When I first came to Spain to teach English, I knew I was just an average teacher, but thanks to advice, help and support from senior teachers and teacher trainers, I’m convinced my teaching abilities have improved.
There’s a great set up where I work, at ELI (www.eli.es), in Seville. We have five or six teacher trainers who all do training sessions on Fridays, plus the observing and mentoring. We get a detailed list of the sessions and get to choose 8 a year. We also have a teacher training day once a year where any teacher can volunteer to do a session.
For new teachers who start at ELI, they are subject to a vigorous training week, full of observed lessons, training inputs sessions, and plenty of guidance before term starts. During their first year, they get to see trainers come out and teach their class, and are also observed teaching the same class. It’s an ideal way for new teachers to pick up tips, ideas, and techniques from experienced trainers. For those teachers who may need more mentoring in certain areas, trainers come out again, just to make sure new teachers are fully comfortable in their new roles.
From the second year, teachers get observed once or twice a year, but the more experienced ones, only once.
Personally I’ve developed a lot thanks to being observed by mentors. Each year I have been observed for different levels and lessons, so I’ve been lucky to get feedback on a variety of areas to improve my teaching. I’ve received guidance on how to teach grammar, vocabulary, and all the skills, and also practical advice on how to teach younger learners, teens, and adults, and also exam classes. I was also helped a lot when doing my Delta (http://www.baztefl.com/category/delta) from in house staff.
Last year I was observed doing a Dictogloss style class with a young teenage class. The main idea was to practise past simple questions, so I told them a story about how my bike had got stolen, and followed it up with questions. Students then had to write their own story with follow up questions. The feedback was really positive and the trainer gave me lots of ideas to work on and ways to improve, but mainly it was inspiring to hear how much he’d enjoyed the lesson as I’d done something more original and challenging for the students.
I’ve also been a mentor as well. I used to work in a summer school back in London during July and August. When I become Assistant Director, one of my responsibilities was to observe new teachers and coach them. One year we had an audit from the British Council, so all the teachers had to be on top form.
I enjoyed the experience, being able to help new teachers and improve their ways of teaching was extremely satisfying and rewarding. At times it was tricky, observing friends especially, but it was quite lighthearted.
Observing more experienced teachers was also a little difficult at times, especially when giving the feedback. I felt as if the majority of my advice was a little patronising at times as they had some much knowledge, but luckily there were normally a few new suggestions that hopefully they took on board.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of a mentoring scheme?
- Teachers can identify their weaknesses and improve them.
In my case, when I did the Delta, one area I was identified as having a weakness in was my voice projection. Being observed several times pushed me to work on this area.
- Teachers obtain a more varied and expansive knowledge of teaching.
During the feedback stage teachers can get new ideas from experienced staff and then apply it to their classes later on. As an experienced teacher it’s refreshing to let someone else see how you teach. I think it keeps you on your feet, making sure you don’t pick up and bad habits, or just remind yourself of the best way to do certain techniques or activities.
- Sometimes observed classes are not always a true reflection of what actually happens in class, especially as students tend to behave better when there is another teacher in the class.
- Teachers will often be on edge when being observed too, so this may not always be a true reflection of how they teach either. I know at the start of my teaching days I was definitely more serious during observations, but now not so much, especially because the mentors who watch me are friends.
Overall though, I think teachers should definitely look to work for companies who invest in their teachers and care about their progression and improvement. I’ve worked for companies who observe just to check up on teachers and don’t really give effective feedback.
I’m quite lucky where I work in that I get a lot of support and training and have been able to improve as a teacher. I also think that even when you’ve been teaching many years it’s good to be mentored and coached now and then.
What do you think? Are you a fan of being observed and mentored? Do you find it tricky to give advice to other teachers?