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The following article is the result of an auto-analysis experience by an EFL teacher striving to achieve professionalism in her teaching practices. The reasons that led her to that self-discovery activity are basically her recently acquired knowledge on language acquiring and teaching theories and her desire to be a better teacher. She describes her current teaching practices in terms of Teaching Principles, Classroom Management, Class Procedures and Techniques, and Resources and Materials. Then she mentions the new practices she's willing to adopt in order to become a better professional and the activities she must undergo to achieve those practices.
Professionalism, Language Learning and Teaching, Class Observation and Reflection, Auto-analysis.
In 9 years of teaching practice, I've never done before what I am about to do now in the paragraphs that follow. The next lines are to be my first written analysis ever on my practices as an EFL teacher in my personal search for professionalism. A Professional is someone whose work involves performing a certain function with some degree of expertise. But a narrower definition limits the term to apply to people such as teachers whose expertise involves not only skill and knowledge but also the exercise of highly sophisticated judgment, and whose accreditation necessitates extensive study, often university-based, as well as practical experience. The professional is, first and foremost, a bringer-about of real-world change, prioritizing real-time action and reflection. (Ur, ?).
The term professional also implies being part of a community. The professional community of English teachers has developed means of consolidating relationships between its members and created opportunities for them to benefit from each other's knowledge. We are an identifiable group, whose members are interested in interaction with one another for the sake of learning, and also for the enjoyment of exchanging experiences and ideas. We publish, we communicate innovatory ideas, whether theoretical or practical, to one another and to the public at large: through in-house seminars, national or international conferences, journals or books (Ur, ?). We as professional EFL teachers must be autonomous. Nobody else can tell us what to do; we ourselves are responsible for maintaining professional standards and should be committed to reaching those standards. We must be aware of our responsibility towards our students and their learning. We shouldn't just teach, we must also learn, continually - about our subject matter, about teaching methods, and about many other things that make us better educated and therefore better educators (Ur, ). The development of our teaching competence is our professional responsibility, and it is a long-term and ongoing process (Pettis, ?).
In the following paragraphs I will explain what drove me towards doing this self-analysis exercise, I'll describe my current practice as a teacher, and I'll round-up with a to-do list of the practices that I must acquire in order to be the professional that I want and need to be.
In the early years of my teaching practice I was basically concerned with what to teach, and I didn't notice or think about other aspects of EFL teaching. Then I started noticing my students' behavior and the needs of the communities in which I taught my courses, and I started reflecting on my own practices, exploring how to, and why to teach in each particular context in a way that I could contribute to make their lives better . I discovered that my teaching could really contribute to my students' personal transformation, and that I as a teacher must bear with the shaping and reshaping of the desired learning outcome of my students (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).
Then a sense of commitment towards my profession started to develop, and I discovered that I still lack some of the conditions a professional EFL teacher must have, and that the limitations in my cognitive framework constrain my teaching practices (Pettis, ?). I've come to a point in which I wish to stop playing around, experimenting in an irresponsible and irregular way with my classes. I want to be able to take courses of action that are based on knowledge and thought, rather than on curiosity and creativity. I know now that it is necessary to understand the principles underlying both automatic and consciously designed action. I now understand that I must base my professional action on the results of academic research and theorizing (Ur, ?) as well as my personal experiences. I feel the need to use successful pedagogical techniques that might bring new insight and more innovative possibilities to my teaching practice (Richards, ?); because I believe that skills without knowledge or principles are professionally unacceptable and the knowledgeable teacher who is also skillful is a powerful educator (Pettis, ?).
I started doing professional development activities that challenged and changed my conceptual framework, and learning from them has enabled me to make better decisions about the activities and techniques I could adopt in my classes. I've learned that teaching is not just a series of predetermined and presequenced procedures, but a context-sensitive action grounded in intellectual thought and creativity in which the practitioner has to identify and meet the challenges faced in the everyday practice of teaching (Kumaravadivelu, 2003). I'm well aware now that the principles that guide my decision making can change over time and deserve to be reconsidered periodically as a personal commitment towards my own ongoing professional growth (Pettis, ?).
My current teaching practices are the result of 9 years of experience. I've worked with several different approaches and methods, but I'd never studied the theory and principles behind them till recently. In spite of that, I've always, truly loved teaching, and I've been very curious about my work. It makes me proud to say that I wasn't too lost in the way of becoming a good professional.
The following list is a catalogued summary of my current teaching practices:
Currently I'm in the process of understanding the theory and the principles of language teaching and learning.
Try to maximize the learning potential of my students through problem solving activities.
Try out different teaching strategies by constantly discovering things that work, discarding old practices and taking on board new ones.
Look at what I do in the classroom and think about why I do it, how effective it is, how are my students responding, and how can I do it better.
Reflect on the particular problems that arise in the classroom.
Examine the context of each class and implement forms of knowledge that are relevant to each specific context.
Organize class content around students' needs, wants and situations.
Treat each teaching situation as unique, identifying the particular characteristics of each event.
Bring my life experiences to the educational setting, and recognize that my students do the same.
Try to connect the class content to wider social issues.
I always have high expectations for student learning in my classes.
My standards for classroom behavior are also high.
Personal interactions between me and my students and among students in my class must be positive.
If students are misbehaving, I always try to find out why.
Every student must do participating production in class.
Gain my students' trust in me and in what I teach them.
Class Procedures and Techniques
Target language use throughout the complete in-class time. Avoid the use of mother tongue among students..
Use of learner centered, problem solving activities that involve interaction in the target language.
Task instruction must be clear and focused; same as explanations on language points.
Monitor students' performance on tasks to see that desired performance is being achieved.
If students didn't understand an instruction or an explanation, I always think about what I did and why it may have been unclear.
When students do not understand, they are re-taught.
Incentives and rewards for students are used to promote excellence.
Error correction is done after the student finishes production.
Reflection on how much testing to do and when is the appropriate time to do it.
Do warm up activities at the beginning of the class to prepare students for target language use, and/or to set the mood for a specific activity.
Monitor ongoing performance of the class, attempting to locate unexpected problems on the spot and adjusting instruction instantaneously to correct them.
Induce student practice on several, if not all of the language skills in each class.
Include grammar explanations in the class content.
Resources and Materials
Use different text books for classroom activities.
For reading practice, use texts that are not too hard for my students.
Any material at hand that could be useful: graphic materials, audio materials, video materials, multimedia materials, internet, games.
Motivate students to bring materials to class which they think might be useful.
Throughout my current process of studying the theories of language learning and teaching, I've discovered several practices that, if adopted as mine, would certainly guide me in the correct path of achieving ongoing professionalism.
In the list below I will mention the desired practices and how I'm going to achieve them.
Be able to explain to my students the way the target language (English) works and why does it work (Ur, ?): I can reach this goal by studying English linguistics.
Make informed and appropriate real-time decisions when,(as often happens) different, equally valid principles appear to conflict in a particular situation (Ur, ?): In order to be able to do this I must dominate all the principles of language teaching and learning and be very observing of each class situation, focusing on particular features of my teaching or on a particular class event.
Be particularly knowledgeable and skillful so that the necessary range of topics is addressed appropriately and sufficiently (Pettis, ?): Continue studying all the aspects of language teaching and learning, and make it an ongoing habit, by being personally committed to seeking out additional opportunities to learn and develop.
Have a deep understanding of the principles of professional action, and be able to innovate and relate critically to the innovation of others (Ur, ?): Yet more permanent study, not only through reading, but also by attending courses, talking about and discussing issues with colleagues, and several other activities of the language teaching community.
Allow a combination of language learning theories and my own experiences to interact with each other to produce effective language lessons ( Tice, ?): I must put into practice the studied theory and reflect about its results taking into account my previous experiences and knowledge.
Question the goals and values that guide my work (Kumaravadivelu, 2003): Constantly examine my assumptions on language learning and teaching in the light of each particular situation and context. Reflecting upon the ideological principles that inform my teaching practice.
Be more organized with my teaching practices (Pettis, ?), and keep a record of my own analysis and reflection on class observation (Tice, ?): By collecting information about what goes on in my classroom (lesson plans), and analyzing and evaluating their result. By describing lessons and activities and reflecting on whether or not they've been successful and why. By observing the different things me and my students do in class, always trying to notice things that I was previously unaware of.
Take calculated risks in the classroom by innovating my pedagogical techniques and assessing their effectiveness (Richards, ?): Trust my own personal teaching strategies. Explore the correct methodologies for each task by reflecting on their result. Identify the characteristics of the effective activities and implement them in class, and evaluate them again in a continuous cycle. Look back critically and imaginatively to do cause-effect thinking, to derive explanatory principles, also to look forward and do anticipatory planning; using a carefully structured approach to self-observation and self-evaluation.
Consider the aspects of teacher behavior: how much do I talk?, what about?, how do I respond to student talk?, where do I stand?, who do I speak to? How do I come across to my students? (Tice, ?): The easiest way to do this is by recording my classes; but that isn't always possible to do. I must figure out how to monitor my classes in a way that I can notice and collect this type of information.
Use the class time for student learning by developing smooth and efficient classroom activities and forming groups to fit instructional needs (Richards, ?): Keep on presenting problem solving activities that meet the class' needs with real emphasis on student participation and practice.
To diagnose the needs of the students (Richards, ?): By recognizing their motives to learn and by detecting the language acquisition stage in which they are. By responding to the social interactions and shared meanings that exist among students, both inside and outside the classrooms.
To be aware of the "developmental readiness" of the learner, that determines when and how to teach a student something (?, ?): By studying Piaget and the humanist theories, and by observing my students very carefully so that I know when to introduce certain tasks, according to the progress they're making. The same applies for lesson plans.
Observe if my students acquire the learning goals set by me (Richards, ?): By monitoring closely the learning progress of my students.
To have a thorough grasp of how my students learn and what motivates them to learn (?,?): By studying the learning acquisition theories. By observing my students actions and behavior. By collecting this type of information from student participation in my classes. By reflecting on these topics to decide what to do in class.
Consider student feedback in the reflection of my teaching practices (Tice, ?): Ask my students what they think about what goes on in the classroom. Their opinions and perceptions can add a different and valuable perspective. This information can be collected through questionnaires.
Take part in curriculum development and involve myself in school change efforts (Kumaravadivelu, 2003): Use my experience and knowledge on classroom contexts and situations to help develop better teaching programs. Working together with other teachers, students, parents and administrators to share ideas and exercise power over the conditions of our labor. And being aware of the socio political context and the power dimensions that have helped shape it.
Becoming a good professional in the language teaching field is no easy task. There are several long-term practices that should be acquired in the process, all of which include hard work. Personal intuitive judgment is too broad and too vague to be satisfactory in the application of a profession. Learning to teach does not end with obtaining a diplomat or a degree in teacher education but is an ongoing process throughout one's teaching career. Teachers must construct their own theory of practice, concerned primarily on the critical thinking of their concrete classroom contexts. Teachers should not only articulate their criteria for developing and evaluating their own practice, but also have to engage in extensive theorizing about the nature of their subjects, students and learning/teaching processes and even be concerned with wider ethical, social, historical and political issues. This theorizing must include self observation, self analysis and self evaluation of their own teaching practices. Teaching should be an exploratory activity in which the teacher must develop, select or adapt tasks which are appropriate for their classroom context in order to generate location-specific, classroom-oriented innovative strategies (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).
Monitoring teaching acts should even go beyond the individual, personal activity that transforms classroom practitioners into strategic thinkers and explorers; it must transform into a collective activity in which all the language teachers of a particular institution confront their experiences and discoveries to create a better teaching program or curriculum for their communities.
In my particular case, I must concentrate on studying and learning the different theories that inform the language teaching practice, I must start collecting data on class work activities and student behavior; and I must start analyzing and doing self-reflection on all the gathered information.