The teacher and the syllabus

To start this off, because I love my dictionary, let’s look at how the dictionary describes a syllabus:

Syllabus / noun: Programme or outline of course of study, teaching, etc.

That is a pretty good summary of what a syllabus is to be honest. A syllabus is a document that contains the prescribed series of topics for your entire course. My favourite view of anything I look at is SMART which is the view that anything you set out to do should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based. This is my view of what should be contained in any syllabus.

A syllabus should be specific and contain an ordered list of what language items you need to have taught your students by the end of the course. It should be measurable, which is not to say that it should contain the tests you will use but should allow time for you to test the progress of your students and measure that they are absorbing the information contained in the syllabus. It should be attainable. Taking a syllabus for a university level native-English class and trying to apply this syllabus to a beginner EFL class is never going to be attainable. The syllabus needs to be suitable for the time and level of your students. Linked to attainable it should also be realistic. Even if you have a syllabus which is set to the level and time of your students you should be able to realistically be able to achieve the goals of the syllabus with your students. It should be time based with steps throughout. There should be set times within the syllabus by when you need to have reached a certain level. You need these steps in the full timeline to be able to measure the pace of your classes and ensure you are staying on track.

In addition to what is stated above, each school has a different style in which they like the teaching to be done in. In order for the teacher to be able to play their role in ensuring that the syllabus is followed and that they meet the standards of the school there should be a section detailing some of these items. There should at least be a guide telling the teacher the preferred style of the lessons, assessment methods and preferred materials.

There are 8 main items which you will come across in the full syllabus set out in the school you are working at. This is by no means the full list but this summarizes what your lessons within the syllabus will mainly cover:

  • Structural
  • Lexical
  • Situational
  • Topic-based
  • Functional
  • Content-based
  • Skill-based
  • Task-based

I will cover these in much greater detail later because I feel that each of these deserves their own post or at least a greater level of detail after I have given some insight into lesson planning and planning for different classes. For now I want to leave you with something to think about and a question. A lot of teachers look at a syllabus as a hindrance to their teaching and planning, whereas i feel it is the greatest tool to assist a teacher starting out. What are your thoughts?




The roles of a TEFL Teacher


There are many roles that a teacher needs to play in the classroom. So many teachers think that it is perfectly acceptable to walk into the class, stand by the board, drone on about the subject they are teaching and then leave the classroom. I have unfortunately had to deal with many teachers of this nature. It is your responsibility to ensure that you never become that teacher. You need to be flexible enough to change your role in a heartbeat and be ready to fill in to these different roles. Initially I was again going to list these roles without any expansion at this point, but I feel that this is important enough to expand on immediately. The different roles required of a teacher are:

Assessor: A big part of your job is to measure the progress of your students, whether it is by general observation of your students or through written tests. As n assessor you are able to self-assess your teaching and classroom skills and understand whether you are perhaps going too slowly, too fast or if the way you are teaching is suitable for the goals of your students.

Facilitator: In my previous post I mentioned the importance of minimizing the TTT in the class and maximizing the STT. In order to do this sometimes you need to step back and allow your learners to find their way. Your job during this time is to monitor the students progress and ensure they do not fall back in to L1 (native-language) and motivating them to stick to L2 and focus on the work they are busy with.

Planner: You need to commit to planning your lessons effectively and dedicate enough time to the planning and organisation of the activities you intend to complete with your learners. There is never a way to “wing it” in class. You cannot trust your memory. Planning and having the right materials ready will ensure that your lessons run smoothly.

Manager: You need to ensure that you have put sufficient effort in to planning your lessons as mentioned above. In addition to planning you need to manage yourself and your time, ensuring that you stick to your lesson plan and the activities you have laid out for a particular class. This ties in to the next point. You need to ensure that you give out clear and effective instructions for each activity.

Guide:  There will always be a time where our management of our plan or instructions is somewhat lacking. It will happen to everyone at some point. As a guide your job is to assist while facilitating and ensure that we provide clearer instructions to our learners who seem slightly confused or unsure during our planned activities.

Materials Creator: While you will more than likely be provided with a course book and guide to assist in your teaching, sometimes these will be lacking and will not keep our learners interested. At times you will need to build on what is in the course work and create your own materials which will be more applicable and often better for your lesson than what the course book has to offer.

Monitor: Sometimes our assessments can simply be done through observations. As a monitor we are able to watch our students and understand what we as teachers have not done well as well as understand what our students are doing well or not doing well at. In this way we can provide feedback at a later stage as well as self-assess and correct our own shortcomings or successes.

Motivator: One of our biggest roles in the classroom is to keep our students wanting to learn. If we fail at this we have failed at everything else because a student who does not want to learn will not learn 90% of the time. We need to keep both ourselves and our students motivated throughout each lesson. My experience in earlier experience as a trainer has taught me that the later it is in the day the more difficult this is going to be because students become tired and strained as the day goes on.

Controller: As a manager you need to manage your own time and plan for the classroom. As a controller you are also responsible for controlling that your students stick to the lesson and that their minds don’t wonder off or allow them to be distracted.

I have read so many times that we won’t always need to use all of these skills in the classroom in one lesson but I beg to differ. I feel that in order to be successful in every lesson you set out to do you need to ensure that you step in to each role each time and deliver 110% in each lesson. I like to think of training and teaching as a once off experience every time. Imagine that this is the only time you will get to teach this to a student and that whatever they learn right now and whatever they impression is that they get now is the first and last they will get from you. This idea helps me to motivate myself to work that much harder on each thing I work on. While I realise I have not yet taught a classroom I have had enough experience delivering training to understand what can and will work and what will cause me to fail.