2018 Checklist for Improvement as a Teacher

Written by Dr. David Shaffer
Photo courtesy of KOTESOL

The changing of the year is a time to take stock of the previous twelve months, to reflect on what we have and haven’t done, and to plan for the next dozen months facing us. We may be pretty good at doing this for the self-improvement of our personal lives, but as teachers, how much do we reflect on the professional side and consider improvement of the self as a teacher? Here I am putting out a checklist of items to consider to make even better the role you play as a teacher. The checklist is not meant for you to have to do everything on the list but to select from the items those that you think would best suit your situation, your wants, and your needs.

One of the many teacher-presenters in KOTESOL (Julian Warmington) presenting at a recent KOTESOL event.

Reflective Practice
Reflective practice is much more than just “thinking” about your class and jotting down a few notes about it on your handout or planner. Reflective practice is “deep thinking.” In its simplest form, it is taking some downtime to think back on a class that you have just taught, to consider your general feeling about how the class went, to consider why you feel that way, to consider what things you could possibly do to make the class better (regardless of how well the class may have gone), select from this list of items those that you wish to incorporate the next time you teach the class, and evaluate the results. And the cycle then repeats itself. Rather than simply blaming a lesson or activity that did not go well on the “bad” students, reflecting on how we may improve upon it is much more worthwhile.

Reflective Journals
Journal writing is popular among those who like to write for general self-improvement and for its therapeutic effects. Likewise, keeping a teaching journal to discuss with yourself matters regarding classes, students, colleagues and administration, and anything else related to your teaching can have positive results. When writing, one takes more time to think through what they plan to commit to paper (or to a computer file). The reflective cycle described above can be applied very effectively to journal writing, too. How often should you write? That is up to you. But it is to be expected that the more teachers write, the quicker and more easily their problems with be resolved; and the more they will improve as an educator and the happier they will be!

Attending ELT Workshops
The English language teaching (ELT) profession is known for holding workshops, especially workshops for teachers and (very often) by teachers. In fact, KOTESOL’s slogan is “Teachers Helping Teachers.” If you aren’t doing it already, consider attending ELT workshops in 2018. Where can one do this? Some workplaces organize them; some ELT publishers do, too. But these may be too infrequent for your needs. I would suggest KOTESOL. Among the dozen ELT associations in Korea, KOTESOL sets itself apart from the others in that it has nine chapters throughout the country that regularly hold workshops. At Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter, for example, you can attend workshops every month of the year. There is great variety in their ELT topics, and you don’t need to be a KOTESOL member to attend. By the way, reflective practice need not be something you only do alone. Gwangju KOTESOL holds small-group reflective practice morning sessions before their regular afternoon meetings.

□ Going to ELT Conferences
As workshops are small events, what they have to offer may not always be what you are looking for. Consider attending the ELT conferences held around the nation. With a dozen ELT organizations holding one or more conferences annually, there are a variety of events and content available. The attraction of conferences is that they have numerous parallel sessions going on at the same time for you to choose from, and these conferences have often invited speakers from various corners of the world. In KOTESOL’s case, there is a two-day conference in the autumn with a dozen or more parallel sessions each hour, a smaller national conference in the spring, and a number of regional conferences held by its chapters sprinkled throughout the year. (Gwangju KOTESOL’s conference is scheduled for March 10 this year.)

Doing Presentations
If you’re already in the workshop-attending habit, consider moving to the front of the room and taking on the role of presenter. Through our teaching, we learn things and realize things that would be helpful to not only ourselves, but to our teacher colleagues as well. Presenting at a large conference may be a big first step, so you could consider organizing a workshop at your workplace. If that is not an option, Gwangju KOTESOL is always looking for useful presentations for their monthly meetings. If that’s still a big step, consider participating in the “swapshop” session that Gwangju KOTESOL includes in each of their meetings. These are very short sessions (five minutes or so) where anyone can present anything ELT-related that may be of interest to the group: a class activity that worked well, a teaching tip, or even posing a question that you haven’t found a good answer to.

Taking Courses
With the pace of advancement in the world of ELT, formal education goes out of date almost as fast as bread on the grocery shelf. Requirements for teaching positions keep increasing as well. To advance in the profession, and indeed to keep the position you presently have, it may be a good idea to consider an advanced degree. With so many good online options now available, one can continue in their present job while studying at a university on another continent. Often the requirements of the position one is in change with the times. To keep up with these changes, or to upgrade one’s knowledge and skill set for a possible promotion, a certificate program online or brick-and-mortar may be just the thing for you.

I encourage you to sit back and take some time to reflect on this checklist, and on what would be best for you to have a professionally satisfying 2018.

The Author
David E. Shaffer is Vice-President of the Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter of Korea TESOL (KOTESOL). On behalf of the Chapter, he invites you to participate in the teacher development workshops at their monthly meetings (always on a Saturday). For many years, Dr. Shaffer has been a professor of English Language at Chosun University, where he has taught graduate and undergraduate courses. He is a long-time member of KOTESOL and a holder of various KOTESOL positions; at present he is national president. Dr. Shaffer credits KOTESOL for much of his professional development in English language teaching, scholarship, and leadership. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Gwangju News.

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