2006-10-13

RELAX

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.
-Henry David Thoreau-

They aren't aliens. They're human beings--people in small bodies, people with short attention spans, people who think in concrete rather than abstract terms, but people, nonetheless. They are also impressionable people. Your young pupils will reflect your attitude toward the class just as clearly as a thermometer reflects the temperature of the classroom. If you are tense, your students will be as well. Behavioral problems will ensue. Conflicts will develop between students. Valuable class time will be wasted. And everyone involved will leave exhausted and frustrated. A relaxed teacher, however, contributes significantly to warm, supportive classroom atmosphere. How does a teacher relax?

•Prepare thoroughly.

If you aren't sure what you are doing when you walk into the classroom, you will be stressed--and with good cause. A detailed lesson plan, however, frees you from the nagging question, "Now what do I do?" A thorough lesson plan includes the following:
•objectives--What do you want the students to learn?
•instructional procedures--How are you going to help students learn what you want them to learn?
•evaluation--How will you know whether students have learned what you wanted them to learn?
•materials--What materials will you need to fulfill your instructional procedures?
•assignment--What follow-up task (if any) will you expect students to complete on their own?

•Plan for potential problems.

Problems happen. Students finish in fifteen minutes the project for which you allotted thirty minutes. Little Youn-mi's complaints of "Teacher, I don't feel good" turn to cries of "Teacher, Youn-mi just got sick!!!" Students forget pencils, erasers, crayons, and even textbooks. Other teachers call in sick, and you find yourself with a combined class. The power goes out. Having contingency plans for foreseeable emergencies can significantly reduce your stress when the crisis strikes.
•Try to include at least one more activity than you think you'll have time for on each lesson plan.

•Keep a card file of five and ten minute "filler" activities.
•Keep a folder of photocopied review or practice worksheets that you can grab and distribute at a moment's notice. (Handwriting and reading comprehension worksheets, if not overused, can be great "backup" activities.)
•Have extra pencils, crayons, and erasers readily available.
•Develop a contingency plan for missing textbooks. (Will the student be able to share a book with a classmate? Do you have an extra copy you may loan out? Can you step out of the classroom long enough to photocopy a work page? Is the student expected to sit quietly through class, then complete the assignment at home? etc.)
•Know the school's policy regarding student illnesses. (Do you send Youn-mi to the office at first complaint? Do you keep her in class, but tell her she can put her head down on the desk and rest? Are you supposed to ignore complaints and teach until disaster strikes?)
•Know who to contact in case of an emergency and where to find cleaning supplies.
•Always have a large group activity on file that you can pull if you end up with a combined class. Possibilities include craft projects, creative writing tasks, outdoor games, role-playing exercises, and English videos for which you have written comprehension and discussion questions.

•Get enough rest.

Split shifts in particular take their toll. Some people need eight hours of sleep a night. Others can function on six. Still others require nine or ten. Figure out how much rest your body needs, then plan your schedule accordingly. While it may be tempting to go out on the town with all the other teachers when classes end at 11:00 pm, it's not wise to make a habit of nights on the town if you have to be back in the classroom at 5:30 or 6:00 the next morning. Not only are you in less than ideal condition in the classroom, but you are also jeopardizing your health. Tired teachers tend to be grouchy teachers. Tired teachers tend to be ineffective teachers. And tired teachers tend to become sick teachers.

•Teach students, not the textbook.

Teachers bent on teaching the textbook, on completing every language exercise and/or covering every page in the workbook, within an inflexible time frame get frustrated. Students don't always learn according to schedule. Some students learn English rapidly and will be bored to tears if the teacher insists on prolonging a unit until every related activity has been completed. Others struggle to learn English and will be incredibly frustrated and discouraged if the teacher rushes through one unit to get to the next one "on schedule." Remember that the textbook is a tool, a means to an end, but not the end itself. Use the textbook; use the scope and sequence chart; use the teacher's manual; use any other related materials. But teach the students. If the scope and sequence chart says students should master a skill in one week, but most of your students are struggling with the task, don't be afraid to take a few more days. If the workbook includes five pages of exercises related to a certain grammatical skill, but the majority of your students evidence clear mastery of the skill on the first page, don't feel like you "have" to do the other four. Remember, whether your students learn and love learning is far more important than whether they finish the text precisely on schedule or complete every exercise mentioned in the teacher's guide.

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