As a person and as a language instructor, I hear the words ‘small talk’ and I shudder. However, I have learned – after teaching online for nearly three years now – not to underestimate the opportunities and utility of focusing specifically on Small Talk in class. Focusing on Small Talk has always been successful. When surveyed, learners consistently report that they want more Small Talk rather than less.
I started teaching virtually with a fairly small class (CLB 7) who really responded to Small Talk. For one thing, I found the class needed to deal with mental health issues – near the beginning of COVID – and needed to feel as social as possible in a virtual environment. That’s when I started to develop Small Talk as an integral activity. Most recently, I had a much larger class that also responded very well to the Small Talk activities. This activity is not a one-off lesson but rather focuses on best practices, routine, feedback, and refinement.
For all ESL teachers, observing other teachers and being observed are not uncommon parts of the job, especially for those who are at the early stages of teaching. Many novice and inexperienced teachers wouldn’t mind it; on the contrary, they appreciate the opportunity to observe more seasoned teachers.
People sometimes joke about having a midlife crisis yet the truth is, research shows midlife (i.e., approximately in your 40s) is when people really do experience the lowest satisfaction in their personal and professional lives. This is a stage of life during which many have the highest financial burdens and the most at-home demands.
Canadian TESL professionals also experience malaise mid-career. In a study on the reflections of three mid-career ESL teachers in Canada, one participant noted she had “gone a little stale.” Another felt she had “plateaued professionally.” Experts say the signs that you are experiencing malaise can include feeling lethargic, disinterested, and unmotivated. You may be asking yourself questions like Is this truly what I’m meant to be doing with my life?
Is it possible for a language to become outdated? Daniel Tammet (2018) answered this question in Every Word Is A Bird: “Language never stops.” “Language evolves over time to reflect the way understanding and beliefs change” (Lellman, 2021). Some expressions that were common a few years ago might not be so common now. This has made choosing good materials more challenging when it comes to real-world language learning.
I blame the title on sitting in front of a computer day in and day out, setting up breakout rooms, and talking too many times into a dark screen divided into little squares, each one imprinted with names and hardly any faces; despite it all, there I was, on that particular day, hair fully brushed, looking good from the waist up, and full of burnt-out enthusiasm, ready for my lesson on “paraphrasing.”
On that morning, as I have been doing for a while (two years minus a few days), I turned on my computer before class time to make sure everything was in order and that my Google Jamboard was shareable and editable for my students to work in groups.
2022 marks a professional milestone for me: one decade as a contract instructor within Ontario English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs. The last ten years have seen me criss-cross the province undertaking assorted contracts for eight post-secondary institutions. Every college/university I have worked for has had a unique culture and slightly different approach to academic preparation for English language learners. However, some common themes have emerged about how the Ontario EAP market seems to operate.
In a two-part series, I will share insights about navigating a career in EAP that I wish I had realized from the start. I am confident much of what I say can apply to other TESL environments too.
In this first blog of the series, I discuss how people can get their foot in the door.
Even during prosperous times ESL professionals in Canada encounter precarious employment: contract work, limited hours, and no/minimal benefits (Breshears, 2019). TESL graduates often struggle as they enter the field with limited knowledge of how to navigate the diverse segments of Canada’s TESL market (Wu, 2019).
The work-from-home situation has lasted more than a year. During the pandemic, almost everything has been moved online, including education. This has been especially challenging for ESL education. We teachers needed to quickly learn technology and adapt it to meet our students’ needs. Our students have had to deal with technical issues in the language they are learning. But, at the end of the day, we all managed, and managed well! Here are a few lessons from my year-at-home.
With summer school wrapping up, I am having a difficult time transitioning from a work to a vacation mindset. Some people might not have a problem with this, but I do.
When the semester is finished, it is hard for me to stop thinking about my work and students. I am driven to come up with new teaching strategies, check my emails, and worry about my students’ continued learning. Continue reading →