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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The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner: A New Kind of Teacher’s Planner

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

The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner is finally published and ready after two-and-a-half years of painstaking work and research. It is, quite simply, the product of my mission to create the world’s most useful teacher’s planner.

I’m going to be completely honest with you – the aim of this blog post is to advertise The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner and to inform teachers about how it can be used to make life easier for us. However, I’m also going to try and throw in some useful lesson-planning tips in here too, and links to other blog posts about lesson-planning will be given throughout this article. 

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Here’s a brief overview if you’re just looking for what the planner gives you, and where to buy it (but keep reading if you want some background and links to helpful articles and blog posts about planning and classroom management):

+ 45 weeks of double-page lesson planning templates for you to write all of your lesson plans on

+ A full A4 ‘notes’ page for every week of lesson planning

+ A full A4 ‘targets’ page for every week of lesson-planning

+ 45 pedagogical articles from this blog (richardjamesrogers.com) – one for each week of lessons

+ 578 pages

+ $22.99 and available globally on Amazon

Here are some extracts from the book, so you can see what the inside looks like:

Each week contains an article from my blog to provide insights into classroom management techniques, behavior management methods, active engagement strategies, tips for using technology in teaching and even advice on how to work with colleagues and parents:

Slide1

 

Each week comes with a full A4 ‘Pedagogical Targets’ page which is designed to help you formulate goals for your own continuous development:

Slide2

 

Two A4 pages of lesson-planning boxes/grids are provided for each week (45 weeks in total), giving you plenty of space to write your plans:

Slide3

 

A full A4 ‘Notes’ page is provided for each week of planning: great for recording the details of meetings, incidents that have happened, events that are coming up, notes from training sessions, reflections, etc:

Roger's Pedagogical Planner

The planner is available as a beautiful A4 paperback from Amazon here ($22.99). However, for those of you who like to use stylus devices (e.g. the iPad Pro) or who want to print the planner yourself, I am selling the pdf version for only $15.00. E-mail me at info@richardjamesrogers.com to request your instant copy (payments are made via PayPal). 

My story (briefly)

I graduated from Bangor University (UK) with a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology in 2005, and followed that up with a PGCE in Secondary Science Education (also from Bangor) in 2006. I taught at UK State Schools for two years, before meeting my lovely wife, Nicki, after she finished her master’s degree in 2007. She is Thai, and had to fly back to Thailand as soon her her student visa ran out. I followed her to Thailand in the new academic year of 2008 and I have been teaching at international schools in Thailand (plus a brief one-year stint in China) ever-since. 

My books, and why I started writing

To be honest, I always found teaching to be enjoyable and fun, even when dealing with the ‘problematic’ students (e.g. those who required the active adoption of behavior management techniques to handle). However, my boyish energy and hyper-enthusiasm led me to make a number of silly mistakes over the years: little things, usually, that caught me off-guard when I wasn’t paying attention, such as:

  • Not thinking about where students would sit at different points in the lesson.
  • Setting too much homework, and not having the time (or effective strategies) to mark it quickly and properly.
  • Not pacing my lessons to get all of the content finished on-time.
  • Focusing too much on short-term positive reinforcement, and not considering the long-term effects that consistent praise can have on a child’s life (see my blog post about subtle reinforcement for more on this).
  • How much I allowed myself to relax at staff-parties (often overlooked in teacher-training courses).
  • The effects of physiology and biochemistry on my ability to function during the day (waking up early, having breakfast, exercising, etc.).

I knew that I had to learn from my mistakes, but I realized that I could only do that if I remembered my mistakes. I’ve always had problems with remembering things, so I decided to write my first book (The Quick Guide to Classroom Management) as a no-holds-barred record/journal of the blunders I had made (and seen others make) during my then 10-years of teaching experience. My goal was to simply have a record for my own reference in book-form.

I was surprised, and happy, when that book hit the bestsellers’ list for classroom management (number 1 spot) on Amazon on no less than three occasions.

Conclusion

I hope I have provided you with a good overview of what The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner is, and why I think it is a great tool for educators everywhere. If you do happen to purchase the book, then THANK YOU (and enjoy!).

Skip to the end for links to lesson-planning blog posts I have written

 

Lesson-planning blog posts (great advice for teachers):

The Importance of Planning

The Top 7 Strategies for Efficient Lesson Planning

My Top Three Tips for Teachers

Can Progress be ‘Engineered’ from the Start?

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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. 

Q & A

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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How to Ace Your Observed TEFL Lesson

Lesson observations can be nerve-wracking and stressful for many teachers. Often, this is a result of not-knowing how to effectively deal with the observation (or anticipation of it) on an emotional, professional and strategic level. Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her advice on how to ace a TEFL lesson-observation.

Images for this guest blog post have been kindly provided by Destination TEFL and show teachers they have successful trained in-action, interacting with students. If you’re thinking of getting a TEFL qualification and teaching overseas, then Destination TEFL can help you!

There are so many things to think about when you’re being observed, that it’s easy to forget the obvious. Here are some ways to make sure you ace your observed lessons. 

Before the lesson 

This applies to observed practicums during your course: Pay attention in class! Know the correct procedures and techniques, so you know what is expected of you. 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Practice the steps and procedures (drilling, back-chaining etc) and practice your full lesson beforehand, on your own or with your partner. Get your classmates to act as students and let them point out any mistakes afterwards – all in good faith of course, and you do the same for them. Ask for a copy of the observation form that your observer will use and understand what they’re looking for. Your trainer should make it clear what is expected of you. 

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This will also apply should you be doing a demo lesson for a job interview. When you are called in for a demo, be sure to get all the facts beforehand, including the number and level of the students, how long the lesson will be, the topic, the facilities on site, etc. 

Have a backup for everything! Always have a spare board-marker – they have a nasty way of suddenly dying when you least need them to. Time wasted scrambling for another pen will affect your lesson time management, and the curveball will make you nervous, as well as having a knock-on effect. If you plan to show images on a projector, print the images too. If you’re giving students handouts, always have a few spares on hand in case your observer wants a copy or in case there are more students than expected. Have a safety net for every aspect of the class. Be prepared to upscale or ‘dumb-down’ the lesson in case the level of the students is not what you were expecting, so make sure activities can be adjusted accordingly. 

Have a checklist. Having an amazing board game or a fun worksheet is pointless if you leave it behind – we’ve seen this happen too many times – you can only be marked on what you actually do in class, not what you left at home. Attached to your lesson plan, have a checklist of what to bring, including a bottle of water and a sweat towel – there’s nothing worse than dripping sweat over the kids (yes, we’ve seen this happen too!) Make sure you have all your materials required for the lesson. 

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“An AMAZING book!”

Dress professionally. If you look the part, you’ll feel the part and then you’ll act the part. If you’re not confident, fake it! Soon it will be real confidence. Find out beforehand what the dress code is at the school where you’ll be conducting the lessons. If this is for your teacher practicums during the course, you will be told this beforehand, but if it’s for a demo lesson find out! Some schools for instance, insist that female teachers wear skirts, not trousers, and many schools want all tattoos covered up. 

Don’t rush and don’t leave things to the last minute! Do all your printing the day before – power outages happen and that could mean you can’t print your worksheets, lesson plan etc. make sure your computer is charged and is working. Don’t assume there will be WiFi if you need to show a YouTube clip – either download the video or make sure you can send a hotspot from your phone to the computer for internet access. On the day devote all your attention to delivering a great class, not worrying about last minute logistics. 

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During the lesson 

Stay calm. It’s natural to be nervous when being observed. Many people speak too quickly when nervous – take a deep breath and SLOW DOWN, or your students will not understand you. Smile at your students. They will smile back and this will help you to relax. 

Take note of your students. Plans should be followed… however, they should also be adapted if need be, according to your students’ levels. This is why it’s important to plan for your lesson to be adjusted both up and down, particularly for a class you have never taught before, and are not familiar with the level. Involve all your students When nervous, it’s natural to just focus on the students in the front, or those who are actively participating. Try your best to encourage all to participate. 

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Step back and read what you have written on the board. Often our brains are thinking ahead and we make silly spelling or other mistakes on the board. Take a step back and read what you have written. 

After the lesson 

Listen to the feedback, and take it to heart. Getting constructive feedback is the best opportunity for you to develop as a teacher. Sometimes, it’s not easy to hear, but the feedback given during your observed lessons on the course, is done so with the best intentions, allowing you to get the most out of the course. Avoid acting defensively, arguing with the observer and blaming the students. Instead, keep an open mind, ask for more details and note down the suggestions. 

Do a self-analysis. After each lesson, think back to what you did, and how you could have done it differently. Think about how you handled questions, unruly kids, etc and think about how you could improve. Keep a lesson journal, and take your own feedback to heart too. 

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Take responsibility. Think about what you could have done to teach a better class, not about how someone else is at fault for what went wrong in your lesson. Many people get defensive when given feedback. Blame it on naughty kids? Rather take responsibility for poor classroom management, and research classroom management techniques. Not enough time? Look at your time management skills, and how much wasted time there was in the class. 

It’s important to act on the feedback given after a lesson. If you don’t incorporate the suggestions given by your observer in your next lesson, then the feedback was pointless. Make the most of the valuable feedback session given during your course. After a demo lesson for a job interview, ask for feedback too. Your potential employer will value the fact that you are keen to improve and every good teacher knows that the best teachers never stop learning. 

Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director – Destination TEFL (www.destinationtefl.com)

Thoughts and reflections from Richard James Rogers

I really enjoyed reading this great blog post, Rose-Anne. Thank you for taking the time to share these great tips with our community. As a high-school Science teacher in Thailand, I found these tips to be just as helpful to me as they would be for a TEFL ‘purist’. I think your advice is beneficial for teachers in a wide-variety of different settings. 

My key-takeaways were as follows:

  • A lesson-observation needs to be dealt with strategically: this is not something that you can leave to chance, or be ad-hoc about. You need to have a plan in-place for the run-up to the lesson, the lesson itself and the after-lesson reflection process. Most teachers focus only on lesson-planning and their presence during the lesson, in my personal experience. 
  • Planning the lesson activities and meeting lesson-objectives is important, but dealing with your own emotions and mental well-being as the teacher is equally important. This aspect of preparing for a lesson-observation is often overlooked and poorly discussed in traditional teacher-training programmes, in my personal opinion.
  • I really liked the after-lesson tips: teachers need to hear no-nonsense advice like “Listen to the feedback, and take it to heart”. I really like how you encourage teachers to “take responsibility”: we live in a world of convenience coupled with flux, and this often causes adults to become resentful and play the ‘blame game’ when receiving constructive criticism. It’s important to detach any negative emotions from whatever feedback you receive, analyse what happened, and take the necessary action steps to become better next time. 

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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).

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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). 

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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 ‘Lazy Mindset’ – Some Teachers Don’t Even Try

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

It was a typical morning tea break in the school staff room. Typical morning grumbles. Typical morning camaraderie.

“It’s like talking to a brick wall with John”, piped in one colleague.

“Yeah he’s pretty distant isn’t he?”, said another.

“He just doesn’t try. I doubt he’ll even get a grade D in GCSE Maths”, says the colleague who started this conversation.

Then I make the biggest cardinal sin a teacher can make in such moaning contests. It was the ultimate point of flippancy for a 23-year-old like me: “He’s great in my lessons”, I arrogantly say.

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“An AMAZING book!”

The conversation went quiet.

Back then I wasn’t as polished in my speech as I am now. For some reason my colleagues still put-up with me, and I think they liked me. Perhaps I was given the benefit of the doubt because I was, essentially, a kid myself.

The truth, however, is that John was, actually, great in my lessons. The question is this: Why?

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Coursework Conundrum

Then there was that time when something I said went down like a lead balloon at a departmental meeting.

A challenging Year 10 class, who were completing Science coursework, were given to me to cover for a lesson. Their teacher was absent that day.

I write about this story in my first book as a classic example of how teacher organisation and rapport-building can generate dramatically different results to the status quo when applied consistently. Basically, I booked the ICT lab and simply walked around the class and helped the students with their work. I also took all of the loose bits of paper that were loosely organised in a blue tray (their ‘coursework’ tray), and put them in plastic wallets with each students’ name on.

A simple tactic, but it worked really well. It meant that the students didn’t have to fish through papers at the start of each lesson and complain that bits were missing – adding to disruption.

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I mentioned this story at that meeting, and whilst my Head of Deportment was impressed with me (he was, secretly, the person I was trying to impress anyway), the teachers of that class were not so happy with my ruthless expose’.

“If I was kid in that class and I had to root through a pile of mixed-up papers to find my coursework, then I’d be disruptive too” I said with a judgmental, 23-year-old voice.

I probably would use more tact and subtlety were I to raise the same issue today. Our colleagues are our allies, not our enemies.

So, what’s the point you’re trying to make?

Simply this:

A teacher’s behavior can have a profound, long-lasting effect on student behavior. 

Robert Greene, in his bestselling book The 48 Laws of Power describes something called the ‘Mirror Effect’. Basically, it’s a way of showing someone their faults and failures by mirroring their actions.

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For teachers, the Mirror Effect works best by modelling the passion and determination we want to see in our students:

  • When we are passionate, our students become passionate
  • When we are relaxed, our students are relaxed [be careful how far you take relaxation, however. Relaxed demeanor: yes. Relaxed attitude to your professional role: no.]
  • When we strive for excellence ourselves, our students also strive for excellence
  • When we praise and encourage, with passion and real emotion, we inspire our students to work harder, and perform better 

One of my proudest moments as a teacher was when I was given a very shy young girl from Iceland to teach. Starting in Year 11 and studying IGCSE Chemistry with me, she had two main challenges to overcome:

  1. She had never learnt any chemistry before, and was due to take an IGCSE exam in Chemistry in 6 months time (that’s hard, by the way)
  2. English was not her first language, and I was teaching her through the medium of English

After my first lesson with her had finished she told me straight: “Mr Rogers, I didn’t understand anything you taught me this lesson.”

Discussing homework

That’s when I knew that this was serious, because I’d taught a lesson covering the basic fundamentals.

Her first test came back in two weeks – she got a grade U. She was devastated.

“I’m just going to fail Chemistry, aren’t I?” – she said

“No way. We won’t let that happen. Your target for your next test is an E, and come and see me on Monday lunchtimes so I can teach you the fundamentals. I believe in you.”

It saddens me to say this, but I received a massive public backlash about a year and a half ago when I suggested that one way that we can help exam-level classes is by giving up a few minutes at lunchtimes to tutor weak students on the run-up to the finals. One person went so far as to write damning review of my book (which, I assume, he hadn’t even read):

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Another happy customer!

I’m not suggesting for one minute that top-up sessions are the only way to help students who are falling behind, but in the case of this student (who had zero prior knowledge of chemistry) it was an essential intervention move. 

That student, incidentally, went on to achieve a grade A* in IGCSE Chemistry six months later – beating almost everyone else in Year 11. 

This happened because:

  • The student worked really hard (this is the main reason)
  • The student wanted to work hard because I kept on pushing her, telling her that I believed in her (and I meant it), and because I gave believable and achievable targets for each test (she scored a U, E, E, D, B, A and then an A* in the final).

This is a living testament of the efficacy of my core philosophy, which is this:

I believe that ANY student’s success can be engineered by a great teacher

You’ll find that statement in my bio on Twitter – it’s the personal philosophy that has guided me for more than 15 years. It works, because I’ve seen it work.

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But how do we implement this philosophy?

Use the four-step T.I.P.S. method:

Step 1: Track progress. Look for patterns in grades. Keep a spreadsheet of scores. 

Step 2: Intervene when grades slip. Have a short conversation with the student in which you use……..

Step 3: Professional Intelligence: Gather and use knowledge about the students’ past achievements, achievements in other subject areas and skills used outside of school to praise the student and remind him/her of the ability that he/she naturally possesses. Talk with other teachers to gather this intelligence if needs be. Couple this with…..

Step 4: Subtle Reinforcement: Be on-the-ball and remind your student regularly what his/her target is. Introduce new resources and offer your time to help. Remind him/her about a test that’s coming up and how you believe in their ability to get a good score. Praise small steps of progress along the way, or any positive work in your subject area. 

You can read more about Subtle Reinforcement here. Some info on Professional Intelligence gathering can be found here

TIPS RICHARD JAMES ROGERS

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Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools: Some Research and Conclusions

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

Last week I wrote a short blog post about the issue of gender-neutral toilets, and how some schools in Australia and the UK are now forcing all students to use them. The reasoning that most schools give as to why these toilets need to be installed is that they are ‘inclusive’, and that they make transgender students feel more comfortable.

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Tremendous opposition to the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in schools has already been voiced by parents, students, local MPs and members of local communities. At Deanesfield Primary School in the UK, for example, parents launched a petition to remove the unisex toilets that were covertly installed over the summer vacation; with one main concern being that menstruating girls felt as though their privacy was being invaded. Many girls were refusing to go the toilet during the day and were at risk of picking up urinary-tract infections as a result. 

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“An AMAZING book!”

I made my opinions clear last week, and I still stand by them. I made the point that no school should impose new restrictions or radical changes on their students without first consulting with parents. This was a classic mistake made at Deanesfield, and it backfired dramatically (consequently, I did actually e-mail the school asking for an update on the situation but I have thus far received no response). I also questioned the underlying concept of a child being able consent to being ‘transgender’ (along with the surgery and puberty-blocking chemicals that go along with that), when that same child cannot consent to sexual activity, cannot drink alcohol, is not considered to be mature enough to vote and cannot legally drive.

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That blog post earned me some haters, with one transgender individual commenting on my Facebook posts with expletives, profanities and explicit prose. It didn’t go well for ‘them’, and that person was subsequently banned from the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group by the admin (and rightly so):

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Another happy customer!

So this is a very triggering topic, and rather than briefly summarize some of the more ‘popular’ stories by citing news articles,  I’d like to perform a brief investigation of some of the research that feeds into this topic. I won’t have time to cover absolutely everything, but I will provide a synopsis of some of the main findings.

The architectural approach

With privacy being cited as an issue for menstruating girls who are forced to use gender-neutral washrooms, one solution could be a functional one: change the architecture so that privacy is no longer invaded. 

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This is exactly the point that Sanders and Stryker make in Stalled – Gender Neutral Public Bathrooms [South Atlantic Quarterly (2016) 115 (4): 779–788. Duke University Press]. As a combined effort between a world-renowned architect (Sanders) and an LGBT professor of Gender and Women’s Studies (Stryker), this paper stands-out for it’s unique take on unisex bathrooms, with a suggested floor-plan included in the content (given below):

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Which areas would be on CCTV?

My conclusion: I have a number of issues with the architectural approach proposed by Sanders and Stryker:

  • The design still includes an area outside the cubicles where boys and girls have to mix and mingle. I think this removes the ‘communal’ factor of bathrooms, as girls and boys do like to use toilet areas for chatting and socializing with their own gender. I’m still not sure if menstruating girls would be happy mingling with boys outside the cubicle areas. 
  • Massive investment would be needed to change current girls’/boys’ washrooms in schools to the communal format shown above (for most schools). This investment seems superfluous to needs when one considers that less than 2% of American children identify as being transgender. In addition to this, it seems illogical that transgender students cannot use current boys/girls washrooms. If you are biologically a boy, but you officially identify as a girl, then you could use the girls’ bathrooms. Vica-versa if you are biologically a female [more on this later].

Public space is not a neutral space(?)

According to Kyla Bender-Baird, gender-segregated bathrooms are the result of “technologies of disciplinary power, upholding the gender binary by forcing people to choose between men’s and women’s rooms”

That’s some profound statement! I had no idea that I was being powerfully controlled by being forced to choose which washroom to enter. I thought I was consciously making a choice to enter the men’s! 

Kyla is a sociologist at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Writing in Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography (Volume 23 2016, Issue 7) she states:

The resulting lack of safe access to public restrooms is an everyday reality for those who fall outside of gender binary norms. Faced with a built environment that denies their existence and facilitates gender policing, I argue that trans and gender non-conforming people sometimes engage in situational docility. Bodies are adjusted to comply with the cardinal rule of gender – to be readable at a glance – which is often due to safety concerns. Changing the structure of bathrooms to be gender inclusive and/or neutral may decrease gender policing in bathrooms and the need for this situational docility, allowing trans and gender non-conforming people to pee in peace”

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It seems as though Kyla supports the functional/architectural approach then – advocating for the creation of washrooms that are built in such a way that anyone can use them.

My conclusion: I don’t agree with Kyla on her point that gender-segregated washrooms were invented as a human-control system (the official history certainly doesn’t support this).

One thing I will say in Kyla’s defense is that if an architectural solution is found that is cost-effective and satisfies the needs of the majority (men and women – that’s binary men and women who do not wish to change their gender), whilst also meeting the needs of the tiny minority (transgender individuals), then that could be a way forward. 

Potty Politics and the Ladies’ Sanitary Association

An interesting paper from the University of Massachusetts, Amhurst [The Restroom Revolution: Unisex toilets and campus politics] gave the timeline leading up to the gender-segregated toilets we have today. Here’s a brief summary:

  • 1905: First women’s bathroom installed in London after a tremendous effort and fight by the Ladies’ Sanitary Association and similar organisations, along with support from the famous George Bernard Shaw [This really surprised me, I have to say. I thought that women’s restrooms were a thing long before 1905]. 
  • 1970s America: Court cases were still being fought over the segregation of black and white toilet facilities. Prior to this early ‘toilet-integration’ period, blacks and whites couldn’t drink from the same fountains or use the same toilet facilities. [Note from me: I think this was a humiliating and disgraceful period in human history. The fact that fully conscious adults penned policy to the effect of segregating toilets on basis of race is frightening and baffling to me]. 
  • In the Autumn of 2001, several students gathered at the Stonewall Center (an LGBT educational resource center at the University of Massachusetts). They formed a special group to work on transgender issues on campus. Their efforts eventually resulted in gender-neutral restrooms being installed on campus through their ‘Restroom Revolution’, and they also succeeded in bringing transgender, ‘gender-queer ‘and ‘gender non-conforming’ issues into the limelight on campus. 

gender neautral toilet

Key takeaways from this paper are the very revealing opinions of both the Restroom Revolution advocates (a mix of gender non-conformists and ‘allies’ – straight people sympathetic to their cause) and their opposition.

In December 2001, the Stonewall students wrote a proposal to university administrators in which they stated: 

“As gender variant people, we encounter discrimination in our daily lives. The most pressing matter, however, is our use of the bathrooms in the residence halls in which we live. . . . We are often subjecting ourselves to severe discomfort, verbal and physical harassment, and a general fear of who we will encounter and what they will say or do based on their assumption of our identities.”

Olaf Aprans, a writer for the Minuteman (an on-campus student publication), expressed his strong opposition by questioning the foundational motives behind the Restroom Revolution: 

“The most probable motive for the Restroom Revolution is not the
need or want of transgender bathrooms, it is the desire for attention. Transgender students have been using gender-specific bathrooms for years without any complaints. Why the sudden outcry for transgender bathrooms? The answer is easy, the activists behind this movement are using a petty issue like bathrooms as a medium to throw their lifestyles in the face of every-day students”

Biological identity, supported by irrefutable genetic evidence, is also cited by the paper as one of the modes of opposition: 

“There are only two things that make me a man and they are my X chromosome and my Y chromosome. . . . People have the right to feel that they should not be the gender that God gave them. . . . However, the fact that some people do not live in reality or that some wish reality were not true, does not entitle them to a special
bathroom in a public university”

My overall conclusions

  • The concerns that transgender individuals have about their personal security and comfort when using restrooms seem legitimate. However, the concerns of women who do not wish to share washrooms with men are equally legitimate [and as we saw from the UMass article, women fought very hard for the right to have their own restrooms in the first place]. The issue of ‘washrooms for all’ seems to me to be a classic example of an old conundrum – that you can’t please everyone. We can, however, aim to please the majority. The minority will have to adapt. 
  • An architectural solution may be viable, but its application needs to be consistent (and this will require excellent international collaboration). It also needs to be cost-effective, and provide suitable privacy for everyone. I can’t see how this can be done, even when one applies Sanders’ and Stryker’s design, without invasive CCTV systems in place. 
  • An architectural solution may work in a shopping mall or other public place, but I’m not sure if it’s a feasible solution for a school. Children are not as mature as adults, and issues such as bullying, up-skirting, inappropriate use of smartphones, silly and disruptive behaviour, etc. are difficult to police in a gender-neutral facility without invasive CCTV systems, some form of staffed duty or an open communal space that removes comfort, rather than adds to it. 

I will end by saying that schools would be well-advised to avoid forcing all of their students to use gender-neutral toilets. The variables one has to deal with in such scenarios are immense and difficult to police/control. If needs be, provide adequate male, female and gender-neutral toilets so that students can at least make choices that feel right for them.

 

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