I pledge to be a better teacher

Ethan’s 3rd post:

In the closing plenary of yesterday’s Learning to Teach workshop, Doctor Andrew Hendry, professor of Evolutionary Ecology at McGill, demonstrated a terrific example of what he called an ‘inspirational class’.

According to him, since information is easy to access nowadays, what distinguishes a good teacher from a mediocre one is whether he or she is able to inspire the students and make them feel sad when the class is over. He surely can do that. In his lecture, he demonstrated how to pass on hands-on learning, how to use social media to inspire students and how to ‘perform’ in front of the class. At the end of his lecture, I could literally sense the energy in every audience and feel that the spirit of the entire hall was lifted up. A picture says a thousand words, and here is a youtube link of how he teaches evolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcMUnYIYUjE. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

Looking back at the educational sociolinguistic class I have taken this semester, I feel inspired too. The aura of the course was so inviting that you never feel intimidated speaking in front of the class or to the professor. The topics and issues discussed in each class would always arouse inspirational discussion, in which I learned a lot not only from the professor, but also from my classmates. In a word, one could easily wish the class just went on and never stopped.

I feel so fortunate to have met two great professors at McGill. Their effective teaching style gave me confidence and inspiration to my future teaching. Having taught a foreign language for some years, I often hear complaints about how challenging it can be to teach a language. However, I have different opinions. What if we see language as a living organism that is changing and growing everyday, which means as a teacher, each day you could expect to learn something new together with the students. Isn’t that just exciting? We all know that in order to improve ourselves, we must keep pace with the development of the society. In the same token, if we don’t put our best effort to innovate our teaching, we will fail to live up to the expectation of the students and the society. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on my colleagues and counterparts; however, with so many role models to follow and to surpass, we should feel proud with the choice to teach a language in the first place.

Lastly, a few thoughts from the workshop and my own experience as a teacher to share with my fellow language learners and educators: (please feel free to add more)

  1. Always work and teach with passion
  2. Relate to the students as a vivid human being
  3. Know your teaching content well and know your students
  4. Show that you care about each and every student in class
  5. Try to impart knowledge as if you’re telling a story
  6. Show up early in class and greet each student
  7. Wear a smile in class and remember to look in the students’ eyes
  8. Always reflect after each class
  9. Be not afraid to say ‘I don’t know’; but always come back with an answer
  10. Make sure that the students understand something well instead of knowing everything poorly
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6 thoughts on “I pledge to be a better teacher”

  1. Hi Ethan,

    Thanks for your sharing with us the video! I also like our class culture, not only the classroom interaction, but also this blog activity. Don’t you think this blog is just like our second classroom and actually we can communicate more here than we did in a real classroom? There are many fantastic resources such as the article http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15427587.2011.615708 (This article is recommended by Alison. It shows that linguistic identities of teachers are multiple and dynamic, instead of just native/non-native dichotomy. It’s a very interesting and thought-provoking article) and also websites http://www.yesmontreal.ca/en/yes/who_we_are (This website is recommended by Hsinhua. You know, I really find a job here! hahaha~ Thanks again for this website and Hsinhua!). Here, I just illtstrate two examples. I think it will be great if we read each blog, extract information, sort them out and put them into our teaching portfolio.

    I think your thoughts about teacher are excellent, especially the 9th one (Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’, because teachers are also human beings). I just add one tip. If possible, teachers may allow students to choose how they will be assessed (like paper, poster, website, presentation and so on) because students don’t always demonstrate understanding and application in the same way.

    5th Comment by Yuting Zhao

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  2. Hi Ethan,

    I read your post with a warm heart and am humbled by your words. It is a wonderful privilege to be able to spend my Thursday evenings with bright, curious, and respectful people who share a passion and curiosity for language teaching and learning, both as a field of study, but most importantly, as a practice. Your list of 10 thoughts is very comprehensive. What more to add? If we work and teach with passion, the rest really should follow. After the first one (teach with passion), the last one is a favourite for me (less is often more).

    Also, thank you, Yuting, for your addition to Ethan’s list. This is really valuable feedback. Assessment is often something that is directed at learners, rather than developed with them. This is something I will continue to reflect on in future teaching. I agree that there are many ways to demonstrate subject-area knowledge, critical thinking/reading/writing and analytical skills, and creativity.

    There’s a lot more I’d love to say about the blog, and blogging as pedagogy in particular, but in all fairness to the group, I will hold off until the course is over. I’d rather hear perspectives from the group first before saying too much myself. For now, suffice it to say that, as I said on the first day of class, doing a course blog was something I’d never done before, but I set up the blog with pedagogical intentionality, and it has been an enriching and motivating experience to take the journey together.

    ~Alison

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  3. Hi Ethan,

    I enjoy reading your post as it reminds me of the same conference that I attended last year. There were many amazing teaching aspects that, as teachers, sometimes we forget. You provided a very interesting list. I find that number (4) is very important in the ESL classroom as it remind me of one of my best ESL classes in my life. In 2012, I was enrolled in the intensive English program in Mcgill. I can not forget how the instructor tapped into our knowledge and provided us with a very valuable course and useful learning experience that is the reason why My English improved at that time. At the beginning of the course, he sat with each student individually and ask us about our preferences?, what we would like to learn?, what are our linguistic weaknesses? and how we wand to be assessed?. After he gathered these information, he designed the course that responded to our needs as ESL learners and engaged us in the whole process of learning. What he did is for sure related also to point (10) in your list “Make sure that the students understand something well instead of knowing everything poorly”.

    Faten Alzaid

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  4. Yerim Lee (comment #4)

    Hi Ethan! Thank you for sharing your experience and 10 wonderful tips!
    As you mentioned, being a language teacher is sometimes very challenging. Especially, in my case, it was really difficult to teach English when my students had different goals of learning English. The goal of learning English for most of my students was mainly to get in a good high school or a university. On the other hand, there were students who want to learn English as a communication tool or as one of the ways to get to know the bigger world. Thus, to integrate all the students and their goals, I tried to deliver the message to my students that English is not just a tool to achieve a certain goal but a big door that leads them to another world. In addition to this, I also often said, by learning English, people can not only learn linguistic knowledge but also gain deeper understanding for the world.
    For me, one of the big doors which leads me to another world in the SLA field was this course. I also learned a lot from the professor, the classmates, and the blog postings. With what we learned and shared from this course, let’s be a better teacher!

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  5. Cheryl Lingjaun Yan (Comment#6)
    Hi Ethan,
    It’s a great post! Thank you for sharing your story with us, and I enjoy reading it! I am intrigued by a few words you mentioned as your feedback of that workshop, for example, “Wear a smile in class and remember to look in the students’ eyes”. I couldn’t agree more! As a teacher, it’s important to show you care about each student, so the best way is smiling. Smiling is so powerful that can make everyone around you be positive and happy about what they are learning. And Indeed, it is never easy to be a teacher, especially a language teacher. Students come to our classrooms with different perspectives. Therefore, it’s relatively hard to cater to every student’s needs. However, there’s another two things you mentioned in my opinion is pretty important, that are always work with love and passion, and make students come to the classroom with questions but go back home with an answer in mind.
    Good luck to us all!

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