Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I Taught ESL; They Learned Self-Confidence: A Job-Embedded PD Story

Hey there, readers. It's Jared Heath here, and I am going to talk to you about job-embedded professional development for teachers.

Job-Embedded PD for Teachers--I Had a Problem


job embedded professional development for teachers with esl students
Image courtesy of certificationmap.com
I loved teaching English as a second language. And as I've already discussed with you, my students loved it, too.

That's how, in the first few months as a teacher, I found myself delivering a professional development session at one of our training meetings. We typically had the same two coaches giving us work sheets and asking us self-answering questions that induced sleep more often than they encouraged improvement. You know the drill. If these job-embedded professional development sessions for our teachers weren't considered paid time, my attendance would have been highly questionable. Then one day I got a call from my department head asking me to teach at our next staff meeting.

Now my less-than-favorable attitude toward these PD sessions was coming back to haunt me, because I now had to teach these teachers--many of whom had been at the game much longer than me and were undoubtedly better at their jobs than I. So what do I, a green teacher full of ideas but little else, teach veteran ESL teachers that they will actually take back to their classroom? I had one wild card up my sleeve.

I Had to Take Them Out of Their Comfort Zones


Staff meetings had heretofore been filled with discussions about "the students," always referring to how "they" learn English, how "they" perceive teaching styles, etc. I had spent several years becoming conversational in French, Mandarin Chinese, and German, so I always felt more like "them" with the students than "we" with the teachers. If I had anything to teach these teachers, it was how the teachers themselves learn a second language.

How often do we as teachers forget that we are students? We have to be students. The learning process never ends, and we (should) always push forward in our fields. I had a very solid academic background in phonology, syntax, and lexicon of the English language, but these teachers didn't need a lecture. They needed an experience.

So I Taught Them Mandarin


Most of our teachers had learned a second language, typically Spanish, but it had been a long time since they had lived the excruciating experiences of translating every sentence in their heads before spitting it out in an awful accent.

I took 30 minutes and taught the teachers to count to 10, introduce themselves, ask for directions to the bathroom, write a few Chinese characters, and more. We had so much fun, and the teachers were amazed at what they were able to pick up and retain. These teachers remembered what it was like to be the students again--and in the process, I demonstrated some of my strategies for helping students feel comfortable in the very awkward setting of trying something new.

The next 15 minutes, we discussed the mechanics of the lesson--the kind of questions the audience had, the explanations I gave that helped them see things a little differently, and the strategies that didn't work in that setting or maybe wouldn't work for one of their classrooms.

In that setting, we became the classroom example. But we could never imitate every classroom setting, and we certainly had more questions than an 45-minute session twice a month could answer. We needed something on-demand to carry us through.

I Taught ESL. They Learned Self-Confidence.


I realized that the same self-confidence that I wanted my students to gain was exactly what my co-workers needed in a job-embedded professional development session for teachers. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we can do hard things. Successful PD sessions aren't sessions that teach us lock-step drills for grammar, history, math, or science instruction. We as teachers are trying to change a student's way of thinking about the world and about themselves, and we can't do that until we learn to change our own perspective. Sometimes we forget that this is the most important lesson of all.

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