Laying the foundation of a successful school year
As the new school year starts to unfold, both veteran and new teachers will face new challenges (or old ones in different clothes), both in- and outside the classroom. We may have overcome the hardest part of the pandemic, but the consequences remain. Most schools will not be able to simply go back to “business as usual” and nor should they. Teaching through Covid meant embracing the opportunity to update our practices, routines, and methodologies, and it is important to keep using them when going back to face-to-face classes. However, new techniques and resources may also bring along a whole new set of struggles.
Knowing how to predict, confront and overcome these hurdles can make a real difference to whether the school year will develop as smoothly as we want. Finding the right learning atmosphere, communicating with students’ families, and planning our lessons are essential. Additionally, using technology with a purpose, blending culture into the classroom, and taking care of our own wellbeing all definitely go a long way.
Setting up the best possible classroom
Classroom management is not only about discipline, rules, and consequences (although they are indeed an essential part of the process). It is not only about what you do, but how you do it: “It is very important to create a sense of identity and belonging, so that the kids can identify with everything we are going to do together throughout the year”, says José Ramón Gamo, a psychologist specialized in neuroeducation and a collaborator of Macmillan Education. “We have to make our expectations and purpose clear from the beginning, but we also have to give them a voice, so that they can also tell us what they expect from the year and from us, as their teachers”.
This is something we should keep in mind when it comes to rules and expectations. Instead of offering our students a closed set of obligations and consequences, it is always a good idea to open them up for debate and come to an understanding together. Avoid setting too many rules and discuss the reason for each one; this will help everybody feel more committed to them. Also make sure any possible consequences have an educational purpose behind them. If you teach a middle or a high school group, it is a good idea to display the list on the walls of the classroom, so that you can quickly refer back to them when needed.
Reaching out to parents can also be a time-consuming task, but it will undoubtedly pay off in the long run. I recommend contacting students’ parents from the beginning (for example, with a message the kids have to take home and bring back signed), and also making sure you do not wait to call home until there is a problem to solve. A good habit is to call a handful of them each day, to address any possible concerns or even to congratulate their children for a job well done, a good grade or outstanding behavior.
Planning for a good year
Planning your lessons appropriately has a strong impact on the outcome of our lessons. Good preparation, with a variety of activities, cultural projects, and teaching resources, is more likely to keep the students engaged and motivated. It minimizes downtime, reduces classroom management issues and helps maintain the desired pace. “Sometimes, new teachers are afraid to end with the content too soon and find themselves not knowing what to do next, whereas veteran educators are mostly afraid of not finishing the syllabus. I would recommend planning activities for about 75 % of the class time. You can easily fill the rest with feedback from the students, if you ask them questions throughout the lesson”, suggests Rafael Conde, director of the Digital Arts degree at Camilo José Cela University in Madrid, Spain.
A good way to make sure you cover the entire syllabus by the end of the school year is to start from the end and work backwards, so that you know where you want to be at the end of each term, month, and week. Always leave time to go back and revisit any content you feel has not been properly absorbed by the students. For every lesson, establish clear routines so the students know what to do as soon as the lesson starts: for example, with a warm-up activity ready on the board when they walk in. The school year will also give you plenty of opportunities to take advantage of holidays and other special occasions to blend the culture of the target language into your classroom. Engaging your students in real-life activities is also a good idea to help spur their interest.
Using technology in a meaningful way has become even more relevant due to the pandemic and the digital transformation that followed when educational institutions everywhere had to quickly adapt to a remote learning setting. A necessary transformation that included not only digital tools, but also new approaches and methodologies, such as flipped classrooms or peer instruction.
Pay attention to your wellbeing
As teachers, sometimes we find it difficult to notice where school ends and our private life begins. We spend numerous hours grading, planning, and researching, and at the end of the day, it is also somewhat inevitable to perceive what happens in the classroom as something personal. Working with a significant number of students daily can cause a lot of stress, which may be harmful if it is not properly dealt with. “Managing emotions can be very complicated if you are not experienced enough. It is essential that when you leave school, you do something completely different every day or almost every day. Practice sports, play music or read something completely unrelated to the real world, such as fantasy or science fiction”, Conde recommends. Remember: it is difficult to help others when you cannot find the time to help yourself.