Seven years ago I started teaching. Armed with my CELTA certificate and minimal teaching experience, I began teaching Adult CAE evening courses at a University. My classes began at 6pm and often carried through to 10pm. I arrived after office hours and locked up when I was finished. Having two young children, this was the perfect compromise. But it meant if I needed any training on how to use the LMS, or wanted to observe another teacher’s class, I had to arrange a sitter to cover unpaid time. So I decided if I couldn’t access a teacher’s lounge, I would be a teacher who lounged.
Now for me, starting out, working odd hours was fine. I was eager to learn and earn and valued the experience and knowledge of other teachers; but it was lonely. I rarely saw my colleagues, I didn’t engage with management or support staff and the daylight hours were spent preparing at home on my computer. I wasn’t having fun – and when you are not earning a lot or working when others are playing – that was important. That was what gave me the energy to leave my family at the dining table and go and give good classes, to engage with and most of all motivate my adult students; a lot of whom came to class straight from work.
Adult education is often the same around the world. Teachers work remotely, either in-company or at remote training centres, often have little contact with the main office and often have to accommodate students’ ‘real’ lives. The teacher’s lounge does not exist for us. The opportunity to engage with colleagues, learn from each other, and share our stresses and frustrations.
As we increasingly hired new teachers, often living and working on the other side of the country from our head office, the teaching support role became more focused on how could we motivate and support our teachers.
At IATEFL we are often focused on building positive learning experiences for your students.…..But what of the teaching experience? Where is the focus on ensuring teachers are having the best experience?
So how can we achieve the dream – the lounging teacher work scenario. Well, my solution is very personal to me because it has grown out of my own experiences
Looking back on my CELTA experience. Every night from end of the work dayto midnight I would be sitting in front of my machine designing lesson plans and activities, writing essays and reading texts. I was away from home; my husband and kids, stressed and questioning whether I wanted a new career in my 30s. And then one of my fellow students invited us to join her on Facebook. It became my lifeline – we would chat about the course – but mainly we would encourage each other to keep going, even when the hour was late and there was life outside.
So this was first leg – building a community in Facebook- the private groups. Now it is not just used for support but also for sharing articles found online, following English resources within Facebook, dg isucssinteaching ideas and sharing a joke.
There is a field of knowledge available to be shared amongst teachers – it can come from workshops, attending conferences or personal experience. But so much of this is not shared, but kept to ourselves. Often not through a desire not to share but because sharing is inconvenient, requires effort or we are unsure of our audience.
The second leg was how to ensure teachers had the materials they needed to teach. My greatest dread was getting to the office, as everyone was leaving, to find I couldn’t print handouts or another teacher hadn’t returned the audio disks, or the LMS or house-drive was down. So I started using DropBox to store mp3 files, a pdf of the answer keys, our in-house produced readers and handouts, scans of teacher photocopiable material etc. So no matter what happened I could open Dropbox (either online or downloaded) and have something to teach with. As more teachers required coordinating and training and wereless likely to travel to head-office, had less notice before a class began or had problems accessing the in-house shared folders – Dropbox became the de-facto storage and sharing system. When Cambridge changed the format of FCE and CAE, teachers were quickly able to adapt the material held to benefit everyone. Comments and ultimately efforts could be shared.
However, we still had the thorny issue of an unwielding LMS. Two different versions based in two different locations with slightly different set-ups and functionality. Even if teachers are used to one version they can encounter difficulties with the other. Sending instructions via how-to guides, video instruction or email with screenshots proved time-consuming, inefficient and ineffectual. More often teachers would just not use the LMS but would instead rely on email, handouts and on-board information. But face-to-face is always better than email. Using google hangouts – now accessible by anyone with an email address – we can offer training on using the LMS and the teacher’s own class on a shared screen anywhere, anytime. Even from your breakfast table in your pyjamas.
And of course we can’t forget that by supporting our teachers, we are also hoping to inspire them to go the extra mile.
There is now less stress and more efficient use of the LMS. Our courses are more blended including videos, quizzes, and support material all delivered via the LMS. Teachers are more likely to experiment with and use wikis to encourage student responsibility for learning and writing skills. They are using the functions on Blackboard far more extensively for a multitude of reasons, including learning analytics and grade tracking. Classes have become less reliant on paper handouts and emails. Our teachers are active in multiple Facebook groups with their colleagues and best of all almost never require last minute panicked emails about where they can find the most up-to-date powerpoints, reference material, or handouts for a class.
In fact, if a teacher finds out they’ve been scheduled for a new class starting this evening, within 1 hour they can be given access to all the materials via DropBox, have an opportunity to speak to other teachers teaching the same or similar course via Facebook. And receive training, help and guidance on setting up and preparing their course in the LMS via Google Hangouts. And as our teachers become more familiar with the support tools we are using, support is coming less from one person but from our teaching community as a whole.
The dream is in sight – The Teachers Lounge not the Teacher’s Lounge!