Entering University EFL Teaching
Besides the part-time teaching job I had at one of the major Eikaiwa schools when I was an undergraduate student, I had no teaching experience before I started teaching at a university. Additionally, as I had never thought about being involved in a teaching profession, I had not received any training or attended any teacher training seminars. Since I had a full-time non-teaching job at that time, I had no time to attend such seminars and had to teach myself how to teach my classes.
With my first university job, I was assigned to teach content-based classes rather than skills. Therefore, my lack of training in the area probably did not affect the students as much. To help my teaching, I kept notes on what seemed to be going well and what the students seemed to find difficult. I had intended on using them to incorporate the necessary changes in the following year. Unfortunately, that did not happen because I was assigned to teach students with a different proficiency level, as well as not being able to take the time to add those changes. This situation remained the same after I had left my non-teaching job.
Being Trained in Reflective Teaching
Some years later, a colleague told me that he was going to attend a teaching certificate programme. As I had no academic background in teaching, I did some quick research and decided to apply for the programme. In my mind, I had reached a point where I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have something to support my teaching career. The programme consisted of a short teaching practicum and writing reflections. It was in this programe that I learnt about preparing a proper lesson plan for each class. The instruction I received in writing a lesson plan included writing the purpose of each activity and the time allocated for each activity. After attending the programme, I started making lesson plans for all the classes that I taught, though not as detailed and took the printed copy to my classes. That made me more aware of the classes that I was teaching, as well as having me pay more attention to whether I was able to teach following the plan. While I was teaching in the classroom, I also made notes on the lesson plan that I placed on the desk. The notes I made on the lesson plans were more detailed and specific, compared to the notes that I used to make, as they were directed at each activity or part of the lesson. Still, with all the lesson preparations, marking and other work-related tasks and other duties, a lot of time was consumed leading to a lack of time to make the changes.
Implementing the Changes, Small and Big
As the 2020-2021 academic year is about to end, I feel that it was the first time that I was able to implement changes to my classes. Transitioning to completely web-based teaching was not that easy; however, not having to spend more than 2.5 hours one-way on the commute, which is what I had to do in the previous year, let me save a lot of energy and time. Also, being in one place (i.e. home) made it a lot easier for me to make use of the time in between the classes that I taught. I could quickly type on the lesson plan, list which points to consider changing for when I taught the lesson again. Actually, unlike in past years, I was able to implement the changes and additional ideas and update my lesson plans after each class that I taught. And when I prepared for the following lesson, I could decide whether the changes would be appropriate or not. Small changes, such as the time allocation of the activities, or the need for scaffolding, could be implemented every week rather than waiting for the following semester.
Of course, bigger changes, such as those related to the course structure, could not be changed during the semester as it would affect the course assessment, but I made the notes and comments on the lesson plans as usual. Most courses that I taught in 2020-2021 were just for the spring semester, but there were some that I got to teach in the fall semester, albeit to a different group of students and one to almost the same group of students. For the latter two kinds of classes, I was easily able to implement the changes in the fall semester.
How was it Different from the Past?
Both during the semester and at the end of the semester, I asked myself why it was possible to implement changes when all my previous attempts had never been successful, as well as what was different from the past.
Perhaps, the biggest difference, besides being able to work from home, was that I was making the small changes and was already building on the lesson (plans) on a weekly basis (i.e. my lesson plans for the final week of the semester was already different from the ones that I had prepared in the first week.) Therefore, preparing for the fall semester classes felt like it was just a continuation of what I had been doing. And with the memories of the classes still fresh in my mind, it was easier to come up with ideas or have a chat with a teacher-friend on how to fix the issues.
With the experience of my successful semester(s), during what was expected to be chaotic with the transitioning to web-based classes, the following are what worked for me in making the reflections on your teaching worthwhile:
1. Have a paper-based lesson plan (does not need to be detailed) with you when you teach.
2. Make a note of what you notice while you teach (things that went well, things that didn’t go well)
3. Spend some time looking at the notes while they are still fresh in your mind.
4. Make the changes when you can (do not wait until the next semester/year)
Of the four points above, the third one was the key for me. I now believed that thinking about Why? (Why did it not go right? Why did I make this note?) soon after I taught a class that helped me move forward.
Biography Mizuka Tsukamoto is an Adjunct Lecturer at Tikkyo University Language Center.