Then there's the edu-speak, the jargon, which I simply loathed. Example: "...that sees language as a semiotic system, that is, a meaning-making system that constitutes a resource, not a rule-governed object...." I can't bring myself to read any academic article whose title begins with the words Toward a.... such as Toward a Lexicon of Usership, Toward a Cognitive Semantics. And of course there's always a colon: Toward a Pedagogy of Appreciation: Constructive Discourse and Human Organization (Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Volume 1), bonus points for using the word "discourse."
I can think of several reasons why a doctor would talk about the "posterior view of the fibula" instead of the "back of the calf bone" but teaching is not science and I see no necessity for calling a memory game "Pelmanism."
I'm a visual learner, so I have different colored binders and a matching clipboard for each of my classes (okay, I'm also a stationery junkie who likes pretty colors). I keep the course outline and the filled-out attendance sheets and the lesson plans in each binder.
NSS tip: I taped my class schedule on the front of the fridge and on every clipboard, along with all the information the school's given me about the class, as in, is this for first or second year students, what's their major, which classroom. Do you want to be running through the hallway not certain which class you're about to teach or where? Did I ever do that? I'm not sayin'. And sure, have your schedule on your smart phone or whatever, you smart ass kid. I like to have it on paper.
In North America, textbooks are hugely expensive and many kids don't write in them so they can re-sell them. In China, textbooks are cheap and are treated like workbooks. I have been giving a class participation mark since I started teaching here, and now I'm giving points for how marked-up students' textbooks are. Invariably, the kids doing the worst in my class have pristine, unmarked textbooks. So mid-way through this semester, I had all the kids hand in their textbooks. While they were doing a worksheet, I quickly flipped through the textbooks and gave everybody a mark from "1" to "5." I then stacked the "1"'s all together at the front of my desk, the "2"'s all together and so on. And I told them, Here are the textbooks from the "1"'s to the "5"'s. Which stack do you think your textbook is in? Come and get it. Most importantly, giving points for their textbook also helped me recognize those students who were not doing so great in the tests but were putting in the most effort.
NSS tip: I was told that 100% of the mark was based on the final exam. Even as a newbie teacher, I could see why that was a bad idea. So 30% of my total mark is for attendance and participation. But check with the school authorities first before changing the way they do things.
To get the class's attention, for example, to get them to quiet down and finish an activity when they have been working in small groups and the noise level is getting louder and louder, flick the lights off and on. I learned this from another ESL teacher. It's better than having to raise your voice.
I have broken off what I was saying and stared perplexedly at two students who were chatting, waiting for them to wake up and realize that the teacher and everybody else is looking at them. But mostly I just remind the class, "it's bad manners to talk when your fellow students are talking." That's when most of the chatter occurs in my classroom -- when I've called on a student to say something and very often it's a soft-voiced and timid girl who the others can't hear anyway, and so their attention wavers and they start chatting with their neighbor. Another foreign teacher had a zero tolerance, and I mean zero, rule about speaking Chinese in the classroom. I'm not that strict. In four semesters, I have only once sent students out of the room when they wouldn't stop talking. Because I had never resorted to this before, I had never experienced the aftermath, which was -- all of the other students were as quiet as mice after that.
NSS tip: I use a powerpoint, or as they say here in China, a "peepeetee" to lay out the class rules and explain the breakdown for grades (attendance, participation, in class tests, final tests) on day one. I have yet to hand out a complete class outline and schedule on the first day of the class because I don't have one at that point. Usually I've only gotten the textbook a few days before and I don't have a school calendar that shows holiday long weekends, so any class outline would only be a rough first draft.
NSS tip: But if I could draw up a class outline in the first week of school, I'd start with the beginning and end, plot in when the mid term and final exams falls, figure out when the holidays fall, that is, are there Western holidays which can be used as conversation topics or are there any classes cancelled due to holidays, and then fill in the gaps from there, including at least one class that's a bit of a class party, with games and/or some funny videos. I'd look for which classes fall on a Friday afternoon before holidays and note to myself that attendance is going to be lower on those days because some students travel home on a long weekend and may get an early start.
Who knows what this is a picture of? What is the adjectival form of generosity? What was your homework last night? Asking and not telling is drilled in to us as student teachers but if you teach in China or work with a Chinese co-teacher, you may notice that some tend to tell, not ask.
Make your own customized lesson plan template
If that last question about homework was honestly asked because you forgot to keep track of what you assigned as homework, make a lesson plan template which includes a space for the homework assignment and include class time for reviewing the homework assignment. Just last week, I forgot to follow up on a homework assignment, which was, come to class and tell me one thing that China imports from Africa, because I had forgot to carry it forward to the next class's lesson plan.
Leftover exam papers
NSS tip: Am I the only one who had to realize as a newbie teacher: you'll need a folder for carrying the assignments you've marked and haven't returned yet because the student was absent so you couldn't return it to him, and you need to bring that folder with you to class every time. And you need keep track of which students were absent and missed the mid-term exam, or missed receiving a copy of an important handout.
A lot of the teacher books I've looked at seem to assume that you will have one classroom that is yours alone and that you have a filing cabinet in it. That is not my experience. We go from classroom to classroom and language lab and we have to haul everything we need with us. Since I prefer to do my class prep at my apartment, instead of the communal, overcrowded teacher's office where I can't even find a place to plug in, I must ensure that everything is packed before I go. So my lesson plan template includes a detailed checklist at the bottom: USB stick -- video, ppt? Handouts -- did I remember to pack a handout I'm using today? plus kleenex, water bottle, watch..... I have come to class without one or the other vital thing more often than I care to confess.
NSS tip: I carry a set of worksheets in my briefcase to every class, in case (a) the power point doesn't work, (b) the lesson is finished early and I don't have anything else planned, (c) the class discussion I planned sputters out. So I have something I can whip out and say, "all right if we don't feel like talking about that, let's review the rules for the passive versus the active voice, shall we?"
Before you give a test or worksheet to your students, sit down and do the test yourself. This is called "dogfooding" and you want to do it for several reasons, but chiefly for catching mistakes. I have photocopied quizzes from textbooks*, and only discovered errors in the questions when I went to grade them. Incorrect grammar in a test question needlessly confused my students and made me look careless.
The term "dogfooding" is courtesy of a useful podcast and website for teachers called "The Cult of Pedagogy." Don't be put off by the name, you don't have to wade through a lot of edu-speak on the site.
NSS Tip: When assembling or writing your own tests and quizzes, be sure that the total points for the test add up to something divisible by 10 or 5. I've thrown together quick tests and didn't stop to think that the total score added up to 17 or something -- that looks stupid and it is more difficult to factor into a final grade.