms (such as Wix and WordPress), an e-mail to each student after checking the sites would work well. 

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Tip #3: Use automated assessment programs for your subject

I personally use MyMaths (for mathematics), Educake (for Science) and I have used Lexia (for English) in the past. Software like this often has to be purchased by the school, but the investment is nearly always well-worth it. Automated assessment programs usually come with detailed reports post-testing which can be ‘auto-emailed’ to the class teacher. 

Tip #4: Have you tried exam.net?

Exam.net is a place where you upload end-of unit tests or assessments, and students complete them at home, remotely, at an allotted time and for a set period of time. The students submit their work via a word document. 

Exam.net can be used at high-functionality for free, but also has some premium options available for schools who wish to use the software with multiple classes.

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Online Learning: A Risk-Assessment List for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

Teaching online can be a very productive and worthwhile experience for both the teachers and students involved. However, at this time of widespread school closures due to COVID19, many teachers have had to quickly adapt their skills to teaching online without full knowledge of the heightened risks involved. 

This blog post aims to educate teachers everywhere about the things we can do to protect ourselves when teaching online. I believe that this list is so important that I’ve included it in my upcoming book for teachers: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April 2020 on Amazon globally). 

100 Awesome Final Cover
Available on Amazon from 8th April 2020 onwards

‘The List’: What do we need to be aware of? 

  1. Anything we say or do online can be recorded, stored, edited and forwarded without our knowledge. Google Hangouts Meets, for example, can be set to autonomously record your meetings and auto-generate a transcript of what was spoken and by whom. We must keep every interaction with our students professional and clean. The same high standards of personal conduct that are expected of us in the classroom apply even more when we are teaching online.
  2. Know when your camera and microphone are switched on. When you start doing video conferencing for the first time, you might inadvertently set your students on a task after a live stream video briefing and then proceed to make a coffee; yawn and stretch in front of the camera; or even chat casually about how messed-up life is with your spouse who’s also working from home. Be careful. This is a very easy trap to fall into (I’ve come close to doing this myself on several occasions!). Make sure your camera AND MICROPHONE are switched off when you no longer need to engage with your students in real-time. In addition, be equally aware of video conferencing apps that can auto-generate captions. If you switch your camera off, but fail to switch off your microphone, then that next YouTube video that contains expletives and blares out of your mobile phone will not only be audible to your students, but captions may even appear on their screens!
  3. Parents will watch you teach, so be prepared for that. In my experience, many students like to switch off their cameras towards the beginning of a lesson and, unbeknownst to you, a parent could be watching. This places us, as teachers, under even greater pressure to deliver high-quality lessons than when we are snug and comfortable in our respective classrooms. Be professional and keep standards high. If we aim to be clear, caring and professional, then our students and their parents will respect and appreciate our efforts all the more for it.
  4. Be aware of chat features that are built into apps. These can contain casual emojis that one can choose to use; but we must be careful not to chat casually with any student (even by adding emojis to our messages). Keep all communication conducted through integrated chat as professional as you would in the classroom. I expand on this advice in a separate blog post (How Should Teachers Behave on Social Media?). This section is well-worth a read if you want to see some real examples of teachers who lost everything because of their lack of alertness to this point!
  5. If you are not sure about an app’s appropriateness for use, then check with your school’s Senior Leadership Team or your line manager. Some schools like to keep all their prescribed online learning apps under the control of their domain (e.g. schools that use Google Classroom and Gmail may prefer to use Google Hangouts Meets as their video conferencing system, as opposed to Zoom). A great story that illustrates this point is a slight blunder that a former colleague of mine made several years ago. Knowing that Flipgrid was a popular video-exchange system used by many American schools, she recommended it to her colleagues in an upcoming collaborative teacher-training session. However, the school’s head of ICT followed up on that training session by e-mailing all the secondary teachers to tell them not to use Flipgrid – because it wasn’t a system under direct control of the school.
  6. Check student well-being on a regular basis. When students work from home they can feel lonely, extremely bored and anxious. At this very moment, for example, as I write this prose; the novel coronavirus pandemic has snared much of the world’s population with fear and confusion. This fear and confusion is certainly being felt to varying degrees by many of the students I currently teach. Check that your students are having regular breaks and are sticking to a routine. E-mail parents of the students you are responsible for to find out how things are going. Recommend any tips you can for working from home productively and maintaining a personal sense of happiness and wellness. Share any tips that your school counselor or Student Welfare Officer sends out. When interacting on a video-call, check how your students look and feel. Are they dressed properly? Are they tired or stressed-out? Are there any student-wellbeing issues that come to your attention? Is the technology working correctly for your students?
  7. Effective online teaching requires effective technology. This can be a challenge when using old hardware or software (or both) and when internet connections are slow. We must adapt: no matter what it takes. Set work via e-mail if video conferencing is not an option. Experiment with using the apps listed in my book (100 Awesome Online Learning Apps) on your phone if you don’t have a tablet or notebook/laptop. Figure out how your device’s integrated microphone works if you don’t have a headset. Go through the apps in this book that seem appealing and test the efficiency of each when setting tasks through the technology that’s available to you. Check-up on your students regularly – do they have the technology required to access and complete the tasks you are setting?

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100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April on Amazon Globally)

Release date: Wednesday 8th April 2020 on Amazon Globally [ISBN 979-8629490937]

Great news!: My GAME-CHANGING book, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps, is now LIVE on Amazon. Copies can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086PSMYRN/

The book covers:

1. Not-so-obvious things to be aware of when doing online learning
2. A big list of 100 Awesome Apps with suggestions for their use in online learning

100 Awesome Final Cover

Book description

2020 marked a definitive year in the world of teaching. For the first time in history, teachers and schools all around the world were forced to quickly apply their skills to online learning as a result of widespread school closures in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This book is timely and long-awaited, and meets the needs of educators who are required to deliver high-quality teaching via online apps and platforms. This book takes the reader through 100 tried-and-tested online learning platforms, with suggestions as to how each one could be used to enhance teaching or assessment. As a high-school science teacher and a Google Certified Educator himself, Mr Richard James Rogers has first-hand experience of using each platform and speaks from a wealth of involvement rather than from a lofty and disconnected position in elite academia. This is a practical book for those who want to make a difference in their students’ lives, no matter how volatile local circumstances may be.

About the Author

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Richard James Rogers is the globally acclaimed author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets that all High School Students Need to Know. As a Google Certified Educator, he utilizes a wide-variety of educational technology in his day job as an IBDP chemistry teacher at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. Richard actively writes about all issues related to teaching at his weekly blog: richardjamesrogers.com

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The Importance of Planning

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying video: 

My PGCE course was a long, dark road of pain. Not only was I new to teaching, and finding it difficult to teach in a way that was engaging and rightly-paced, but the paperwork was tremendous. 

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Back then, I was required to write out each lesson plan on an A4 piece of paper and have it checked by the main class teacher. I also had to submit the work to my PGCE mentor. 

The process was laborious but it did get me thinking about:

  • How to start my lessons quickly and appropriately.
  • Where students should sit at each point in the lesson and what equipment they would need.
  • How to work through the syllabus at an acceptable pace.
  • How to end each lesson with a stimulating summary.

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Nowadays, however, my lesson planning is done in a one-week-per-two-pages diary [this is the planner I use], and supported by departmental curriculum maps (which outline the topics to be covered for the whole year) and Schemes of Work.

It’s less work, and more ‘long-term’ in focus. 

Planning is a skill that outstanding teachers have mastered. In this article, I want to share my advice on how to best plan our:

  • Lessons
  • Marking
  • Homework schedule
  • Events
  • Free time

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Outstanding teaching is supported by outstanding planning – and this goes beyond the simple planning of one’s lessons. 

The Power of Praise
“Simply Brilliant!” – Readers’ Favorite

Let’s now go through each item in the above list together.

Lesson planning

Experience has taught me that time spent planning lessons always reaps rewards. It requires one to spend a good hour or two of non-contact time doing the following:

  • Looking over the week ahead and scheduling the topics that will be covered on each day
  • Thinking about when homework will be set, when it will be collected in and when it will be marked
  • Accounting for meetings, events and any planned (or possible) disruption to one’s timetable
  • Planning our resource-preparation time

Here’s a video I made about efficient lesson-planning, and in that you will see the lesson planner that I use:

For me, I use part of my Sunday morning each week to plan the week ahead. It always pays dividends in terms of:

  • Reduced stress during the week
  • Better lessons

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Marking

Do we really need to assign so much homework?: If we’re not taking the time to sit with our students to provide high quality feedback, then is that homework assignment we’ve set really that useful?  

We need to think carefully about the quantity of marking we are creating for ourselves, and whether or not this is an effective way to enhance the learning of our students.

I believe strongly in the power of planning our marking. Every week I need to know:

  • When I will set homework, tests and assignments
  • When I’ll collect in homework, tests and assignments
  • When I’ll mark it all
  • How I’ll mark it (in-class strategies, such as a peer and self-assessment, can save us a ton of time)

This is another Sunday morning task of mine – I plan my week’s worth of marking. 

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Events and free time

As well as planning my work, I also know how important it is to plan my free time. 

Knowing that I have a badminton session on a Sunday afternoon, for instance, gives me the motivation to get my work done promptly. Scheduling a Friday night of relaxation gives me a reward for my hard-work during the week. 

Conclusion

I believe that productivity has to permeate and infuse into every cell of our bodies. Productivity must be a way of life – not simply a good habit to deploy at work.

By planning everything, we are more likely to implement the things that move us forwards. 

In the early part of my career my poor time-management and planning skills left me wasting my weekend time, wasting my mornings and creating undue stress for myself. 

Never again. I deserve better. My students deserve better. 

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