I'll find you and I'll teach you
Working with new students - for teachers; How to choose a teacher - for students; Personal Experience - Kseniia Kudelina
WORKING WITH NEW STUDENTS
Having the first ever class with a new student or group can be intimidating even for weathered veterans in teaching. Will they like me? What if I say something stupid? So, coming prepared for every eventuality and being armed with activities and tasks, you will feel way more confident. Here is a rundown of what to expect and do when you get new students.
Do your research
Ideally, the school you work with will provide all the necessary information about your new students such as their background in learning, their level, and goals. If this is not the case, try to at least find out the approximate level. This will greatly narrow down the possibilities you will have to prepare for. Then, prepare questions for an interview and an oral placement test. There are a lot of those easily found online, and here is what we recommend you ask:
- Where and when did you study English before?
- What were your goals?
- Why did you stop your lessons in the past?
- What did you like / dislike about your lessons, teachers, program?
- What do you expect to get from these lessons?
- What areas of the language do you feel least confident in?
- Why are you studying English now?
- What is a good lesson for you?
Getting a clear picture of their background and expectations will help you adjust your study plan and know what kinds of things to avoid.
Set clear goals
A lot of people have only a vague understanding of why they want to study English and may even be taken aback by your question. You are unlikely to have two hours of your time to sit down with each individual person and discuss their past traumas, future aspirations and get to the bottom of their inner motivation. What you can do, however, is help them clarify and visualise their goal.
Ask your students to close their eyes and imagine a situation where they suddenly realise they know English. Let them describe it in as much detail as possible. For some it will be “eating out with friends in London, talking about politics and life and anything, feeling confident and not looking for words”, for others “reading a book in original and understanding everything, enjoying it and not thinking about the language”. Note their answers down, then set a preliminary deadline for this situation to come to life. It also helps to ask students what they can do outside of the classroom to get closer to that goal. Taking the two examples above, it can be reading their favourite book in original one page a day, watching British YouTubers and or listening to podcasts to get used to the accent, reading news in English every day.
Some students won’t know the European framework of levels, so it can be wise to briefly explain to them the difference between Elementary and Pre-Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced and how much time it may take them to level up.
If you have a clear study plan, show it to your new students and discuss the topics in it, what things they are more interested in, which ones they have a strong aversion to. By doing this, you will show that you take their wishes into consideration, that the course is going to be tailored to their specific needs and interests. And finally, share the plan with them.
Break the ice
The first lesson is a stressful situation not only for the teacher, but also for students. It is important to do an ice-breaking activity, where you get to know each other. All-time favourites include “Two truths, one lie” and a personal diagram with things that are important in your life (can be pictures or words) with you at its centre. The students can ask you questions about the objects, and you will kill two birds with one stone - get them talking and learn their typical mistakes (note them down, of course!) and let them learn something about you. Ask the group to make diagrams about themselves, so that they can get to know each other, too.
First impressions matter, no matter what some may say. If time flies, the students laugh out loud and learn something new, you will win them over and set a solid foundation upon which you will build rapport. Do not show them everything you have, though, rather, give them a taste of what it’s like to be your student.
Set the rules
The first lesson is the only time you can set classroom rules with full authority and clarity. They mustn’t use their phones, talk in their first language, interrupt each other, or disrupt the class in any way. If they are late, they should come in making as little noise as possible. Ask questions when something is unclear, never mock another person’s question. Make sure they understand all the rules and agree with them. You may even ask them to suggest more rules, letting them take part in classroom management.
Every teacher will have their own ideas of what the first lesson should contain, but these suggestions will help you be prepared and show that you care and take your work and your students seriously.
What do you usually do in your first class?
How to Choose the Right Online Language Teacher for You
Read the teacher profile and reviews
Read each teacher’s profile carefully, this is how the person sees themself. You can find out so much about your potential candidate by reading between the lines. Yes, she has taught the language for over 10 years. But does she have a sense of humor? Can you sense warmth and care between the lines? Does she take herself too seriously? And the like.
Look at the profile picture (and its background). Do their smile and pose encourage learning? A picture can speak a thousand words.
Read the teacher’s reviews and scores. Again, read between the lines. A teacher might get great scores, but ask the question: Why? Is it because he’s really good at teaching or because he’s very kind? Or funny?
Ask for teacher recommendations in forums
Next, go to the forums and ask for teacher recommendations from people who have been taking online language courses and lessons for some time. Don’t just ask about who you should get, ask also who to avoid. Even better, if possible, ask for the strengths and weaknesses for the different teachers. People will be glad to recommend a few who are quite good. You’ll also know (through the way they write) how passionate people are in recommending the teacher.
Message your teacher and ask lots of questions
Finally, message the candidate and ask lots of questions. Ask how they conducts their sessions. What activities are in store for you? From the answers, you can glean what type of teacher they are, what their linguistic beliefs are and what the learning session would be like.
2. Be Open-minded (Some Things Are Not Actually Deal Breakers)
An ideal teacher would be a native speaker whose wall is decorated with different types of language teaching certificates and an assortment of accolades. Even more, that teacher would be easy to get along with, funny, interesting and never run out of stories. Okay, okay maybe they’re one in a million.
But what if the candidate isn’t a native speaker?
What if they don’t have any teaching certificate?
What if they just started teaching language?
What if you could very well be their first student ever?
While having the experience and the education is a good thing, don’t be so fast in disqualifying someone who doesn’t have the traditional credentials. Be open-minded. These things are actually not deal breakers.
There are native speakers who can’t teach their native tongue even if their lives depended on it. There are credentialed educators who belong publishing in academic journals, not in the classroom, much less in a one-on-one situation with a private student. A teacher might have spent a decade teaching, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any good at it.
And then there are those who are just naturally good at teaching, and can make the lessons come alive. They may not be native speakers, but they know every twist and turn of the journey and can warn you of the pitfalls and the sticky areas. This is a better pick than a native speaker who can’t understand why you’re having such a hard time with the language.
3. Find Someone with Energy and Personality
Seriously, what can you learn from a teacher who’s so boring you’d rather be sleeping inside the classroom?
Energy in teaching is very important. It’s not just about being alive and adjusting the mic so that you may be heard on the other end. It’s not just about the transfer of vocabulary or word meanings or translations–a student can get that from any Google search. Teaching isn’t just a transfer of knowledge. It’s a transfer of passion.
A teacher with no energy and passion for what they’re doing will inevitably waste the time of their students. Someone may able to get some lessons across, but it won’t be much different from what a student might get from a cursory web search.
There are many fish in the sea, so don’t spend more than one session with someone without the energy and desire to teach you.
4. Find Someone Who’s Also Fluent in Your Language and Culture
If your teacher isn’t fluent in your first language, then how will they teach you? If a Chinese person (who only speaks Mandarin) wants to start learning German, then they should find someone who can explain German concepts in Mandarin. Otherwise, there’d be no way to effectively transfer knowledge.
At least have one common language with your tutor or teacher. Even if you have the best German native speaker teaching you, they can only do so much without sharing a common language with you. (Sometimes it’s better to have a fellow with the same nationality who can also fluently speak your target language.)
The advantage of a teacher who understands your own culture is that they can play off that knowledge and compare your culture with that of the target language. The knowledge will come in handy, for example, when your teacher explains, “In the US, you greet acquaintances with ‘Hello.’ In Spanish, we say “¡Hola!” followed by a kiss on the cheek.” Or, “In English, adjectives often come before the nouns. But in Spanish, adjectives could easily come after the nouns they modify.”
You can understand the target language better when it’s contrasted with what you know best–your first language.
5. Find a Teacher Who Can Deliver the Language Skill and Learning Level That You Require
What do you want to learn?
Do you want to speak German? Write in German? Understand German?
Speaking and writing German, although about the same language, require different skills. Speaking a language requires that you master the proper pronunciation, pace and cadence. You also need to familiarize yourself with the rise and fall of the tone as you speak.
Writing, on the other hand, is all about spelling and grammar. You need to master the different rules in constructing phrases, sentences and paragraphs. You need to know by heart which rules govern the different parts of speech and what exceptions, if any, exist.
Now, it would be such a shame if you really wanted to learn how to speak and the teacher you have is one who focuses on spelling and grammar. With that kind of teacher, you’ll indeed be great in chatting up someone in an online forum, but not chatting up a native speaker in real life.
So ask yourself: What type of language learning do you want?
Remember also, if you want to learn how to speak Russian, for example, you don’t need the top Russian linguists to teach you. (Maybe if you want to learn, formal, high-brow, academic Russian.) But if you only need to survive the streets of Moscow and enjoy your trip there, you’ll do very well with a loquacious Russian chap who absolutely loves his culture.
6. Find a Teacher Who Challenges Your Assumptions
You might have an idealized version of what your teacher should be. You might have an inkling of how the sessions should go. But if you find somebody who shatters those assumptions, I encourage you to give them a try.
For example, in the initial interview or in the trial session where you’re feeling out each other, you might discover that the teacher holds a different political view from you. You might sense them being a true believer in big government, whereas you want it limited as much as possible. (Yup, it has nothing to do with language, but views like these can surface during the lessons.)
Don’t shut out differences like this, because you might get more than a language lesson from your online teacher. You might understand why big government works in their country and why it’s different from yours.
The point is this: If you discover your language teacher isn’t the idealized version you have in your head, don’t shut them out. You’re in for a wonderful, horizon-expanding learning experience.
And don’t shy away from teachers who are thinking outside the box.
A teacher who faces the webcam holding a guitar and who teaches the language through songs is a rare breed. You’ll learn so much from this creativity and skill. An Italian teacher who looks like the spitting image of Bob Marley might just be what you need to understand just how colorful the Italian language and culture actually is. A mother who teaches Spanish by taking you along on her errands is a breath of fresh air. You’ll not only learn what a parada de autobús (bus stop) is, you’ll actually get to see it on video.
Widen your horizons and get more than a language lesson.
7. Have the Guts to Follow Your Gut
At the end of the day, there’s that small voice that tells you, “This will work.” Or “Nope. Maybe somebody else.”
I want you to listen to that voice closely. Your gut is telling you something. So even if the teacher has all great reviews, looks like the poster of what a Chinese tutor should be, but if you’re not totally at peace with making them your teacher, then don’t.
Picking an online teacher is a little like going on a date–the chemistry has got to be there. A guy may look good on paper, but when there are no sparks during dinner, you’ll be better off as friends.
In the same way, if you’re just not feeling the candidate, move along so you can find that teacher who will be your partner in learning the target language.
I’m not saying that there’s just “the one,” I’m saying that you also need to factor in those things that are hard to explain, and listen to what your gut is telling you.
So there. You’re now ready and well equipped to hunt for your online language teacher.
Someone is out there for you–that’s a guarantee.
As always, I wish you all the success in learning a second, a third, maybe even a fourth language. You have my utmost respect.
What criteria do you use when choosing a teacher?
A good teacher is an understanding teacher. But an excellent teacher knows how to unleash your potential and help you achieve the maximum. I will tell the story of how I met an excellent teacher.
It happened four years ago, when I was, as they say, a newcomer in this wild life. I started learning the Italian language from scratch at university, combining academic classes and work. I often did not have enough time to study. I was complaining about why my teacher did not want to understand the situation. I thought that this teacher was not good and emotionally blind.
I didn’t pass the Italian exam the first time, but on the second attempt, I passed it well. This strategy allowed me to understand that I can be successful if I spare no effort. Each failure made me stronger. And I understood that if I want to succeed, I need to stop complaining and use the number of attempts that fate has given me.
Two years later, I learned how to pass exams on the first attempt at a "good" grade. But that wasn't enough for me. I wanted the maximum. My desire was to become the best, to prove to myself that I can do anything.
I learned how to go patiently towards the goal. I fixed my value system and put academic classes of Italian at the top. I devoted the same amount of time to my work, but thanks to the discipline that my teacher instilled in me, I began to absorb new educational material like a sponge. My time management was as great as hell.
Four years later I graduated from the university. And the mark "excellent" was proudly shining next to the subject title "Italian language" in my diploma. During the final exam, my excellent teacher informed me that my answer was the most dignified and confident. She always kept in her mind my strong potential, she did her best to push me to gain success without looking back. This is our victory. My great teacher and I are the best team ever. And I will be thankful for this experience for the rest of my life.
In conclusion, I want to say that I had many good teachers who forgave me for missing lessons, who gave me good marks for nothing, and who did not punish me. And now I don't remember them.
But I met an excellent teacher only once. It was she who did the most important thing for me - she did not forgive my laziness, she made me retake the exam, but she taught me how to believe in my inner strength, she helped me achieve success.
I was inspired by my teacher's teaching strategy and had a strong desire to teach foreign languages too. I have been working for a year and I really like it. My students are mostly children. I try not only to give them all my knowledge but also to set a friendly and cheerful atmosphere in the classroom, so the children feel safe and they are always ready to learn with joy.
The first lesson is the most important. I invite the child with his mother, I offer them tea and banana cookies, I tell them about the program for the next month, for six months and a year, and also I give them an example of the success of my students. I believe that the work of a teacher must be approached with great responsibility because we are responsible for the minds in which we invest knowledge. I hope that my students also consider me to be an excellent teacher.
That’s all for now!
Stay amazing ❤