Survival Tips for Language Teachers

Effective teaching depends on preparation. Here are eight things to do as a course or semester begins to help yourself have a rewarding and enjoyable teaching experience.

1. Content: Find out what the program or department expects you to teach and what materials you are expected to use. Review the curriculum and any required print and online materials to get a roadmap of the course as a whole. Working through the curriculum should be a process of discovery for your students, but not for you.

2. Method: Find out what teaching approach you are expected to use. Are you expected to stick closely to the required materials, or to bring in outside resources to supplement? Is your teaching practice expected to be more learner centered or more teacher centered? Are you expected to teach grammar overtly, or just explain it as it comes up in various contexts?

3. Students: Determine what level(s) your students will be and how the levels are defined. If they are “second year” or “intermediate,” ask what that means. What have they studied previously? What materials have they used? This will let you know what to expect from them.

4. Plan: Outline a plan for the semester or course, even if the program or department has given you a plan. Know when and how you will introduce new material and when and how you will review. What will you do when you get behind? It always happens.

5. Orientation: Find out what facilities are available for students and where they are: computer lab, library, tech support. Make a reference card or e-note for yourself with the hours when physical facilities are open and the link(s) for requesting tech support. Then, when students ask, you won’t look like a doofus.

6. Relationships: Learn the names of your students as soon as you can. Use their names when talking with them and when giving language examples in class. Attending to your students as individuals will help you assess their progress more effectively. Also, if students know that you care about them, they will care about you.

7. Expectations: Ask how much and what kind of homework is usually given to students at the level you are teaching. Find out what expectations the program or department has for frequency and type of testing. Let your students know what the expectations are in these areas.

8. Guidance: Ask your supervisor or another experienced teacher to serve as your mentor. A mentor can review your plan for the course before classes start to be sure you’re on the right track, and can meet with you on a regular basis during the teaching term to answer questions and give you support when you need it. Having a mentor is especially important toward the end of the first semester of teaching, when many teachers begin to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or frustrated.