Working in the English as a Second Language field is a wonderfully challenging and complex endeavor. If administrators and teachers work together to solve the common problems of these programs then many of the issues become less formidable. Here are five common problems faced by ESL teachers and administrators and their solutions.
1 - Managing Your ESL Classroom
No matter the classroom, no matter the subject, there will always be a class clown. Furthermore, ESL students have the advantage of goofing off in two languages. For your ESL school, such behaviors can become detrimental to the teaching process if allowed to persist.Establish Classroom Rules
An important tactic in teaching is to begin the year with strict classroom rules that become more relaxed as the school year continues.
To make rules clear to the students, consider posting them somewhere visible from every angle in the classroom, such as near the whiteboard. When students are acting out, have them identify which rule they are breaking to facilitate understanding.
Some great rules for a structured classroom are:
- Be on time
- Come to class prepared (homework done, supplies and textbooks on hand)
- Work together
- Respect your teacher
- Have fun!
As an ESL teacher, do not be afraid of having fun in the classroom. Lessons can be derailed by students acting out or poor ESL classroom organization, so sometimes it is necessary to stop or refocus a lesson to stay student centered.Stay Student Focused
Administrators and teachers can easily become laser-focused on teaching materials, technology and test scores. Activities are shown to increase student engagement, so activity based lessons lead to better teaching. Controlled fun is an educator’s best friend when trying to create a student-centered and disciplined classroom experience.
Here are 4 ways to remain student focused:
- Activities, activities, activities
- Stop and review
- Consider the levels
- Avoid excessive teacher talk time
In this scenario, administrators can observe teachers classes and monitor the TTT to help the teacher remain student-focused and teach activity based lessons. Lectures are easy. The teachers have studied the material, have gone through training, and know how to talk. Still, every student has a different learning style. In fact, studies show students are more likely to fail stand-and-deliver courses than interactive classes.
If the students are not understanding the more advanced material, it may be necessary to do a basic review. Sometimes this is simply a good refresher, but other times it uncovers a fundamental misunderstanding in the classroom. It is vital for administration or teachers to identify these problems in the classroom early before it is too late, and activities are a great way for teachers to make their lessons engaging and to assess the levels.
2 - Cultivating Student Engagement in the Classroom
Many students, particularly less confident, younger students, feel uncomfortable engaging in classroom activities involving conversational English. Using these methods can help eliminate common classroom problems, such as a student’s persistent use of their first language, or advanced students dominating classroom interaction.Partner Advanced Students With Struggling Students
In a diverse class, the teachers greatest assets are the advanced students.
Grouping or pairing students of varying levels allows students to work through problems together. Students with lower proficiency in speaking are able to communicate with their partner in L1 when needed.
Here are some rules for choosing student pairs:
Choose groups randomly- since your goal is to diversify your student pairs, teachers should not allow students to pick partners, but instead can have them pull a name from a hat to avoid bias.
Pair complementary personalities- diversify groups, but do not pair two students who dislike one another. Even if the pair makes sense by level, it would be best for classroom management to avoid those partnerships.
Do not tell the students why they were paired- this may be obvious, but it is very important you do not tell the students they are paired because one of them is behind and the other is advanced.Consistently Check-in With Students
Administrators and teachers should always be consistently checking-in to make sure all students are on track. This is not limited to regular testing, but can be anything from daily quizzes, to worksheets, to questions in class. For ESL students, check in is easy since teacher talk time should already be reduced.
Use randomization methods to pick students to answer questions. Put all of the students’ names on popsicle sticks and grab one each time you ask a question. With this method, teachers could even consider pulling two names at a time, helping kids feel more comfortable answering the question.
Frequently rearrange groups throughout the classroom. Experts advise it is harmful to allow students to become attached to a particular group, but instead, advise teachers to constantly switch up the groups or pairs. This allows the students to learn more from their fellow students, and, in addition, can cut down rowdy classroom behavior.
Peer-to-peer and self-assessment is another great tool for teachers. This can be valuable if moderated by the teacher. Training and creating a clear rubric for the peer assessment is vital for this activity to be successful, especially in a mixed level classroom. If done well, peer assessment is valuable for the teacher but more importantly provides the students with another source of feedback.
3 - Communicating with Parents
A way to create positive communication with parents is to remain open-minded from the start. Consider and research the culture of parenting in whatever country or region you are working. Each set of parents will be different, but do yourself a favor by being culturally aware. Here are some steps to creating positive parent-teacher relationships.Have a Parent-Teacher Game Plan
Making a good impression on your student’s parents is vital because it will ultimately increase your retention rates as well as give them peace of mind. Even if the meeting is simple, being prepared mentally and organizationally will help you create a healthy conversation with parents.
By being prepared for parent-teacher meetings you will:
- Save yourself and the parents valuable time
- Be clear and concise with people who may not have the best English skills
- Impress the parents with organization
No, do not prepare for this meeting like it is a football match, but do have a simple structure for how the want meeting should go. ESL administrators or principles can create a standardized list for teachers they can tweak for these intimidating meeting.
3 things to include on parent-teacher conference plans are:
- Positive student feedback
- A plan for future classroom improvements
- A time for parents to freely ask questions
Parents will assume the worst until proven otherwise. If a school calls a meeting with a parent, the parent will automatically be concerned about their child. Therefore, to put their minds at ease, always begin by making clear you have the child’s best interest in mind.
Always begin the meeting with positive feedback. This should not be shallow or forced feedback. There is always something positive to say about a child, even the most disruptive or disrespectful. Jumping straight into negative comments will often times make the parents feel personally attacked, so it is best to hold off on the criticism.
When giving negative feedback place yourself in the parent’s shoes and try and understand any comments they have for you no matter how negative. Be confident, clear, and concise so the parents do not question your authority or intentions. Have documented evidence of any negative incident involving their child.
Listen closely to the parents. Do not listen only to what the parents say, but also what they do not say about their child. Since the parents spend more time with their children, there is a lot teachers can learn from the parents and how to handle the student in the classroom. The parents are not a threat, but more often than not are the greatest asset improving teaching methods.
It is a delicate balance to let the parents of ESL students know you are on their team while giving negative student feedback, but if the school has done the job well and remained student-focused, then these meetings will run smoothly.
4 - Clarifying ESL Contract Negotiations
Creating high quality work environments and opening up a clear communication network with your teachers can eliminate some common issues and avoid administrative catastrophes. Here are some ways to avoid common administrative problems for ESL teachers before a contract is settled.
As an administrator, your main goal is to find and retain high quality ESL teachers. Now that you have gotten to the negotiation process with a teacher, it is essential to set up a communication network in order to make this teacher feel comfortable and taken care of. Have clear answer prepared for some of the common questions your future teachers will have.
3 Questions to Ask and Answer During Negotiations For English Language Teaching Positions
Contract negotiations are sometimes difficult for certain personalities. That being said, they are also the most important conversations of the year. Especially if you are immigrating for an ESL jobs, as many teachers do, misunderstandings in negotiations can be the source of much heartache.
Here are questions to ask during contract negotiations:
Is there a non-compete agreement?
For teachers- This is vital if you have a low starting salary so that you can budget your time and funds accordingly.
For administrators- If your school does require a non-compete agreement, be sure to explain why carefully and the other benefits you provide your teachers to make up for this missed income source.
Will they provide housing arrangements or assistance?
For teachers- Finding housing arrangements from around the globe is almost impossible, but many schools provide assistance or housing for their foreign teachers. If this is the case, be sure to ask the right questions about your future home.
For administrators- If housing is provided by the school, invest some time from the beginning to write up a clear housing manual. Take high quality photos to do the space justice and to help your teachers prepare for the situation.
Do they provide a travel allowance?
For teachers- Moving to a different country is very expensive, but do not let these expenses eat away your savings if your school will help. If a travel allowance is provided, do your homework and negotiate a fair rate.
For administrators- Do your own research of the costs of moving from your teachers current local. Make clear the amount and method provided and why. If the travel allowance is taxable or comes out of the yearly salary explain this carefully to the teacher.
Be sure to double check everything negotiated and that it is documented and signed. Do your own documentation during the process so you can rest assured none of your requirements have been left out.
5 - Solving Personal Problems Teachers Face
3 Ways to Help Your Foreign Teachers Transition
Working with foreign teachers can be complex and sometimes awkward. Since your teacher is immigrating from another country, it is sometimes the responsibility of school administration to guide them into a positive teaching experience. This will benefit the school enormously as happy teachers mean happy students and parents.
Provide airport pick-up for your teachers. In this scenario, your employee is most likely coming from abroad for this position. This is a small gesture which can take your relationship with the new teacher in the right direction. This will make your teacher feel cared for on a fundamental, professional level.
Establish workplace routines. For foreign teachers, a way for them to perform well and quickly is to have a clearly established system which will be easy for them to adapt to. Introduce them to the staff, show them the restrooms, guide them to the copy machine, these are practical necessities which should be shared in addition to training.
Planning social events for teachers. Creating an environment of collaboration amongst your teachers will help them establish relationships which will pay off when it comes time to renew contracts. These events do not have to be grand, but a simple coffee hour or “teachers night out” can do wonders for workplace morale.
Teachers: Establish A Comfortable Lifestyle
Moving is categorized as one of the most stressful life events by The American Institute of Stress. Instead of settling into this statistic, find ways of fighting the relocation blues by creating a comfortable living and workspace.
Find your “happy places.” Even if you live in a shared living environment, find your corner and make it entirely yours. In addition to creating a sanctuary at home, explore your new town or city and find somewhere you feel comfortable. This can be a coffee shop, a restaurant, a library, or even a tree, this can be whatever you can find to connect with your home.
Get involved! Whether it be joining a local club, volunteering, inviting someone out to dinner, or attending a church, find your preferred activity and jump into that community. Getting out of your own head or your own space does wonders for your mental and emotional health during stressful life events.
Embrace the culture. Culture shock is very real and very terrifying. In order to overcome this, begin by learning as much as possible about the culture of your new home. Read books, observe local customs, and do not be afraid to ask questions. Culture shock is commonly linked to depression and other mood disorders, so do not be ashamed if you are feeling down and do not be afraid to seek help.
Here at Your Agora, we understand the challenges faced by ESL educators in the industry today. Creating a positive teaching environment is the first step to improving the ESL program at your school. Fun activities, lesson planning, teacher collaboration, and generating new ideas are simplified by our program designed by teachers, for teachers!
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