Teacher Tips

When I got certified to teach English as a foreign language, I wanted to share my success. I had just finished 150 hours of a teaching certification course in 19 days. I don’t think I have ever been so tired in my life. I did the teaching certification course from Cambridge, but there are a ton out there. All of the teachers who have taken these types of courses, or have a Masters degree in English as a Foreign Language Teaching, will know the struggle. Where did I go to share my success? Facebook, of course. I posted something to the effect of: Just finished with my CELTA! I hope I can be as good a teacher as the wonderful ones in my family. And proceeded to tag those teachers. It was a mixed bag of reactions. Cousins that I tagged were full of well wishes. Others, not so much. It wasn’t that they didn’t wish me well, it was that they thought I shouldn’t be putting myself in the same level as my cousins who have been teaching for eons. And have masters degrees in education. What they don’t get, is that the CELTA Is the gold standard for English language teaching certification. And while it is not a masters in English language teaching, it is the one that employers look for.

While I am most experienced in online teaching, I do have 42 hours of classroom experience, both in group lessons and private. I would love more classroom experience. But even my extra students are all over the world. I have students in Austin, Texas,  Montpelier France, and three students in Poland. The skills that I’ve learned while teaching for VIPKid have come in handy with the extras who I also teach online. I love teaching the adults because I don’t have to put on a dog and pony show with rewards, animation and the like. In the last two years, however, I have received some really good tips from other teachers. One teacher in particular who coincidentally was living France, About 2 1/2 hours outside of Montpelier, was and still is, a particular inspiration to me. She is a language teacher with a masters degree, so she is my English language guru. But more about her later.

The first great tip that I received was from the second mock class that I taught with VIPKid. VIPKid slides in certain levels can be very dense with texts and information. I often find, particularly in level III. you go from teaching the days of the week, the months of the year, and the seasons to teaching mammals birds reptiles and fish. Which means that you start teaching words like warm-blooded, cold-blooded, and spine. Level III is a ridiculous place to put such a lesson. It is at least level four, if not level five. But on to the tip. It was: “feel free to only do half the slide.” This was my mantra. Picture me with the student, we’ll call him Jason, trying to teach him about mammals and birds.  My mental background music was “just teach half, just teach half, just teach half”. It was a great tip for the slides that become extremely repetitive. And that’s at all levels. Not only do the slides become repetitive in terms of the wording that they use, but also the grammar concepts tend to repeat in three different levels. I have taught compound words in both level six and level seven. I think that by level six or seven the kids should be using compound words, and various other easy grammar concepts already. This is stuff they should already know. If VIPKid were to ask me, I would tell them to teach a bit more about the different types of sentence structures: simple, complex, and compound. That is hard enough to teach let alone to learn. None of my kids get it. And they don’t get it because the slides are so densely packed with writing. And every VIPKid I’ve ever taught wants to read the slide out loud and that takes ages. So I only do half. More specifically, I only have them do half.

About six months into teaching the higher levels at VIPKid, I figured out that my 10 to 12-year-olds get quite bored of reading the text-heavy material and the repetition. And to be honest, I was getting bored of the same texts over and over again. It was time to turn the tables. After racking my brain for about three months to figure out how I could make the lessons more interactive and fun, I figured out that my students like to be the focus of attention and they like to play pretend. So why not make them be the teacher and me the student? It proved to be a great idea. My kids love playing teacher. And they’ve come up with the most interesting comprehension questions from that. My favorite would be “where did Columbus think he was going when he set sail in 1492?”. And of course, the answer has to be, he thought he was going to India so He went the wrong way!” My kids get a kick out of that.

I do get the best tips from my friend who lives in France. Most recently I certified for level 7+. It is nothing but text. It also seems to be very repetitive as well. The grammar that is included in this level is quite easy. And a lot of the teachers complain. I can’t blame them. There is a running discussion in a Facebook group devoted to level 7+, about how we would change the grammar and the things we would talk about with VIPKid if we could, and if we were listened to. We aren’t always, and I know this because there are teachers in my group who were involved with the curriculum design for the level, and have made quite a few suggestions to headquarters and weren’t. My ELT guru recommended that I let my kids read all of the text silently and pick out all of the relevant information to answer the comprehension questions. To always let them do the listening exercise if there is one. I actually took the advice a step further and I now make all of my kids read silently when the text is very long. And then I ask them comprehension and any other questions I can think of based on the reading. It works a treat.

There are a ton more teacher tips that I’ve gotten over the years and someday soon I will share them with you. But that will be another post and I don’t want this to be only about teaching. Writing returns next post. That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment.  But stay tuned, As always, there is more to come.

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