Five Tips for Becoming a Happy Teacher

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Happy teachers make happy students. When we’re happy we have energy, passion for the job and a greater sense of overall purpose in life. Happiness can be difficult to achieve, however, when we’re dealing with the daily stresses of being a teacher: duties such as paperwork, writing reports, meeting tight deadlines, marking, and even trying to teach remotely and face-to-face at the same time (a very recent challenge that teachers all over the world have had to deal with). Today, I’ve invited Jessica Robinson, educational writer at The Speaking Polymathto share her insights and tips for being, and staying, happy in your role as a teacher.

If we look closely, everything we do in life is focused on one thing – becoming happy. The same is true for our profession. Most of us have chosen teaching as our profession, most likely for two reasons. One is that we feel happy to teach students. The second is to earn money. If we look at both these reasons, they are related to happiness. Teaching gives us happiness, and money helps us buy things we need to be happy. Now here is an important question we need to ask ourselves: Are we delighted? The answer is most likely a no. This is because teaching is a stressful profession. Every day we have to deal with several stressful events as teachers. Noisy students, teaching effectively, and shouldering our responsibilities well are all in some way causes of stress for us, and when there is stress, there cannot be true happiness. But, we all need happiness, right? As discussed above, it is the primary goal behind everything we do. Now, the question is how to become happy teachers? Here are five tips that will help you.

#1: Cultivate acceptance for your students’ behavior

One of the biggest causes of stress we face every day is our students’ wrong behavior. Even if we are thrilled, it takes just a single lousy remark from a student to make us feel stressed and unhappy. However, if we simply understand that kids are kids, then we will be in a much better place of acceptance. They will make such mistakes, and there is no need for us to take things personally. Instead, we can try to help them become better human beings. This simple acceptance of our students’ behavior can help us become happy teachers. So, we should all try to cultivate acceptance for our students’ behavior and then take steps to improve their behavior without being impacted by them.

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#2: Spend some time playing with your students

Playing is the key to feeling happy. I know we are teachers, but don’t we all have a little child who is always excited to play? Yes, we do! At times, we should try to let this inner child out and spend some time playing with our students. There is nothing terrible in playing with kids for 10 to 15 minutes. When we play with our students, they become more connected to us. As a result, they pay more attention in our classes, which is the key to effective classroom management. So, if you like, you can give this tip a try. I’m sure if you do, you’ll end up falling in love with it. [Note from Richard: This can be done with students of any age, even high-school students. Read my blog post entitled 10 Learning Games to Play With Your Students here.].

#3: Make meditation a part of your daily routine

A calm mind is a happy mind. There are no two opinions regarding it. This implies that to become satisfied teachers, we need to cultivate a relaxed mindset. For this, one of the best techniques which we can practice is meditation. It doesn’t mean that there will be no fluctuations once you start meditating, and your mental state will always remain calm. No, it is not so, but with regular meditation, you will be able to re-establish a relaxed mental state soon after your peace gets disturbed. This implies that the duration of your unhappy cycles will get significantly reduced. So, to become a happy teacher, you should try to make meditation a part of your daily routine. You can use guided meditation videos to meditate initially, and later you can switch to meditating all by yourself.

#4: Make friends with your colleagues

Does spending time with your near and dear ones make you feel good? The answer is a yes, as it is right for all of us. Whenever we spend time with our loved ones, our body gets flooded with oxytocin: a happy hormone that triggers positive feelings and reduces our stress levels. One trick to stay happy at work is to have some loved ones. This means that we should try to make friends with our colleagues. We can try to cultivate a big friend circle at work. This will help us significantly increment our happiness levels as teachers. If something goes wrong in class, we can share it with our friends, or if we are feeling stressed, we can share our feelings with them and feel lighter.

#5: Take a short walk during your free time at work

It has been scientifically proven that exercise is good for our physical health and mental health. When we exercise, our brain secretes happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which trigger positive feelings and make us feel satisfied. Although you cannot exercise at work, you can still take a short walk during your free time at work. This will help you induce positive feelings and feel happier.

Conclusion

Happiness is the primary motive behind everything we do. So, becoming happy teachers should be one of our goals despite all the stress associated with our profession. We can utilize the above-mentioned tips for the fulfillment of this goal. Now, I wish you all the Best and have a happy time teaching!

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From the Classroom to the Exam Room: A Guide for IB Teachers

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Exam-level students have a lot on their plates. They have to learn, revise and articulate information effectively whilst potentially dealing with exam-stress and the challenge of adapting to the different instructional styles of their teachers. This week, I’ve invited Maria Goncharova from TutorYou to describe how teachers can help IB students prepare for their exams.

The International Baccalaureate is a demanding yet effective educational path designed to prepare students for their desired academic career. The unique structure of the IB programme provides an interdisciplinary approach to learning while allowing the students to focus on subjects they are passionate about. Furthermore, its combination of numerous learning methods and assignments hones the students’ research, writing and critical thinking skills to optimize their performance both academically and professionally.

Despite the many beneficial aspects of the 2-year programme, IB students face numerous challenges due to the rigorous schedule and high requirements. This is why tutoring and academic counselling services such as TutorYou exist to facilitate the exam process and prepare students as well as possible. With over 6 years of experience in supporting IB students and helping them maximise their academic potential, we share some of our top tips on how to prepare students for the IB exams and entry into university.

  1. Efficient scheduling

Apart from demonstrating the importance of timeliness and organization to your students, maintaining a specified and realistic schedule can significantly ease the stress of covering the -often vast- syllabi for IB topics. In fact, doing so will facilitate multiple aspects of your work, as it will allow you to easily implement changes in the syllabi and ensure time is sufficient for an extensive review of the topic before the exams. Also, a comprehensive schedule lets you account for the (almost inevitable) extensions and delays and avoid last minute hiccups before the exam period. Lastly, you are giving yourself time to correct students’ past papers and perform mock exams to ensure they are as prepared as possible. Imparting this way of thinking to students can also be done with the help of a private tutor, who is most able to conform with the schedule of an individual student. TutorYou offers such support through our accomplished tutors, who have finished IB themselves and can accommodate both in-person and online tutoring sessions.

2. Periodically Reviewing Past Topics

A common mistake of IB students and teachers alike is not consistently reviewing past topics, leading to a scramble for last-minute revision and possibly re-learning an entire topic. Studies show that information is best retained in long-term memory when it is revisited multiple times in increasingly longer intervals of time. As such, it is excellent practice to periodically examine students on past topics through topic-specific quizzes or larger revision tests. Another solution given the considerable academic load students face is introducing review sessions throughout the academic year. They don’t necessarily have to be done during school hours, and can perhaps be offered optionally to students. Finally, occasional assignments based on past topics can ensure that students do not forget all the information they have previously worked hard to maintain.

All these methods are equally useful for the final exams and for the students to slowly learn to tackle the university system, which features much larger bodies of information in a shorter amount of time. If a teacher has limited time for review because of the length of the syllabus, TutorYou offers both in-person and online tutoring on any IB subject from former IB students.

3. Exam practice

As mentioned in both previous points, staying on track with the entirety of the syllabus of any given topic is the key for students to succeed in their exams and prepare for the workload they will face in the continuation of their academic career. Providing the students with past papers will allow them to simultaneously revise the topics and familiarize themselves with the mode of examination and the different papers it comprises of.

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It is advisable to focus on this kind of assignment in the period leading up to the exams instead of overloading the students with work. This is because practical revision allows them to identify their weak points and focus on the topics they need most assistance with.

4. Support individual students

Not all students are the same. Some students may need some more support for exam preparation and the process of applying to universities. As is evident from the afore-mentioned points, the job of a teacher in the IB is equally challenging to that of students, since they are required to multi-task and ensure every single student is prepared for the exam. Services like Tutor You are specifically designed to support the work done at school, by giving students a little extra push and assisting them to bridge the gap between school and university life. Contact TutorYou today for more information on one-to-one tutoring and university application support!

Learn more at tutoryou.eu or email support@tutoryou.eu for additional information or enquiries.

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The Importance of Body Language in Teaching

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Effective communication between teachers and their students is crucial for effective learning to take place, but how many of us are aware of how our subliminal cues via body language are interpreted and processed? What are some key non-verbal strategies that teachers can use with students? Today, I’ve invited Jessica Robinson, educational writer at The Speaking Polymath, to share her insights and tips for educators.

Teaching is a profession that requires effective communication. Only through effective communication you can teach well and help your students learn excellently. Now, communication becomes effective only when there is a perfect blend of verbal and non-verbal means of communication. With non-verbal means like facial expressions, body postures, hand gestures, and verbal messages become clear and better understandable. For example, if someone asks you which direction should he go in to find the washrooms, and you say- right. Then, he will take a second to think and then start moving in the right direction. But, if you say right and point in the right direction, he’ll immediately start moving in the right direction, even without thinking for a second. This is how magical the effect of non-verbal means of communication is.

After coming across the significance of non-verbal means of communication, let us discuss the importance of body language in teaching. Body language is the superset of the different non-verbal means of communication like facial expressions, hand gestures, and body postures. This implies that all the hand gestures, facial expressions, and body postures we make come under body language. Now let’s proceed to discuss the importance of body language in teaching.

  1. Influential body language helps in classroom management:

When you portray persuasive body language, you naturally captivate your students’ attention. When your students are attentive in class, their mind is engrossed in learning. As a result, they don’t engage in mischief, and your classroom becomes well managed. So, one of the most significant benefits of portraying clear body language is that it makes classroom management more straightforward for you.

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  1. Your body language impacts the energy level of your students:

Imagine meeting someone having a high energy level who uses powerful hand gestures and facial expressions while interacting with you. How do you feel? Your answer will most likely be one of the following terms- energetic, attentive, and enthusiastic. Isn’t it? Whatever it is, it is undoubtedly positive. This implies that a person with powerful and animated body language positively impacts your energy level. From this, we can conclude that our body language has a significant impact on the people around us. If you portray energetic body language in class, your students will most likely start feeling energetic and studying well. This makes it crucial for every teacher to teach powerful body language.

  1. Your body language impacts your relationships with your students:

Have you ever experienced that you feel more comfortable around some people and slightly uncomfortable around others, even when you have just met them for the first time? I’m sure that you have because almost all of us feel so in the presence of different people. Now, if we explore why does it happen that some people make us feel comfortable while others don’t? The answer to this question is their body language.

When we look at people, the first thing we notice about them is their body language. If someone has a closed body language like doesn’t have a smiling face or relaxed body posture, we get an impression that the person isn’t friendly. As a result, we start feeling uncomfortable. This implies that our body language impacts our relationships with others. If you have an open and relaxed body language, your students will consider you friendly and loving. As a result, they’ll get inclined towards you and develop good relationships with you. When you have good relationships with your students, they naturally pay more attention in class, heed your advice, and teaching them gets more straightforward for you.

  1. The use of supportive body language with verbal instructions helps in increasing students’ attention in class:

When you accompany your verbal instructions with suitable hand gestures, facial expressions, and body postures, your students are likely to be more attentive in class. For example, if you say look towards the left and your students aren’t listening attentively but blankly looking at you, chances are they’ll not respond. But, if you accompany your words with your finger pointing towards the left, your students are more likely to start looking towards the left. This is simply because even when they are not actively listening to you, they look at you. This way, body language helps increase your students’ attention in class.

  1. Influential body language enhances your confidence level:

When students become too noisy and don’t listen to us, we start feeling disheartened. Then, the loop of disappointment begins, and we start questioning our abilities as a teacher. Although we feel as if we are on the verge of breaking, we also know that we cannot give up as we are teachers in our inner world. Under such circumstances, your body language can help you feel better and regain your confidence. Then, you can again start directing your efforts to quieten your students.

You can question how body language can help you increase your confidence level? Let me answer this question for you with the help of an example. When we feel afraid, our body contracts a bit. Have you ever felt that? I’m sure you have, as it is our body’s natural reaction to fear. On the contrary, when you are happy, your body expands. You feel lighter, isn’t it? This is because your emotion impacts your body language and vice versa is also true. So, whenever you feel that your confidence level is getting low, you can make some simple changes in your body language to replenish it. Now, what changes can you make? It is effortless; just try covering more space, like standing in a relaxed manner, with your arms spread out. This will give your brain a signal that your body is comfortable and everything is okay. As a result, your confidence level will increase, and you can then try to quieten your students again.

Your body language can help you teach better and more effectively. The same has been illustrated by the importance of body language in teaching, as described above. So, you can enhance your teaching skills by simply improvising your body language. Now, wishing you All the best and have happy teaching.

An ardent writer, Jessica Robinson, works forThe Speaking Polymath’. She uses this platform to weave her magical words into powerful strands of content and share with her readers.

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The Importance of Patience in Teaching

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

He was a mediocre student for many years: achieving unremarkable grades across the board at IGCSE level. He was reticent, stealthy and seemed somewhat shy. At IB Diploma level, however, things seemed to change. His personality remained somewhat the same as it always had, but his grades were increasing at a surprising rate. He seemed to be ‘getting it’: at least on paper.

In the end, he achieved the highest score in the whole school for his IB Diploma, and was well-above the world average. It was, by everyone’s judgement, a monumental achievement.

How many times has this happened to you as a teacher: a student shows improvement over time and even surprises you with how much progress they make? Sometimes our students just seem to ‘grow’ into achievement. Some grow slowly and steadily like a plant that is regularly fed and watered. Some shoot up in a surprising spurt: defying everyone’s initial predictions.

I believe strongly in the power of patience when working with students. This takes emotional control on the part of the teacher, but the reward is well-worth the wait. By being supportive, referring students to the most helpful resources and allowing each day to offer a ‘fresh start’ for every learner, I’ve found that even my greatest expectations are often exceeded.

Does patience begin and end with ‘waiting’ for our students to succeed? No, I don’t believe so. In fact, I’m convinced that effective teachers use patience as a useful tool for dealing with a number of situations:

  • Patience with ourselves as we approach deadlines and work steadily towards getting everything done (we must be forgiving to ourselves and learn to ‘leave work at work’, where possible).
  • Patience with colleagues when dealing with requests and projects. We’re all busy, and we have to acknowledge that our peers have commitments internally (many of which we may not be aware of) and at-home, or in life generally.
  • Patience with our students, especially when dealing with late homework and ‘waiting’ for progress to happen. I acknowledge that we may have to follow whole-school sanctions systems (e.g. a detention may be mandatory in the case of a late homework). However, where possible, patience should be deployed in my opinion. If a student consistently hands-in work on-time, but fails to bring a piece of homework to you one day, then should that student be sanctioned immediately? The answer to that question will depend on school policy, and your judgement.

Can you think of any other areas in which you would need to use patience as teacher? Perhaps in waiting for the queue at the photocopier to subside (I’ve been there, many times!). Perhaps it’s in waiting for a re-imbursement for some petty cash you had to spend on school expenses. Perhaps we need more patience when waiting for e-mail replies?

According to Leslie Schwab, a college science and maths professor, patience may be the most important characteristic that all outstanding teachers posses. In her article at schoolofeducators.com, she writes:

There are several characteristics that all good teachers have in common. They are patience; concern for their students; willingness to adapt, and; knowledge of the subject being taught. If these characteristics are lacking, a teacher cannot be an effective educator. Patience may be the most important characteristic of all. It is most important for teachers of subjects in science and mathematics. Some students can comprehend this subject material with minimal effort, while others may require more extensive explanations that may have to be repeated a number of times. As a college professor, I have had more students express anxiety over having to take basic college algebra over any other subject. When questioned about the reasons for this anxiety, the overwhelming response was that their high school math teachers were terrible. Their main critique of math teachers was their inability to explain solutions to math problems in a clear and concise manner. When these students would continue to state their lack of understanding, the teachers would lose their patience, and simply tell them to go home and practice more problems. When some students requested extra help, their teachers informed them they were unavailable for tutoring after class.

Leslie Schwab. Patience may be the most important.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with Leslie’s thoughts on patience?

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Can Play-Based Learning Be Used in the Secondary Classroom?

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

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Play is a term that is often associated with the teaching of small children, with the
aim being to
maximize spatial experiences so that long term memory, manual
dexterity and skills are developed.

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The Department of Education for the Government of Western Australia have the following to say about the importance of play:

Play is a powerful and important activity. It has a natural and positive influence on children’s social, physical, emotional and cognitive development. The best learning happens when children play. It is important to let your children play every day.

Department for Education, Government of Western Australia [2020]. Available at https://www.education.wa.edu.au/play-based-learning (accessed 1st November 2020)

Play doesn’t have to be limited to primary school and Early Years, however: teenagers and young adults can also benefit greatly from tasks that include competition and creativity of some kind. Try these ideas:

  • Play learning games with your students on a regular basis. This makes learning a lot of fun and helps to cement concepts firmly in the working memory of each student. Check out this blog post on learning games that require virtually no equipment and can be applied to any subject area.
  • Carry out practical activities related to your subject area (where possible). As a science teacher, this is quite standard for me as I am required to run experiments and laboratory investigations with my students on a regular basis. In other subject areas, anything that gets students moving and using their hands or technology to build, create or interact with something can be a great way to develop working memory (provided that the task being assigned is on-point and very closely related to the learning outcomes of the set curriculum (see my blog post on Cognitive Load Theory for more on this here).3.1-01
  • Get your students to build things. Materials like plastic bottles, bottlecaps, cardboard, coloured paper, plasticine/modelling clay, straws, shoeboxes and old rope can all be used creatively by students to make models of the concepts they are studying. I’ve used this technique across my teaching in Science to get students to create everything from atomic models to makeshift ‘eco gardens’. Here’s a model atom that one of my IGCSE Chemistry students made out of rudimentary materials a few years ago:

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Bronze Medal Awarded: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management

For immediate release:

Readers’ Favorite recognizes “The Quick Guide to Classroom Management” by Mr Richard James Rogers in its annual international book award contest, currently available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1505701945.

The Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Contest featured thousands of contestants from over a dozen countries, ranging from new independent authors to NYT best-sellers and celebrities.

Readers’ Favorite is one of the largest book review and award contest sites on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.

We receive thousands of entries from all over the world. Because of these large submission numbers, we are able to break down our contest into 140+ genres, and each genre is judged separately, ensuring that books only compete against books of their same genre for a fairer and more accurate competition. We receive submissions from independent authors, small publishers, and publishing giants such as Random House, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, with contestants that range from the first-time, self-published author to New York Times bestsellers like J.A. Jance, James Rollins, and #1 best-selling author Daniel Silva, as well as celebrity authors like Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty), Henry Winkler (Happy Days), and Eriq La Salle (E.R., Coming to America).

“When the right books are picked as winners we pay attention. We will be spreading the word about Readers’ Favorite.” –Karen A., Editor for Penguin Random House

Readers’ Favorite is proud to announce that “The Quick Guide to Classroom Management” by Mr Richard James Rogers won the Bronze Medal in the Non-Fiction – Education category.

You can learn more about Mr Richard James Rogers and “The Quick Guide to Classroom Management” at https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/the-quick-guide-to-classroom-management where you can read reviews and the author’s biography, as well as connect with the author directly or through their website and social media pages.

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What is The Best Way to Mark Student Work?

By Richard James Rogers, author of the award-winning book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management

Accompanying video:

There are many ways in which teachers provide feedback on written work.
Some methods work well, but may involve a huge time-investment on the part of the teacher. Other methods provide deep, rich acknowledgement and constructive advice, whilst eating into ZERO hours of teacher free-time.

So, is there a ‘sliding scale’ of assessment methods that pitch effectiveness against inconvenience? Is there one method (or a select few) that is the ‘best’ overall?

In this blog post, I aim to answer these questions.


Traditional written feedback (taking the work home and scribbling penned comments all over it)


I’ve tried this method to death, and I almost died whilst trying! I used to be the ‘super-keen’ (but stupid) teacher who took piles of books and assignments home with me (at one point via train and taxi – a nightmare), and then spent hours and hours writing detailed comments on student work.

The results of this exercise in self-punishment (because that is exactly what it was) were the best illustration I could receive of this method’s ineffectiveness:

  • I couldn’t keep up: I was burning the midnight candle at both ends. I should have been relaxing at home, or pursuing my hobbies and interests, or spending quality time with my family. In contrast, I was miserable, tired and inactive on the hobby-front.
  • When the students got their books back, they read the comments, but they rarely acted on them (a crucial point).
  • I was carrying very heavy bags of books home: often not having time to mark them all, and then bringing those unmarked books back to school the next day (or a few days later). It was insanity.

In conclusion, traditional pen-and-paper marking takes a very long time, isn’t particularly effective, and can be very stressful. Another point of frustration regarding the issue of marking is that research on the topic (not surprisingly, in my honest opinion), is inconclusive. The so-called experts who spout their musings from ivory towers are still not sure about what makes marking effective. That, at least, was the main finding of the Education Endowment Foundation’s recent review on written marking.

The experts are not teaching in the classrooms on a daily basis like me, and most of my readers. The EEF might not know what makes marking effective, but I and other experienced educators do.

Peer and Self-Assessment

This saves the teacher tons of time (because the marking is done in class), but students will nearly always pick up misconceptions along the way and the work may need to be double-checked by the teacher afterwards anyway.

I use peer and self-assessment a lot, and to make my life easier I always provide a written mark scheme for each student to use. I also encourage students to come to my desk and ask for clarity if they are not sure how many marks to award for a response.

Absorptive live-marking: Calling the students to your desk, one at a
time and marking the work in front of each student

Mark the work WITH each student

Where possible, this is best form of marking/feedback to use. It ticks so many boxes:


• It doesn’t eat into your free-time, because you can do it whilst the students are completing a task in class
• You can provide verbal feedback and written feedback at the same time
• You can ask the students to write down what you said afterwards (saving you further time, and forcing the students to process your feedback)
• It’s a great rapport-builder


You can read more about live marking
here.

A final note on Automated Assessment: Using software for assessment purposes

Automated assessment systems are still in their infancy, but do work really well with multiple choice questions and any test involving a sequence of steps that need to be completed (e.g. the Google Certified Educator exam, or a Data Science Jupyter Notebooks assessment).

I’ve written a detailed blog post comparing the benefits and disadvantages of both peer and self-assessment here.

Automated systems should form a part of our everyday marking strategy, as they save us time and allow rapid (often instantaneous) feedback to occur.

Automated systems will get better as we enter the 2020s (a decade in which, I believe, teaching will become almost completely computerized). We are told to embrace technology as teachers, but most of us do not consider the possibility that AI, robotics, edtech software and surveillance systems may one day replace us.

You don’t have to pay a surveillance system a salary. A software program only requires a subscription fee and updates to run properly. A robot does exactly what it’s told to do: no water cooler gossip at break time, no risk of sexual harassment, no inefficiency in completing daily duties. All of these advantages make the automation of teaching a lucrative and tempting prospect for governments and astute entrepreneurs.

My message to teachers is this: Use automated assessment, but recognize the need to skill-up fast. When teaching becomes fully automated, you want to be the person designing the edtech software, or facilitating it’s deployment. You don’t want to be the person who is replaced by tech because you don’t have the skills to adapt.

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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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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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