Learning how to teach

(The importance of self-evaluation to a teacher’s professional development)

            Developing your Personal Practical Knowledge of ELT: this was the title of one of the compulsory modules I had to attend as part of my MA TEFL studies at the School of Education in Leeds. MA students had to complete classroom observation tasks and reflect on the overall teaching process. We had to complete written assignments in which we commented on our own teaching experience, on classroom observations, on learner feedback, learner interaction, classroom management issues and on whether the overall lesson aims had been achieved and to what extent.

I also came across this process of reflecting on one’s own teaching during my Cambridge CELTA degree, where teachers had to fill in and submit self-evaluation forms at the end of each lesson.  After having witnessed the importance this process was given in all the teacher training courses I attended, I decided to put this ‘notes to self’ technique into practice from the first day of my teaching career. First in the form of notes on what worked well and what went wrong and then in the form of an online teacher’s diary which I still use on a regular basis. This process has been extremely useful in real life classroom decision making and has been very helpful in raising my awareness on certain classroom management issues and in making informed decisions in order to facilitate the overall teaching and learning process.

Is too much information useful?

When I tried to look for some ready-made self-evaluation forms for teachers on the web, I noticed that in their vast majority they were too analytical and, to be honest, this is (the way I see it) ‘too much’ for a teacher to handle, especially if you want to fill this in on a regular basis and gain something out of it. Some new teachers, who are too enthusiastic in the beginning, may find these detailed notes useful, but I do believe that at some point, especially when they will face a work overload, they will give up on this effort. It is similar to making a promise to yourself that you will be going to the gym every other day and then simply just giving up.

‘Keeping it simple’

I have always been an advocate of the ‘keep it simple’ moto in my life. So, my overall advice to fellow teachers on this is to keep the notes brief, simple, ‘to the point’, but stick to it, make this note taking a part of your daily routine, even if you just devote 5 mins of your time on this. The important thing here for a teacher is not to see this as an extra daily task, as an extra burden, but as their own personal piece of homework, as part of a bigger ‘learning’ process that in the long run will turn out to be extremely useful and effective in helping them achieve their own professional goals as teachers.

Looking back on your notes

            What is just as important as to writing down your thoughts on the teaching process is looking back at these notes. I recommend using different types of text highlighters at this point (I use a green one for what went well and an orange one for the classroom issues that came up). This will help teachers notice some repetitive patterns on issues that troubled them and that need to be addressed in the future.

Below you can download a very simple self-evaluation table that I have created. I fill it in each time I feel the urge to write my own comments on the overall classroom experience. I hope it can work as an inspiration to fellow teachers in their journey of ‘learning how to teach’.

Published by Joanna Nifli

Greek-Canadian ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

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