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.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

#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.

“An AMAZING Book!”

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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Some Useful Self-Reflection Tools for Students and 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.

Self-reflection can be a great way to maximize the progress and attainment of our students, but how exactly do we encourage this introspection? Are there some key tools that teachers can use to facilitate this process? Today, I’ve invited Martyn Kenneth (an international educator of 15+ years, educational consultant, tutor/coach, an author of children’s books and textbooks and the creator and host of ‘The Lights Out Podcast) to share his insights and tips for educators.

At the end of this blog post you will find a free pdf version of Martyn’s Self-Reflection journal for students. No sign-up required: just click and download.

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey

Anyone who works in an IB school will have heard the word ‘reflection’ a thousand times. But in a world where learners’ schedules are being filled to bursting point with more ‘knowledge’ to be tested, are we sacrificing time that could be spent on reflecting on past experiences for time spent absorbing knowledge for the future?

We have to look back to move forward. By this I mean we, as teachers and learners, have to purposefully set a time when we look back on our journey up to the present in order to set an intention for future goals and actions. Without this intention we cannot set a direction and without a direction there cannot be a destination. Or at least there cannot be a destination that is reached with precision, purpose and efficiency. It is this precision, purpose and efficiency that gets you further faster – milestone after milestone, chapter after chapter or page after page. And isn’t this what we all want for our students – for them to grow and develop to their full potential?

It wasn’t until I went from EAL teacher to IB PYP teacher that this word ‘reflection’ really hit home. I used to be a great believer in task-based learning (TBL) and would happily conclude that learning was happening in the classroom as a result of a run of tasks being completed in sequential order. I never used to schedule or plan-in time for reflecting on the tasks that have been completed.

“A BRILLIANT book for teachers”

The school where I work now utilizes the inquiry-based method with the PYP framework. If you look at any inquiry-based approach you will find that reflection usually sits at the center of the inquiry cycle (just Google ‘inquiry cycle). Not to say that task based learning lessons are ineffective: on the contrary they can be highly effective if they are consciously and intentionally used as a part of the inquiry cycle. But as a learning experience they are just one part of the puzzle. Reflection plays an equal if not more important role than the tasks themselves.

Reflection informs teaching and planning, too as it is only when we reflect that we can truly plan for success in the student.

An activity that I like to do with secondary students is related to having them reflect on what has happened through the week. It’s based on 6 initials.

M.E.N.D.T.G

It is a reflection based activity that asks students to write for a maximum of ten minutes about their week.

M – Memorable Moment

E – Emotions

N – News

D – Driving motivation

T – Time travel

G – Goals

I provide sentence stems to begin with such as:

M – The most memorable moment of my week was __________________________. This was memorable for me because _____________________.

E – A time this week when I felt very __________ (emotion)___________ was when _______________. This was caused by ______________

N – In the news this week I saw/read about__________. I was interested in this story because _____________

D – This week I have been motivated by __________. This has motivated me because _________________

T – If I travelled back to last class the thing I would change/do differently would be __________. Making this change would have made my week different by______________

G – My goal for the following week is ________________ To achieve this goal I will _____________.

[Optional – (I achieved/didn’t achieve my goal last week because_______)]

I have found that having learners do this exercise is really beneficial for everyone. It allows the teacher to find out more about his or her students, it can be a platform for deeper discussions and conversations, it is a quiet time at start of class to get learners focusing and ready and it can also be a time for setting and achieving small goals.

I had actually used another set of initials for a couple of years before changing to the MENDTG in the new year.

My previous reflection activity was:

B – The Best thing of the week for me was…

W – The Worst thing of the week for me was…

L – Something I learned this week was…

F – Something I failed at was…

G – This week I am grateful for…

G – My goal for the week ahead is...

As educators we now have to reflect on our practice and ask ourselves serious questions like: Am I teaching the best I can? Am I providing the best environment for learning to happen? And have I planned well enough with appropriate assessments that can be evidence to inform teaching and learning going forward?

I think our practice can change significantly if we think about the quote by Dewey and focus more attention on the recall of memory about a learning experience and less on the focus of information to be recalled at a later date.

Download Martyn’s free self-reflection journal for students as a pdf here (no sign-up required, just click and download):

Thoughts and reflections from Richard James Rogers:

Thank you, Martyn, for this detailed and useful article. I love both acronyms and the Reflective Journal that you’ve kindly shared with us all is a great tool. I will be sharing this with my colleagues at school and using it in my role as a form-tutor – I think it’s a great weekly exercise that can have a profound and positive effect on many students’ lives.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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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.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”
  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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What is ‘Cognitive Load Theory’?

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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Accompanying video (What is ‘Cognitive Load Theory’?):

It was a cold winter morning in Bangor, North Wales (UK). The year was 2004, and I was a second-year molecular biology bachelor’s student at Bangor University. My professor had given my group of students the task of finding a genetics-related research paper from any academic journal in the library, and then breaking it down into simple language so that we could present our findings to the rest of the class.

The task was incredibly difficult! In fact, it was so difficult, that it’s up there with one of the most cognitively demanding tasks I’ve ever completed. The paper our group selected centered-on ‘apoptosis’ (that’s when cells basically ‘commit suicide’), but the context and language of the paper was so specialized that the majority of what was written in it went right over our heads. The research had been written by PhD-level and post-doctoral experts and specialists.

We we’re 21-year-old kids who’d recently finished our ‘A’ – Levels.

Nowadays, educational experts would argue that the ‘cognitive load’ of the paper was too much for us to glean anything significant from it. We didn’t even have the language skills to understand what most of the paper was describing.

Difficulty vs. Pace

Cognitive Load Theory is a research-based tool for assessing the difficulty and pace of the tasks, assignments and instruction we deliver in-class to our students. In essence, when difficulty is high and pace is fast, then the cognitive load is high. When difficulty is low, and the pace is slow, then the cognitive load is also low.

That’s a very simplified synopsis, however. According to Mindtools.com, Cognitive Load Theory “takes a scientific approach to the design of learning materials, so that they present information at a pace and level of complexity that the learner can fully understand.”

“An AMAZING book!”

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) builds on earlier models of memory and knowledge retention (such as the Atkinson and Shiffrin model of human information processing) and was developed in 1998 by psychologist John Sweller. The theory is considered to be the most modern and ‘up-to-date’ explanation of how memory is developed and stored. In the past 5 or so years, the theory has gained momentum and popularity in teaching circles, thanks in some part to Dylan William’s iconic tweet of 2017:

I’ve taken the excellent image below from a 2015 research paper by Edwards, Aris and Shukor, and I’ve modified it slightly to highlight what I believe to be the key takeaways:

Key points to bear in-mind about CLT:

  • Keep unnecessary, superfluous material to a minimum (e.g. news articles that may be topical and interesting, but link tentatively to the content that the kids actually need to learn for the final exam).
  • Increase exposure to actual, relevant learning material (this is called ‘intrinsic load’). This may include textbook sections, websites, learning software and summaries.
  • Present information through all of the senses (use movement, action, practical activities and outdoor activities where possible). See my blog posts on outdoor learning and spatial learning for more tips on how to embed this.
  • Practice, practice and practice some more! Use past-exam paper questions, quizzes (e.g. Kahoot!, Quizlet and BBC Bitesize), textbook questions and exam-style questions to really get the students to process the information they have learned. This is called ‘Germane load’, and it must be maximized in order to create long-term memory.

Recommended video

UKEd Academy discussion on Cognitive Load Theory with Steve Garnett (author of Cognitive Load Theory: A handbook for teachers):

Bibliography and references

Mind Tools Content Team (2016) Cognitive Load Theory. Available at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/cognitive-load-theory.htm (Accessed 18th October 2020)

Atkinson, R.C.; Shiffrin, R.M. (1968). “Chapter: Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes”. In Spence, K.W.; Spence, J.T. (eds.). The psychology of learning and motivation2. New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195.

Edwards, B., Aris, B., Shukor, M. (2015). “Cognitive Load Implications of Social Media in Teaching and Learning”. Journal of Multidisciplinary Engineering Science and Technology (JMEST). Vol. 2 Issue 11, November – 2015.

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Using Data to Empower Students

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)

Accompanying video:

He sits in class quietly, fumbling through the pages of his end-of-topic test. He’s not used to achieving well academically. He tries to revise and study, but finds that distractions at home get in the way (e.g. online gaming). He receives validation and enjoyment from the superfluous, and has not yet learned to gain power from personal progress that is real and tangible, as opposed to intangible and virtual.

He leaves around 50% of the paper blank. I mark it, hand it back to him the next lesson, and he find out that he got a grade E. He’s not surprised. He’s used to this.

Then I decide that this simply cannot happen again. I decide to end the cycle of mediocrity.

I talk, at length, with Michael about what went wrong in his test. He tells me that he ran out of time. He tells me that he didn’t understand some of the questions (so we go though them, together). He tells me that he truthfully did not spend any time at home revising.

I tell him that he absolutely MUST get a grade D in his next test. Failure is not an option.

“What’s your target for your next text, Michael”

“A grade D, sir”

“Yes, and I know you can achieve that because I’ve seen your amazing work in class with me before” (I prime him – I tell him that I believe in him and, crucially, why I believe in him. And it’s not a lie I’ve made up. I mean it).

“What can you do to make sure you get that grade D”

“I can review the textbook questions on Google Classroom. Look at notes. Go through the BBC Bitesize material. Go through my past test again” (I make sure he knows what he can do to make this big change in his life – going from an E to a D)

His next test is not until 5 weeks time – perfect: this gives me the opportunity to work on his self-motivation, subtly (a process I call ‘subtle reinforcement‘).

I see him on the corridor infrequently, and I ask him “What’s your target for your next test, Michael”.

“A grade, D, sir”.

I see him in class as the 5 weeks pass by. I ask him “How’s your prep for the next test going”.

“I’m working on it”.

The test day comes. He gets a D (and is one mark off a C). He asks to see me at teh end of class. He can’t contain himself:

“This is the first time this has happened to me”, he says.

“You made it happen, Michael. We can all achieve what we aim for, if we do actually aim and work.”

For the first time in Michael’s life, he feels deeply (at an emotional level), what it means to make something happen.

We collect data, but do we use data?

My question to teachers this week is this: We’re all very good at collecting data, but do we actually use that data to enact massive change in our students? Do we use that data to initiate the momentum of self-actualization for our students?

Michael’s story is typical of hundreds of students I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past 15 years. When a teacher truly and genuinely believes in a student’s capabilities, and then uses the leverage that data provides, amazing things really can happen.

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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.

3.1-01

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. 

2-01

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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International Teaching: Dealing With Culture Shock When Moving to a New Country

Teaching internationally can be very rewarding and enjoyable. You’ll most certainly pick-up new skills, experience a new culture and become part of a new and diverse community. For some, however, the move to a new country can be a big ‘shock to the system’.

Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her advice on how to deal with culture shock when moving to a new country.

Culture Shock – a much used term for those who travel. But what does it mean exactly?

Culture shock is what you experience after leaving the familiarities of your home culture to live in another cultural or social environment. Even those who are open-minded and well-travelled are not immune to culture shock. Symptoms include homesickness, anger, loneliness and boredom. Everyone will experience culture shock to some extent, but there are ways to deal with it and minimise the effects.

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Firstly, understand what you are going through and why you feel insecure or anxious. You are faced with a different climate, unfamiliar with your surroundings, as well as people with different values, attitudes, lifestyles, and political and religious beliefs, and oftentimes, you can’t even understand them due to language barriers! Understanding why you feel the way you do will help you to overcome the feeling.

Once you understand, the next step is to accept and adapt to your new culture. Just because something is different, doesn’t mean it is wrong, so learn to do things the way the locals do, and accept that it’s the way it’s done in your new home.

Learn as much as possible about your destination before leaving home. Be open-mined and it will be easier to understand the differences and see things from a different perspective. If you know why people do things the way they do them, it’s easy to accept the differences.

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Having a positive attitude can make all the difference. This goes with anything in life, but is especially true when travelling and interacting with new people in new surroundings.

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Stay in touch with those back home. But… if you spend all your time connecting with family and friends back home, you’ll just keep feeling homesick and won’t feel up to making new friends. Rather spend your time exploring and meeting new people, and then you have something to tell loved ones back home when you do chat.

Don’t compare your home culture to your new culture! Noticing the differences is normal, and can be fun, but see the differences as just that – different and exciting, not inferior to home. Take the opportunity to learn as much as possible about your new location and culture.

Keep yourself busy. Particularly enjoy the things you can’t do at home. Try new foods, swim in the sea, explore, make new friends, take full advantage of the time abroad rather than being afraid and hiding in your hotel room or apartment. Don’t have regrets later by saying ‘if only I had done this or seen that…’

Laugh at yourself! If you get lost, just think of it as a way to discover a new place that you didn’t expect to see. Surrounding yourself with positive people can make all the difference. Don’t get sucked into the inevitable groups of ‘grumpy old expats’ who should have gone back home long ago, and now love trashing their new home.

There are different phases of culture shock, and knowing which you are going through will also help you to overcome it.

The Honeymoon Phase: This is a fun time, when all is great, exciting, and new. You embrace the differences, go out of your way to try the weird and wonderful food and relish meeting exotic new people. This phase can last days, weeks, or months.

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The Honeymoon is Over Phase: During this phase, you start observing differences, however slight, and not always in a good way. You’ve had enough of the food, and miss home comforts and tastes. The local attitudes annoy you, and things are just so much better at home. During this phase, you may feel sad, irritable, angry or anxious. You miss holidays from home such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, and feel sad when you miss out on events such as birthday celebrations back home.
 
The Negotiation Phase: Now you decide if you will give in to negativity or power-on past it to make the most of your experience. If you’re successful, you regain your sense of perspective, balance, and humour, and move on to the next phase.
 
The All’s Well, or Everything is Okay Phase: You start feeling more at home with the differences in the new culture. After a while, you may feel as if the culture isn’t in fact new, but that you belong here now, or you may not exactly feel part of the culture, but you’re comfortable enough with it to enjoy the differences and challenges. You don’t necessarily have to be in love with the new country (as in the honeymoon phase), but you can navigate it without unwarranted anxiety, negativity, and criticism.

The Reverse Culture Shock Phase: This happens to most who have lived abroad a while. Once you’ve become accustomed to the way things are done in a different country, you can go through the same series of culture shock phases when you return home.
 
Culture shock can present itself at any time, and it’s often the small things we feel the most – like navigating a grocery store with unfamiliar products in currencies we are not familiar with. Working abroad has its own challenges, as aside from day-to-day cultural differences, there are also the differences in the work place. For example, if you are typically organised and punctual, you may struggle to adapt working to a culture with a more relaxed working environment. Or, if you’re a woman, you may find it difficult to adapt in a country where there is gender inequality.
 
It’s most important to be patient – in time, things that once were strange will be the norm. Be kind to yourself, and don’t place high expectations on yourself until you have adjusted to your new life. While moving to a new country is daunting in many ways, it can be equally rewarding, and by not giving it a try, you’ll always have regrets.

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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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