How to Improve my Spanish without having to spend much money
Dear" In need of improvement",
I am sure that there are many places that offer such programs. You might talk with your state foreign language association or the local chapter of AATSP to see if they have any plans to offer weekend immersion programs. Near-by colleges may consider doing something of this nature as well. These ideas might work for other languages as well. If not, perhaps you can try to organize one yourself with the help of your language association.
One opportunity that I know about is the 4-day Spanish Immersion Institute offered by the NCLRC in late June of every year. In the past this has been in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain’s Consejería de Educación. You may see what happened at the 2010 institute by going to the website.
The content varies from year to year but always focuses on Spain’s history and contemporary culture. About half the time is spent at the Embassy and the other half exploring the Washington DC area. Participants learn from each other about new teaching ideas, methods, and products. Excellent Spanish food is provided. Everyone’s Spanish improves immeasurably. It is a great way to network.
Details for the 2011 Spanish Immersion Institute should be available in time for the ACTFL conference. The website will have the announcements posted by that time. Please consider a few days in Washington DC as your next 100% Spanish all the time experience.
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Creating a 30 minute demo lesson
Observations tend to worry new teachers a great deal, and even experienced teachers often get nervous when there’s no reason for them to do so. Presumably, you have access to the evaluation rubric, so you know what the observer will be assessing. Use this to help you plan your lesson, being sure to include the elements that the observer will be assessing. Enough time will have passed so that you and your students have settled into a routine and all of you can focus on the learning that is planned for the day, rather than concentrating on procedural items. Remember, students think they are being observed too so they will try to perform at their best, and help you to do your best. Keeping all of this in mind, an observation really isn’t that bad an experience after all. In fact, looking at it as an opportunity to gain further knowledge, strategies, and resources from the observer may help to ease the stress.
If you have a choice of days for when the observation will take place, I suggest you choose a day that is more in the middle of a lesson, concept, or chapter than at the beginning or end. By strategically choosing the lesson day, the observer can see the introduction of new material laid over existing knowledge, and see students performing with new and already learned material. Ideally, most official observations should last the entire class period, with the observer in place before the bell and staying until after the bell. Realistically, an observation may not last more than 30 minutes and the observer may miss the introductory piece.
Before the observation:
• Have your grade book up to date and ready for the observer.
• Have your plan book up to date and ready for the observer.
• Make copies of your lesson plans for the day (both for you and the observer).
• Check out any equipment you will be using, so you know how to use it, and are sure it will work properly (no burnt out bulbs, dead batteries, too-short cords, etc.).
• Don’t try a new procedure, or a complicated activity. It will take too much time to explain the process to the students.
• Have all materials near at hand and easy to access, whether it be papers to distribute, visual cues, or transparencies.
In a 30-minute observation, the observer should see/hear the following:
• A statement of what the students will learn and be doing during the lesson.
• The teacher should demonstrate everything the students are going to do, and provide clear and uncomplicated directions.
• Lots of the foreign language being spoken by the students. This can be achieved by doing pair work and report back, for example. Choose a topic that requires demonstrating understanding, not just parroting, of language. Perhaps giving directions and acting out. (i.e. point to the blue/red/yellow star, or turn to the right/left/around)
• On-going and continuous evaluation of learning taking place throughout the lesson. (These are things the teacher does to be sure the students are learning and using information appropriately. They may require an adjustment on the teacher's part if learning is not happening.)
• The teacher moving around the room, listening and reacting to what students are doing or saying. This may simply be "Yes, that is correct." or "Try it this way..." or “What would happen if you…”
• A variety of activities that address the same material. If the topic is colors, use the paired-pointing activity suggested above, matching the written word with the color patch, identifying colors out loud. Asking and answering questions about a favorite color, least favorite color, and then telling class what they found out.
• Smooth transitions from one activity to another in which there is no down-time for the students. Students should be engaged in learning from bell to bell.
• Students on-task, in the language, from bell to bell and beyond.
• Closure of the lesson through a re-working of material in a new context by the students. (If the lesson is colors, students identify colors of clothing you or other students are wearing.)
Time management during the class period is important because you want to maximize learning time. Remember that students have short attention spans when learning something new, so don't let any one activity go on for more than 5 or 6 minutes.
• Keep them busy with learning.
• Vary the type of activity that engages them.
• Don’t waste time with administrative things. (Take attendance while they are doing a paired activity. Distribute papers to groups of students – rows – or while another activity is closing down).
The key is to encourage the students to participate actively in their learning, give them some freedom in how they participate, and keep the pace moving.
After the observation:
• Reflect honestly on how you think the lesson went, noting what worked well and what did not.
• Make notes to yourself about how students reacted to certain elements of the lesson.
• When you have the follow-up interview with the observer, be sure to take your grade book and plan book with you. Don’t forget those notes to yourself, either.
• During the interview, do not become defensive, but do explain why you did something the way you did if it is apparent the observer doesn’t understand your reasoning.
• In most cases, signing the observation form simply means that you have seen it and discussed it with the observer. Your signature does not indicate that you agree with the evaluation.
• If you are in complete disagreement with something on the observation, you have the right to write a rebuttal and to have that attached to the evaluation form.
The real truth to having a good evaluation is to teach as if you were being evaluated every day. What an observer is looking for are the elements that combine to make you a good teacher, even on your worst day.
Following the above suggestions is the logical outcome of your years of preparation and experience. Don’t be thrown by the official nature of an observation; just do your regular routine, and everything should go smoothly for you.
I hope these ideas help you put together exciting learning opportunities for your students every day, not just on observation day.
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Dear Lost for Words,
Having been on both sides of the recommendation-writing/reading wall, I can tell you what makes a good impression and what does not. Below are some general guidelines for things that you definitely should do when writing a recommendation for a student, or a colleague. This is followed by things you definitely should NOT do. It doesn’t matter for whom the recommendation is being written, nor does it matter what the purpose is. Follow these guidelines and you will produce a product that will help the individual move toward acceptance and/or success. Remember, your letter goes a long way toward creating a positive impression of the candidate, so you want it to be well-written and of good appearance.
Things to do when writing a recommendation
1. Provide enough time to consider the content and to re-write, or at least proof read.
2. Use compound and complex sentence structure.
3. Do some research into the granting organization (college, company, scholarship, etc.) so you can address the stated goals and guiding principles of the organization. Make a statement about how these and the candidate are mutually supportive.
4. Talk with the applicant about why they are applying, what they hope to gain from it, and to find out a bit about their background (extra curricular activities, awards). You can use some of this information for your examples.
5. Explain who you are, how you know the applicant, and for how long.
6. Address each of the points listed in the application, and provide concrete examples of why you think what you think. Be sure to include something about the specific nature of the reason they are applying.
7. Address the applicant’s preparation for what will be required of them if accepted. This is especially important if there are specific requirements.
8. Touch on the applicant’s ability to get along with peers and superiors. Nobody works in a vacuum any more, and we all must interact with others.
9. Give an example of the individual’s ability to plan, organize, and execute a project. This provides an indication of leadership, ability to follow-through, and creativity.
10. Some applications may want you to address intellectual curiosity. Be sure to give examples of how the individual goes above and beyond in the pursuit of “finding out” something.
11. Personal integrity is often part of the over-all application. This is a touchy topic for a lot of people because it is viewed as intrusive. Don’t skip it; overlooking it might be interpreted as not having anything good to say.
12. Proof read!!! It is amazing how many recommendations come through with bad grammar, sentence fragments, poor spelling, and no paragraphing.
Definitely do NOT …
1. … skip anything that’s on the list to be addressed in your recommendation. Skipping is often construed as hiding negative information.
2. … forget to provide concrete examples. The lack of examples may indicate that you do not know the candidate well enough to be writing the recommendation. Interview the candidate if you don’t know him very well.
3. … use vague, lofty terms when describing the person or his actions. This suggests that you don’t have a clue about what to say.
Good recommendations take time to write. With experience, it gets easier. Always take a careful look at what the application requests and address each topic completely. By following these guidelines, you should be making a positive difference in the applicant’s future.
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What does it take to be regarded as a professional in the language teaching world?
This month's topic is a thought-provoking one, and the answer is different for each one of us, and for each audience. The over-arching requirement is having a PASSION for language in general, and for sharing that passion with others. In general terms, the following points are offered for consideration:
• Broad-based study of the language, the people, the culture and history, and the community where the language is spoken.
• Continued study in a variety of locales with focus on a variety of topics on a regular basis.
• Knowledge of cultural innuendoes, regional variations, behavioral expectations of the people who speak the language.
• Up to date knowledge about technologies and how they can be used to enhance teaching and learning, and application of that knowledge.
• Current knowledge about what is going on in areas where the language is spoken.
• Sharing ideas and work with colleagues, whether in the school or the profession at large.
• Seeking help when it is needed.
• Mentoring new teachers, whether they are new to the situation or to the profession.
• Supporting the department as a whole, not just one language or class.
• Assuming leadership, where and when it is appropriate.
• Producing students who continue their study of language beyond your classroom.
• Using a variety of teaching methods and assessment tools.
• Providing opportunities to students for remediation and enrichment.
• Creating opportunities for students to communicate among themselves, and with native speakers, in a variety of contexts, about a variety of topics.
• Bringing the community into the classroom and taking the classroom out into the community.
• Attending professional organization meetings and conferences.
• Presenting sessions at professional organization meetings and conferences.
• Writing short, experience-based and anecdotal articles for professional publications.
• Volunteering to help at events.
• Serving on boards of directors of professional organizations.
When teachers base their teaching on the 5C’s, good inter-personal relationship skills, and life-long learning, they should be regarded as a professional by any audience who is judging.
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Bringing back a language program
Dear Looking to bring back Spanish!,
Transitioning from one level of learning to another is always a difficult and complex problem to sort out. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a K-5 to a 6-8, a 6-8 to a 9-12, or a 9-12 to a post high school course of study, the smooth moving from one place to another is a challenge. Nor does it matter if we are talking about public or private schools. Some of this has to do with learning styles of the various age groups, some with life experiences, and some with the amount of time dedicated in the day or week to foreign languages classes. It also has a lot to do with the expectations at each level.
Before doing anything specific, you need to do some background work. What did the administration feel was not being done correctly? How do they envision fixing it so that it will be done correctly? What will they support into the future and how will they provide that support? Determine if they want full-year or 9-week courses, or something in between. How often will the class meet and for how long? What is the purpose of the class at each grade level?
It will do you no good if you present a full-year course and they want a 9-week one. By doing this background work, you say to the administration that you support their 5-year plan and want a foreign language program that reflects their vision. This will go a long way toward gaining administrative support of your proposals. Then… Once you have the answers to these policy decisions, then you can start to do some specific planning.
First, decide where students who take Spanish in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade will enter the High School sequence: 2nd year or 3rd? This may change as you actually start to design the curriculum at the two levels.
Second, divide the material that needs to be covered into portions that are delegated to each grade level and seat time at that level. Be sure to cover the essentials as well as the bits that are memorable so all students, both middle and high school, have a common, shared background.
Third, devise teaching strategies that present the material in a way that will be exciting and engaging for Middle School aged learners. A variety of hands-on activities is sure to be part of this strategy. It is important to include lots of visual and oral contact as well. For writing, use some of the newer technologies to capture their interest and harness their skills. For reading, there are many good and authentic sources; scour the internet and you will find them.
Fourth, be sure that your assessments are in line with what the High School uses so the students are not taken by surprise when they arrive there in 9th grade. The MS-HS transition is a tough one for students, so making the testing regimen familiar is an important step towards guaranteeing success in their High School classes. High School testing procedures should only be part of your Middle School assessments.
Work closely with the high school teachers, not just during the planning, but throughout the years. By carefully devising a sequence of topics, content, and events your result should be a successful transition from whatever Middle School contact the students have to their continued study in the High School.
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Saving and Maintaining Language Programs
Help! My school board is cutting foreign language programs left and right! We’re going to lose our French program; we’ve already lost our Japanese program. Our Spanish program is losing it’s upper level courses. All of our classes are bigger because they’ve laid off some teachers and are not hiring enough new teachers. What can we do to stop it?
Worried & Wondering
Dear Worried & Wondering,
Nearly all school systems, public, private, and parochial, are reeling from the economic downturn. Answers to reduced budgets include reducing or eliminating programs, downsizing the staff in all areas, cutting back on support to athletic programs, putting a stop to all field trips, and cutting back on bus routes by requiring students to walk if they live within a certain distance from the school.
Along with the system-wide cuts, those academic areas that are not covered by mandatory state-level testing are faced with additional reductions, and this usually means that foreign languages is one of the areas that is suffering doubly. It is hard not to take these cuts personally because we love what we do, and believe strongly in the over-all value of foreign languages in developing a well-rounded individual ready to be a responsible citizen in the future.
Keeping in mind that the pot of money has shrunken considerably, what can we do to maintain viable course sequences in several languages, while still keeping our sanity? Through teacher advocacy and community support, you may have some influence on the decisions.
- Invite administrators into your classes so they can see how FL reinforces other subject areas.
- Participate in contests that will recognize high achieving students and publicize the results.
- Take an active role in the recommendations for the budget for the next year.
- Prepare a presentation for the School Board that highlights the successes of students at all levels in all languages that are taught in your system, using students as the presenters.
- Be sure that the administration, superintendent, and school board are aware of your successes on a regular basis, not just during the annual presentation.
- Join your professional organizations and participate in their advocacy programs. Many organizations have great ideas on their websites that are simple to apply.
- Involve parents in class activities.
- Enlist the support of local businesses and give them appropriate, public appreciation.
- Be sure parents know about and understand how the cuts will affect the foreign language programs.
- Prepare a newsletter to send into the community and to the school officials. Use this to explain the value of foreign language study, and to publicize student success.
- Work with the local media to spotlight special events in your classes, or to draw attention to special dates that have relevance to the languages taught in your schools.
If students enjoy their foreign language classes, they, and their parents, will be your best advocates. Be sure to involve them in any activities that you plan. Former students who can attest to the value of their foreign language study make very impressive allies. Contact them and ask for their help.
Be sensible in what you are asking. Be willing to meet the budget makers half way. Be realistic in how many languages and how many years should be offered. Be sure you work for all languages, not just your own.
Some cutting back is inevitable, but by following the above, you may be able to keep your programs alive and well.
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Maintaining Language Skills
Maintaining those language skills that we had when we returned from our study abroad semester is a huge challenge. Once we leave the heady atmosphere of total immersion and college classes, we must continue to find ways to continue learning about and using our language. Here are some good ideas that have worked well for many teachers. I’m sure you will think of others.
- Subscribe to a magazine or newspaper in your language. There are tons available on-line. Check with your embassy to see if they publish a cultural magazine.
- Listen to TV and radio broadcasts in your language. Any programming is helpful. Again, the Internet may be your best source, especially if the language you teach is not commonly spoken in your area.
- Find out what books, movies, and music are on the best seller lists and encourage your local library to start a section for your language.
- Join a local conversation group – or start one – in your area.
- Get involved with the local organization that works to help people in the area who speak your language. They probably sponsor several cultural events during the year, as well as doing things to improve the lives of the people, through scholarship programs, interpreting services, and the like. They’re always looking for help!
- Plan a regularly scheduled get-together for teachers of your language in your area. This could be an informal gathering at a local restaurant, or a more formal sharing session at a school. Whatever the venue and the purpose, speak your language!
- Join your professional organization and attend their events.
- Attend professional conferences and hang out with others who speak your language.
- Join an international blog.
- Always speak your language with your colleagues, every day, and about everything. This is not only good for you, but sets an excellent example for the students. They can see that language is a thing of every day communication.
With the Internet at our fingertips, there really isn’t any reason for us to loose our skills. It does take effort to set aside time each day to enrich your own knowledge, but it will pay off in the end. The fact that you are aware of the need is the first step toward fixing the problem. Good luck and enjoy your self-styled study plan!
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Three Yearly Goals
Whether you feel that the appropriate use is made of your written goals by your administrators or not, they are important to put down on paper, perhaps especially for you. I will approach your frustration from the angle of how this will help you, and will not address what your administration does or does not do with them. There are a variety of reasons why an administrator might ask for goals. Among them are having to satisfy a list of objectives either for the superintendent or the school board, or as part of a check list for accreditation.
We all arrive at school in the fall ready to tackle another year, having spent time over the summer thinking about our successes and our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses. While everybody likes to sit on their laurels, what will make us even more successful, is to spend time reflecting on our failures and weaknesses. This reflection should include delving into reasons why we weren’t satisfied and exploring ways to make the effort more successful. Jot down the most important of these and prepare a plan of action (aka: a set of goals) for improvement. A time-line might be helpful if you have devised a multi-step plan for one of your goals.
While thinking seriously about these things is an important first step, putting ideas on paper helps to crystallize the thoughts and organize approaches for improvement. Written down, these ideas then become easier to run a self-check on as the year progresses. Pull them out every month or two and critically analyze your trajectory toward achieving the goals. Make adjustments as necessary.
There are always hoops through which we need to jump, whether or not we like or agree with them. Stop grumbling about having to write these goals and submit them to your principal, and turn your thinking around into how this will help you become an even better teacher than you are already. We all have room for improvement!
- Make a list of what you areas would like to improve in this year. Be specific.
- Form a plan of action from this list. Be specific.
- Prioritize this list, using whatever criteria are important to you.
- Select the top 5 items and submit them for your goals for this year.
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Making open house day a success
The days before classes start are hectic and filled with surprise meetings and visits. Here are some ideas that I found really make Open House day a pleasant one for me and an informative one for the parents and students. To help create a friendly atmosphere I often play a CD of selected music, loud enough to be heard, but not so loud as to inhibit conversation.
Create “stations” around the room.
- Make a clear sign that announces which class each station represents.
- Make a clear sign that describes the procedure for this station. (see figure 1)
- Place 5 copies of the textbook and ancillary materials the students will receive.
- Place on the tables more than enough copies of your syllabus, student information forms, language club information and whatever else you generally distribute on the first day of class.
- Indicate where in the room they will find examples of activities that will take place during the year.
Create an announcements section on the wall. This is where you will post all announcements and course information, including homework and test schedules. Include the following:
- Course expectations
- Grading policy
- School calendar
- Club activities
- Student calendar
- Display examples of what the students will accomplish during the year in visual form.
- Use student created materials, photographs, etc. in a bright and easy to understand setting.
- Remove student names and grades from any display item.
- Indicate which class.
- Use only one food picture, so you don’t give everybody the impression that students will eat their way through the class. There are other cultural elements that you will be emphasizing as well; use pictures to illustrate these.
- Include everyday activities as well as culminating ones.
- Emphasize the participatory nature of the class.
Major events you have planned for the year should have their own place on the wall.
- Foreign Language Week Celebration
- Club information and last year’s activities
- Information about your language honor society
- Information about your AAT testing program (National French Exam, National Spanish Exam, etc.)
With some creative use of the space in the room, you will find that people will naturally categorize themselves and you can talk with a group of people rather than one at a time. Cheerful displays and a smiling teacher will send everybody away happy and excited about their adventure into the learning of a foreign language in your classroom.
Download First Year Language
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The school principal normally dictates what to include in a Course Expectations handout – the document that teachers distribute to their middle and high school students on the first day of class. Good Course Expectations outline the goals and procedures of a course, and provide information about how the teacher plans for his/her students to achieve those goals. The format should be bullets and lists so pertinent information is easy to locate. Most of these elements are standard across grade level, curricula, and geography.
- Course name, number, and meeting time
- Instructor Name
- Instructor contact information
- Office hours, or after school time
- Required textbook and ancillary materials, including edition number and/or copyright year
- Calendars and scheduling information
- Welcome message
- Goals of the course
- Course description (content), in general terms
- Classroom procedures
- Special projects
- Evaluation of progress
- Tutoring options
- Hints for becoming a successful foreign language learner and user
- What to expect each day in class
- Information about your language club
Some schools require a parent’s signature that indicates parents have received and read the Course Expectations. If accountability is a big issue in your school, you might require both a student’s and parent’s signature. Initiate contact with the parents of students who have not returned the signed form by the end of the first week.
If your school does not supply a template for you to follow, the layout of your Course Expectations is up to you. In designing the document, remember to make it easy to read. If there is additional space, you might include an image that represents the class. I often use a globe centered on the Western Hemisphere with “Explorar el mundo” and “que habla español” curved above and below the globe. (Explore the world ... that speaks Spanish).
Good planning will ensure a good Course Expectations handout, and a good year with your students. Once you have stated clear goals, students and parents know what their expected outcome of the class will be, and how they will arrive there. Achievable goals will encourage students to remain focused because they will be able to see their progress toward the final goal.
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Interviewing for a highschool position
Dear Nervous Novice
The interview is one of the most important steps along the way to becoming a teacher because this is where you put yourself and your preparation on display. In general, be ready to discuss the teaching of foreign languages, and your language in particular: lesson plans, student involvement, grading, and why language is an important piece of a student's all-round education. Other important elements are communicating with parents, involving other school personnel in your professional growth, and participating in the school community. Ask about their mentoring program for new teachers. You should ask to talk with the chair of the department, during which time you may want to look at the textbook.
Draw your questions from material you have read in your studies, or have heard in conversations with other pre-service teachers or teachers in your particular field. During the interview, you need to be open and forthright, to demonstrate independent thinking while working as a team member, and to be personable. They will want someone who is easy to relate to and work with - a team member in every sense of the word.
An interview goes two ways. You will be interviewing the school personnel while they will be interviewing you. Be sure to let them ask and answer questions. Do not monopolize the conversation, but do not sit quietly and let the others run the interview. Show some initiative while still working within the framework set by the interviewer. They want to hear about you and about how you will meet the challenges of your teaching assignment. If you have any classroom experience at all, draw upon that as a concrete example of what you will do. When talking about lesson planning touch upon the following:
- What is the practical application of this knowledge?
- Devise an activity that asks students to apply what they learn to an "everyday situation" as part of your evaluation.
Download A quick checklist for an interview
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Lack of appropriate high school materials available
In response to your specific question about whether NCLRC has anything that addresses your concerns about appropriate high school materials, the answer is no. The materials the NCLRC staff develops are aimed at teachers rather than students. They tend to lean more toward materials that help teachers apply findings of research, teach learning strategies, and learn techniques for applying the standards. As of this date, they have not moved into the development of texts in any specific language. They are neither funded for that purpose, nor do they have the resources to develop a language textbook.
The problem of finding materials that are suitable for any particular group of students is a difficult one to solve. The general introductory text series that cover the first three years/levels of study all have shortcomings of one sort or another. What is available for advanced study is even less satisfying. I presume you direct your dissatisfaction toward those level four and beyond classes.
Having taught upper level, advanced, and honors classes at the high school level, I know exactly the kind of materials you are finding, and know that they are not what you would like to have. Short of writing your own text, and many have done just that, it will take a lot of searching to find what you need. Keep in mind that you likely will not find something that is perfect; it will need to be tweaked.
My solution is one that evolved through a long-term effort. Over the years I have retained all of the books, including grammars, anthologies, readers, and cultural texts, that we purchased for these classes, creating a library with a variety of texts, topics, ability levels, and interests. This enables me to choose selections that are appropriate for the group of students I have at that moment. The drawback is that this collection is entirely lacking in current literature and information. However, we find it to be a more satisfactory solution that sticking with just one book for the entire course. Then, I supplement this with video and audio materials that I find in a variety of places. I use these as textual sources as well as listening practice. I draw current material from periodicals, the Internet, and any other source I can find, including my own personal joy of prowling through bookstores.
The result is an eclectic collection of things that I can use to design a course to meet the specific goals of the curriculum, to incorporate the standards, and to meet the interests of the students. It means a bit of work on my part to go through the libraries and select the materials, but the result is a satisfying and successful learning experience for the students.
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Tips for a career switch
Congratulations on making the decision to switch careers and become a teacher! Teaching is a demanding, albeit extremely rewarding, profession. Engage in some careful research so you know what you are getting yourself into in terms of time and salary. Beyond that, here are some other things to consider.
- Is this a position that has a future? Is this the beginning of a sequential course that will feed students into higher levels of study? Is there a long-term commitment to the elementary and middle school programs, in terms of additional courses? Is this part of their 5-year plan? What types of students will be taking the course? Why are they starting a new course at this time and in this place? What does the school hope to gain by instituting this new language?
- Are there certification requirements that you must meet if you are to become a permanent member of the faculty? Can you reasonably meet these requirements? Consider what is required for certification: number and type of classes and length of time to meet requirements are especially important. To support the training, you might want to ask if the school will provide any kind of financial aid for the tuition. At the very minimum, you will want to take a foreign language methodology course for the ages you will be teaching.
- Are their language proficiency requirements? To become certified to teach a foreign language you will have to demonstrate a specified level of proficiency. What is that level and how is it defined? How does the school, system, and/or state assess proficiency? Will you receive help with the assessment process? How much time will you be allowed before you must pass the test?
- Is there a ready supply of teaching materials or will you have to locate and/or develop your own? Is there funding set aside to build the program? You will need resource books for you and for the students, a curriculum guide of some sort, supplemental resources (manipulatives, activities, games, books, visuals, etc.) at least. Look at what they already have that will be available to you. Consider how it all fits into the program that they envision.
- If you will be developing the curriculum guide for the course, you will need to find out what kind of support you will be provided to you by the system (time, training, materials, and compensation) and when they expect to see a curriculum guide in finished form. Since you have no educational experience at this point, request that the director/supervisor of foreign languages work with you to develop the course. This will ensure that you are meeting the goals of the school, as well as everybody understanding the reasons for why certain elements are placed where they are.
- Is there mentoring support provided for you on a regular, on-going basis while you learn how to be a teacher? Most states require that all new public school teachers be paired with an experienced teacher trained in the mentoring process. Very few foreign language teachers are fortunate enough to have a foreign language teacher as their mentor, especially if it is a small school. Insist on having a mentor in the school to which you will be assigned; somebody who can help you with things like classroom management, planning, time management, assessment tools and techniques, and just generally to help you learn the ropes and the culture of the school. Insist, also, on a FL mentor from another school, language, or grade level, somebody who can help you with the techniques specific to teaching a foreign language.
Starting a new career is a big decision for anyone to make. Changing a career and defining that career as you learn about it is challenging, but exciting. You will be able to create a course that will excite your students and is suited to your teaching style and personality. If you are happy with the answers you receive to your questions, then you are well on your way to being an inspiring teacher. Good luck!
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How to be a successful foreign language teacher?
What does a successful teacher do that leads to competent students of a foreign language? This is a difficult question to answer because each teacher is an individual who has developed their own style of teaching over many years. In my observations of teachers, regardless of their subject area, the age of their students, or the level (beginning, intermediate, or advanced), there are some things they all have in common.
Passion for what they are teaching
- Share the love of the subject matter with enthusiasm.
- Live and breathe the language
- Use the language whenever possible, creating situations if none exist
Respect and care for their students
- Show a true interest in the lives of the students
- Be caring about life’s crises, but firm in completing responsibilities
- Always encouraging students to do their best
- Setting high expectations that are reachable
Multiple ways to teach the same concept
- Remember the lecture on multiple learning styles? This is real!
- Have many ways to introduce, explain, demonstrate, and use a concept, whether it is grammatical or cultural. Use analogies, comparisons, and other connections.
- Find hands-on ways to assess student progress (stay away from multiple choice, pencil and paper tests and go more for proficiency-oriented evaluations)
Provide ways to apply knowledge to real-life situations
- Involve students in producing something of real value or use that employs the concepts you are teaching. For example, if ecology is the topic of the week, provide a variety of culminating activities such as flyers encouraging recycling, a letter to the editor about using fertilizers and pesticides, a proposal to the civic administrators about setting aside land in a conservation reserve.
- Involve students in their community with their language
Relate the subject area to other areas of study
- Make the connections for the students; do not expect them to do this with new concepts.
- Apply math to history, science, literature, physical education, by showing how mathematical operations and concepts are important tools in research, in predicting future trends, in computing sales and profits, as well as exchanging currencies
Enthusiasm for learning in general
- Life-long learning by example is the best way to show your enthusiasm for continuing to learn.
- Let your students know that you are taking a class, attending a series of lectures, taking an educational excursion, or whatever else it is you do to learn something new.
- Share something you have learned regularly with your students
Focus and organization about the goals of the course
- Write down the goals for the course and how you plan to get there
- Keep a notebook of ideas; consult and add to it regularly
- Know how one step leads into or connects to the other steps
- Share the goals with the students
- Attend conferences, network with other teachers, find out what they are doing
- Open the lines of communication with others, pick their brain
- Brainstorm ideas
I suspect that if you examine the teachers you have had that you will find one who was an inspiration to you – and therefore qualifies as a successful teacher who created a successful student.
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How can I get the most out of the Foreign language Association Conference?
Eager to Attend
Congratulations! You have already taken an extremely important step on the way to your own personal and professional growth. And, congratulations to your district for choosing a new teacher as one of their representatives. Attending a local or state conference is an excellent way to network with other teachers in your area. It will inform you of the trends in education, of state-level decisions that will have an impact on the way you teach, of opportunities for your students and for yourself. It will provide you with the opportunity to interact with vendors of realia and textbooks. Most importantly, through the casual conversation with other conference attendees and from the sessions you choose to attend, your teaching will become richer and more varied. You may end up creating a collaborative project with somebody.
You get the most out of the conference by participating in everything possible. Take time to go through the exhibits hall, to chat with strangers, to attend plenary sessions, and to go to as many of the individual sessions as you can squeeze into your schedule. When there is a session slot that doesn't seem to strike an interest, head out to the exhibits hall, or sit down at a table with another conferee and share some experiences and/or observations.
Since you will be representing your district and are expected to do some sort of in-service for other foreign language teachers upon your return, prepare yourself well. Before going to the conference, listen carefully to what your colleagues are saying. What are their concerns, their problems, and their needs? Go to the organization's web site, download the program, and seek advice from your colleagues about sessions you might attend. Go informed about what you will have to do when you return. Once you have arrived and registered, take time to study the conference program and mark the sessions that are of interest. You choose your sessions based on your own needs and interests, on the needs of the other teachers in your school or district, and on what is available at any given time. Review your program notes regularly because you will adjust which sessions to attend based on what you have already heard.
Be sure to obtain copies of all the handouts in each of the sessions you attend. You will be able to go through these when preparing your own presentation, making copies (always giving credit to the originator of the material) when necessary. When doing the in-service session, be careful to let your colleagues know that you went with them in mind, and not just for selfish reasons. Do this by mentioning a particular activity is for a particular level, or answers a question that has been asked repeatedly. Let them know you listened to their concerns and worked to find answers. Share some pictures. Talk about the things in the exhibits hall, especially the ones that you have wondered about when paging through a catalog. Is it worth the money or not? Is there something better? Share information about awards, contests, grants that are available for both teachers and students. Get them as excited about it all as you are.
For you personally and your own follow-up, put your all of your handouts and notes in a folder for easy access when recertification time arrives, or when you have to account for CEU points. This folder should also have the CEU form that most conferences are providing. If this form requires a signature, be sure to seek out the individual who can sign the form.
Keep in touch with people you met at the conference. I can truthfully say that my association with a variety of professional organizations and attendance at their conferences has enriched my life considerably. I count among my best friends people I met at conferences and whom I only see face-to-face at the conference. Thanks to electronic communications, we maintain our friendship, share ideas, help solve problems, and in other ways help each other grow professionally.
Attending a conference successfully is very hard work. You should return home exhausted but enthused. The personal and professional growth you will experience when you attend a conference is beyond words. The networking, the infusion of new ideas, the opportunity to talk directly with vendors, the thrill of being part of something big are just some of the ingredients that go into the mix that makes a conference such a thrill.
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How can I prevent the HR office from misplacing documents related to my professional development?
The HR office in my district has consistently lost and/or not recorded information and documentation about courses I have taken and other things I have done toward recertification or for professional development. How can I change this without losing my job? I do not have tenure yet and am afraid of being the too-squeaky wheel.
Signed: Frustrated, Fearful, and Lost
It is a disturbing truth that documents are lost or misplaced more often than anybody would like to admit, unfortunately. Vigilance, perseverance, and being informed, or in other words being the squeaky wheel, often are the only answers. Below are some steps you should take to ensure that your documentation is in the correct place when the time comes to renew a contract or a licensure.
- Always discuss with HR ahead of time what you are planning to do. Get their approval in writing that this will meet the requirements established by the state for recertification or by your district for professional development. Agree upon what sort of documentation you will need to prove your participation in and successful completion of the experience.
- Once you have completed the activity, be certain to obtain all of the requisite documentation from the organizers.
- Make several copies of the documentation. Maintain a current folder for all of your recertification and CEU documentation.
- Create a separate folder for each of your experiences in which you put the schedule of events, the syllabus, any work you did to fulfill requirements, any grades you received, and anything else, such as cancelled ticked stubs, that will prove 5 years from now that you actually participated in the activity.
- Immediately upon your return from your experience, send HR the documentation that was agreed upon in advance. Include a cover letter re-establishing what these documents are for and asking to have them placed in your personal file.
- In a couple of weeks, make a telephone call to HR asking them to check to be certain that they have received everything they need and that all of it is in your file. If you feel it is necessary, offer to wait on the phone while the person goes to look in your file. Request a follow-up email confirmation that the complete documentation is in hand.
- If everything is to your satisfaction, you may rest easily, but check again before you leave for the summer, and when you return in the fall. If it is not there, re-send the information and keep checking until it is confirmed that it is in your folder.
- You have the right to regular access to your personal file and you should take a look at it at least once a year to be aware of the contents and to check for the completeness of the materials.
Let your colleagues know what your process is and encourage them to check on the contents of their personal file. It is much more likely that others are missing documentation as well than it is that this is a personal vendetta against you. If you cannot seem to resolve the issue on your own, you may want to consider seeking advice from your education association representative, although I would not pursue this course of action unless it is absolutely necessary.
Although incredibly annoying and frustrating for you, this is the kind of issue that will absolutely resolve itself in time. It is in the best interests of your school district and the HR office want to have accurate and up-to-date records because they must have certified teachers on their staff. However, it may take patience, tact, and perseverance to achieve results. If you do this tactfully and pleasantly, and do not offend anyone, you might actually be making a friend in HR because they look good by having a well-prepared and organized jacket.
Maintain your sense of calm, hammer away at getting the records correct, and check regularly to ascertain that your file remains correct and up to date.
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Conflicts between student teacher and mentor
I've just started as a student teacher at an elementary school. I am working with a teacher who has been teaching Spanish for 15 years. Although I have ideas and suggestions that can motivate students to learn language and address various student learning styles, my mentor teacher limits my instruction to follow her routine, and she is very wary about the new methods I am learning in my teacher preparation MA program. I am not gaining the hands-on teaching experience and constructive criticism that I would like. How can I make the best of this experience?
Student Without a Teacher
Dear Student Teacher,
Your enthusiastic attitude shows your dedication to language teaching and learning. Once you have your own classroom, you will be free to experiment with the innovative ideas and approaches you are learning in your courses. Your cooperating teacher has developed a teaching style that works for her, and she may not feel comfortable testing new strategies. Although you are eager to implement them immediately, perhaps it would be better to use this practicum as a chance to observe and identify what works and what doesn't work for you.
Differences in personality and teaching approaches can make maintaining a positive working relationship between student and mentor teachers challenging. However, keep in mind that you will work with her for the remainder of the school year, and you want to maintain a positive relationship. Communication is an essential skill for language teachers, so take this time to develop your ability to communicate well with your cooperating teacher. I also recommend using this experience to help you learn how to work well with colleagues holding a variety of teaching philosophies.
If you want to try a new method in class, plan ahead and outline a clear activity or lesson-plan proposal. Explain your ideas and talk to your mentor teacher about giving you a chance to try something new. Use this as an opportunity to show your mentor how well prepared you are. As you work with each other more, you will gain an appreciation of her teaching style and she will find value in yours.
Best of luck with your new teaching career!
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