Teacher Training Reflections – First Program (Part One)

As we cross over into February, my first 6-month program as a teacher-trainer is drawing to a close.

I feel like it was yesterday that I showed up at JIEI as a fresh teacher-trainer scared out my mind with little dribbles of pee running down my leg as I stepped in front of my first class of Korean English Teacher (KET) trainees.

As I wrote before, I was concerned about what value I would bring to this program.  The 14 well-spoken, inspiring, intelligent, and competent KETs in my charge had more experience studying and teaching English than me.  They also had more explicit knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary as well.

What could I possibly bring to the table?

After my interview, my coordinator called me the following day sharing concerns that I would struggle to create lessons for very advanced learners like KETs.  And for the most part, he was spot-on.

In the early going, lesson planning for this six-month program was a growth-oriented process.  Similar to when I started teaching at Namak High School – having never taught in an EFL classroom before – I needed to experiment with new ideas, make mistakes, reflect, and grow as an educator.

And now, nearing the end of my first teacher-training program, it’s refreshing to reflect on how I’ve grown as an educator as well as meditate on my vision for my courses as the next six-month program looms ahead.

My role in this program is Listening and Speaking Skills and Methodology.

The six-month program is an intensive English-language learning and methodology program aimed to help teacher-trainees develop their speaking skills, competence, and confidence in the English language as well as acquire new pedagogical tips and techniques that trainees can take back to their classrooms throughout the province.

In my first session, we focused on listening and speaking skills.  Following the lead of my predecessor, while also introducing my own ideas, I challenged the trainees to explore their own interests through project-based learning.

Trainees conducted podcast interviews, which turned out amazing.  I would share them with you, but I think the trainees would kill me.

They also watched TED Talks of their choice and presented summary speeches and fielded follow-up questions.

Overall, trainee feedback seemed encouraging.  Everyone seemed receptive to my teaching methods and felt like they had advanced their English communicative competence.

Honestly, trainees already have a treasure trove of linguistic knowledge upstairs.  They just need the opportunity that this program provides to immerse themselves in the language and unleash their linguistic and communicative potential.

However, I also accept my many mistakes.  I can conduct classes in a way that maximize in-class time while also giving the trainees more opportunities to learn and practice their listening and speaking abilities.

For example, I felt like my lessons sometimes divulged into lecture-heavy class sessions.  I was so excited to share listening and speaking tips and techniques that I’ve absorbed through my own research.

I’ve ramped up my dedication to professional development since arriving at JIEI.  Part of this stems from what Alfred Adler would call a drive to superiority.  When I first began in August, I buzzed with a healthy feeling of inferiority – some low-grade imposter syndrome.  I had a chip on my shoulder.  I felt compelled to immerse myself in books, podcasts, and YouTube videos to figure out what practical advice I could impart to trainees to advance their listening and speaking abilities.

One such example came from the Art of Charm podcast.  In one episode – an interview with researcher Oscar Trimboli – I learned three simple tips to improve our listening faculties.

First, slow your breathing.  Slowing your breathing brings us back to the present moment and helps us focus on what our conversational partners are really saying.

Second, stay hydrated.

Finally, tell your conversational partner that you are switching off your phone.  In today’s hyper-distracted world, this simple gesture of goodwill can again help you stay fully present and give your interlocutor your full attention.

I also appreciated the work of Celeste Headlee – a public radio interviewer.

She taught me that the external cues others often exude while listening like head nods, eye contact, and backchanneling (“Yeah?  “Uh-huh” “Oh-“) are just that – external cues.  They provide an imperfect barometer on whether or not someone is actually listening.

Headlee’s advice, which I attempt to model for the trainees, is to focus on internal cues of listening.  How should I orient my internal dialogue to focus on what someone else is saying?  What should I tune into so I can respond to others’ statements in a way that shows intelligence and evidence of true listening?  How can I become a more gracious conversationalist?

First, What is the other person saying?  What is the content?  Is the purpose to inform?  To entertain?  To vent?

Next, What is the underlying emotion?  Is there a disconnect between the meaning of a person’s words and the emotion through which they are expressing them?

Finally, What questions do I have?  What further clarification do I need to understand the story or concept I am hearing?  What is the speaker leaving out?  What else do I want to know?  If we can respond with an incisive follow-up question, it is an amazing signal of active listening.

Next time, I will discuss how my lack of clarity in my assignment instructions frustrated trainees into doing more work than necessary for my class.

Photo Corner

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Joined a lovely friend for a lovely hike on one of Yeosu’s many lovely islands.

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I spend the bulk of my weekends wandering the downtown waterfront.  The bobbing of boats soothes my anxious soul.

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Celebrate Lunar New Year right with a Prosperity Burger from McDonald’s!

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